This is a photo of St. Paul AME Zion Church in 1908, when it was located on the north side of Church Street in Salisbury, exactly where Business Rt. 13 (Salisbury Boulevard) is now located. The church relocated to the west side of the city when the highway was constructed sometime in the 1940s.
It was located in the African American neighborhood of that time known as Georgetown, which included an adjacent enclave called Cuba. These areas were next to the then largely white neighborhood of Newtown. The origin of the church was on the west side, as described by a history prepared by the church:
“The first African Methodist Episcopal Zion church of Salisbury, MD was organized by Rev. A.J. Spencer around 1880 at North Salisbury [the NW part of Salisbury] called ‘Jersey.’ The first name for this church was ‘Willow Grove.'”
According to this history, after a few months, the congregation moved to the vicinity of the Georgetown area and in 1885 purchased a lot on Water Street. The next year they built a church, “20 ft. by 30 ft.” in size. It was then located near Humphreys Lake which dominated the landscape in downtown Salisbury up until 1909. In 1893, repairs were made as well as a 20-ft. addition to the building.
In 1899, the Church Street property was purchased; and the name of the church changed to St. Paul AME Zion Church. It took time to raise the funds and construct the new building; the cornerstone was laid on June 17, 1906. According to that church history, “In 1942, the church was moved to and renovated at 410 Delaware Avenue, Salisbury, MD.”
Above is the 1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the church when it was still on Water Street, at a time when there was to Rt. 13 or Rt. 50. Then it was near the ice plant and a block away from the elementary school. The John Wesley M.E. Church (now the Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center) is shown to the upper left.
Above is the 1931 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the church at its Church Street location, east of the John Wesley M.E. Church. The red dot is the location of where the Church Street Mural will soon be located. Again, the two highways did not exist at that time. Shown here is a 1929 church program.
St. Paul AME Zion was one of three churches in that neighborhood, up until the highways were constructed. St. Paul was the first to be relocated due to Rt. 13 construction. Then First Baptist, southeast of John Wesley, was relocated when Rt. 50 was constructed through the area. The neighborhood was worn away until not much of it was left. Finally the congregation of the John Wesley church merged with White’s Temple and became Wesley Temple on the west side. The Chipman Cultural Center is the only surviving church structure in that once prominent neighborhood. When John Wesley Church is honored, it is important to honor the others as well. They comprised a community and were a big part of that area’s history.
Below this program is another partial view of the church on Church Street, a rare view looking west, before there was ever a Rt. 13. On the left (south) side of Church Street is seen part of a porch to a house, then beyond it, two other buildings. The first building, set back from the street, was the later residence of Dr. Sembly who will be one of the five represented on the mural. This building, which was for a long time at the corner of Church Street and Rt. 13 was torn down years ago after a truck hit it. The building shown beyond that, situated closer to the street, was the Parker-King Store, an African American owned business. The building was taken by the construction of Rt. 13.
It is important to honor the history that literally disappeared; otherwise, no sense can be made of the historic places that survive and the history of the people becomes forgotten. This neighborhood was very much part of the story of Salisbury’s heritage.