The city of Ithaca sits on the southern end of Cayuga Lake, a very strategic location for the Underground Railroad. The African-American St. James Church was a safe house for Freedom Seekers trying to make it to Canada. There is evidence that some actually stayed here.
|Article from Black Heritage Sites
by Nancy C. Curtis:
St. James A.M.E. Zion Church was established by African-Americans who at one time attended segregated services in a Methodist Episcopal church, that designated them as the "colored class" of the church. Upset by this discrimination, the black members withdrew to found a church of their own. Ithaca was accessible to free black people from different counties of New York State.
Between 1823 and 1825 the congreagation had to meet in a private home but was able to build its own church on [Cleveland Ave.] in the next decade. Peter Webb, the only slave in Ithaca ever allowed to purchase his freedom, bought the land for the church after he became a free person. From its earliest years, St. James Church was a station on the Underground Railroad. Church members, along with white residents of Ithaca helped some fleeing slaves move to safety in Canada; they also provided assistance for those who chose to stay in Ithaca. One of the distinguished pastors was Jermain Loguen, a man who had escaped from slavery in Tennessee. Another famous guest was Harriet Tubman who attended St. James many tmes.
The 1830s construction date makes this the oldest church building in Ithaca, the oldest African-American church in Tompkins County, and possibly one of the oldest churches build in the United States. It has been designated as a historic preservation site.