In 1825 Rev. Erasmus Darwin Eldredge, Class of 1829 at Amherst College, was walking on the road to Pelham. East of East St. he saw a number of African American families. He asked if they would like to hold a service at one of their homes. They agreed, and a meeting was held at one of their houses on Sabbath afternoon. Out of this first meeting emerged two African American churches still practicing today.
The meetings in the people's homes became extremely crowded, and in 1861, with the help of some members of the college church, an independent church was formed on the Amherst College campus. The African American population continued to grow, and the congregation needed a new place of worship. In 1868 Amherst College gave permission for a new chapel to be built on the corner of Northampton Rd. and Parsons St. (now Woodside Ave.). On March 12,1869, Zion Chapel was officially dedicated.
In 1899 the African American congregation wanted to break away from the college's white influence. From the beginning, services were conducted by the Amherst college students or professors. In 1905 the white population of the congregation was becoming less active. The African American population took the opportunity to ask for an independent parish of their own. In June 1907 the college church and community voted to allow the members of Zion Chapel to unite to form and independent church.
While this was happening, a split was occurring within the African American community itself. The main body of the congregation, with the authorization of the Congregational Society became known as Hope Congregational and continued to meet at Zion Chapel. Some members wanted total independence and a more traditional service like that in the South. This group started holding their services at the town hall and called themselves the Union Methodist Society.
As time passed, this group grew and it decided to become affiliated with the national organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. In 1906 the Hasbeth sisters sold a piece of their land on Parsons St. (now Woodside Ave.) for $1,100 to Moses Goodwin, an important member of the congregation. The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, July 10, 1910, by Reverend Alexander Walters, and this was when the A.M.E. Zion Church was officially dedicated.
The Goodwin family was extremely active in the A.M.E. Zion Church. Moses Goodwin was on the building committee, and served as church treasurer. In 1967, in recognition of the Goodwin family's overwhelming contributions to the church, its name was officially changed to Goodwin Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
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