On July 4, 1867 Dr. William Wells Brown, a prominent African American orator visited Woodstock and preached at a “colored” camp meeting. This meeting sparked the foundation of what is today Mt. Zion Methodist Church.
The following year members of Woodstock’s African American community had raised enough money to purchase a plot of land at the intersection of Locust and Church Streets. In 1869 the congregation bought the frame work from the former St. Paul’s German Reformed church and moved it from the south end of town to their property. There they used the frame to build a church building. This building would be finished in 1887 when the inside was complete and would be renovated in 1898 when a belfry was added.
The members of this church chose to affiliate themselves with what was then the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This denomination was one of the few who opposed slavery in the years before the Civil War and members of the black community in Woodstock probably would have been connected with this more liberal denomination. Until the groups merged in the 1930s, the predominantly white Woodstock Methodist Church was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church-South.
Mt. Zion’s congregation supported the first African American School in Woodstock. That institution was founded in 1881 after years of lobby by the black community. It was built immediately behind the church and would remain there until 1937 when a new “colored” school was built. Members of the church strongly supported the students at those schools. Graduation, plays, spelling bees, and numerous other school events were held in the Church and often the lines between the congregation and school were blurred.
Besides their support for education, the church was also known for its “Bush Meetings” and children’s services. These weekend-long affairs were held annually and featured numerous religious services and other, entertaining activities. They were primarily held outside, often on an open plot of land near Indian Springs on what is now Water Street. Black churches from around the county and the valley participated and large crowds typically gathered.
In 1921 the congregation decided to replace the original church with a new building. Under the leadership of Reverend W.H. Polk they were able to raise over $1000 for the structure through a series of fundraisers. In September of 1921, the new church was completed.
During the 1960s the current United Methodist denomination was formed and Mt. Zion joined. Today it is part of the Shenandoah Valley Charge which includes Woodstock and Strasburg’s Mt. Zion Methodist Churches. It also maintains Riverview Cemetery, a burial grounds founded for Woodstock’s African American population in 1906.