Where We Worship
by Donald H. Whitely –
Amanda and Henry Foster (married in 1845) founded Foster Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in 1860. It’s the oldest black church in Westchester County, and some say it may be the oldest black church in the state of New York. However, before construction, the Tarrytown congregation would meet in the Foster confectionary store, as well as in other business establishments. Funds provided by the local Dutch Reformed and Methodist congregations helped construct the church, completed in 1865. During the Civil War, members of Foster provided food and shelter to fugitive slaves who were escaping the perils of slavery and migrating north to Canada. Those who decided to settle in Tarrytown would seek refuge under the floorboards in the church’s foyer. If you visit the church today, you will experience the very same location where fugitive slaves would hide.
Over the years, the Foster congregation would grow to capacity, with a new addition to the church in the 1960’s built by former pastor, the Rev. Madison McRae. Rev. McRae built a choir loft and office space that established Foster as having one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the area. In addition, the first- floor renovation included an industrial kitchen, meeting space and updated restrooms.
The original church builder and local architect, James Bird, contributed to its design, and the cornerstone was laid in 1864. When Henry Foster died in 1865, he asked Amanda to continue the church’s assisting freed slaves from the south after the Civil War. Amanda followed her husband’s request, and is looked upon today as the “Mother of the Church.”
Amanda Foster died in 1904 at the age of 98, and during the “Great Migration,” the church served as a community center for new arrivals in the Tarrytown area. Over the years the church has made many visual improvements, such as the renovation of the foyer and stairs leading to the second-floor sanctuary. A grant, and assistance from a local contractor and church parishioners, helped with this huge project. In 1982, the church was included in the esteemed National Register of Historic Places.