Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, 800 African-American churchgoers who worshiped in the balcony of the white First Baptist Church of Charlottesville on Park Avenue petitioned to form their own congregation. They began to meet in the basement of the old Delevan Hotel and became the Delevan Baptist Church (known today as First Baptist Church) in 1864. Certain members of this new congregation were dissatisfied with the presence of a white minister at the church. They therefore decided to separate and assumed payments on a lot at 105 Ridge Street, previously contracted for purchase by the Delevan Church. This new church became the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in 1867.
In 1872 the new congregation organized itself in a preliminary church building on the Ridge Street lot, in a house donated by Samuel White. In 1875 the congregation outgrew this home and built a wooden church in the lot next door. This building was demolished in 1883, and architect and builder George W. Spooner began construction on a new church whose steeple was completed in the 1890s. The church continued to hold services in this building until 2003 when the congregation moved to a new, larger structure about a mile away at 105 Lankford Avenue. The former church building was converted into a music resource center.
Mount Zion First African Baptist Church paid off its mortgage in 1905, when in honor of the occasion the mortgage papers were burned in front of a crowd on Easter Sunday. In the years that followed the church was renovated and beautified several times, with improvements including completion of the basement, construction of a steeple, and the addition of stained glass windows and a pipe organ.
Spotswood Jones served as the founding minister of Mount Zion First African Baptist Church. Several of the subsequent ministers have been prominent community leaders, including Rev. Alvin Edwards, Mayor of Charlottesville from 1990-1992. Hosting many prominent national speakers and leaders, Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church has been influential in Charlottesville’s history, especially the struggle for Civil Rights.
Mount Zion, and churches like it, served the needs of its community beyond religious worship, functioning as a social center and political hall for the black residents of Charlottesville.
Rose Hill Baptist Church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and Zion Union Baptist Church all grew out of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church.
The 1884 Mount Zion First African Baptist Church building located at 105 Ridge Street was designed by George Wallace Spooner, who had participated in the rebuilding of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia following its fire. A. G. Wallace served as contractor for the church building.
The modern church constructed in 2003 is located at 105 Lankford Avenue in Charlottesville.
Geographical and Contact Information
105 Ridge Street