Sewickley’s St. Matthews renovating church built in 1911

Monday, December 2, 2019 | 6:01 AM

St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion Church is taking on a renovation project for its historic building, which has been a fixture in the Sewickley community since 1911.

Located at the corner of Walnut and Thorn streets, the oldest African-American church in the Sewickley area is recognized as a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. The 39-member congregation is hoping to collect $300,000 from the community and granting organizations for safety, accessibility and aesthetic updates, according to the Rev. William Rankin, church pastor.

He said the church is seeking a matching grant of $10,000 from Sewickley Valley Historical Society (SVHS) and plans to start the renovation project with the front doors.

“From there, we would attempt to do some other things inside, it’s a project that is approximately $300,000 for the entire thing. We’re doing it in increments as we get the funds,” said Rankin, who resides in Akron, Ohio.

Joe Zemba, chairman of the SVHS architecture committee, said in an email that St. Matthews inquired about applying for the SVHS Preservation Grant on Nov. 15.

“Their request stated that they would like to restore the entrance doors to the church. Sewickley Valley Historical Society is very interested in supporting this grant request, and we encourage and will assist Saint Matthews AME Zion in submitting a completed application for the 2020 review,” he said.

To receive the $10,000 in Preservation Grant funding, organizations must demonstrate that they can match the amount with other funding sources.

Helene Zacharias, a parishioner and member of the church’s trustee board responsible for the repair work, said donations received over the past few months will help the church match the potential $10,000 grant.

Rankin highlighted the history of the church community, which has existed since 1857, decades before the current building was constructed. Congregation members established the Daniel B. Matthews Historical Society, named after the church’s first pastor. The society has preserved the history of the African-American community in the Sewickley Valley region.

In addition, the church played a role in the Western Pennsylvania Underground Railroad and helped identify local members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

According to Rankin, it has been about 10 years since the building has received an update, and some items have not been updated since 1911. Ten years ago, he said, contractors repaired a leaking gutter on the roof.

Speaking about the doors, Rankin said the wood casings have begun to rot.

After the doors, the renovation project will address items in the interior of the church, namely the wiring and stained-glass windows.

“We need to have the wiring updated, and the windows, those beautiful stained-glass windows need to be replaced,” said Rankin.

The church has already replaced the railing on the front steps, Zacharias said.

But Rankin said more updates are planned for that area, including a ramp to improve accessibility.

Zacharias also said that the church plans to repair sections of sidewalk outside the building.

“It would be a real honor … to get grants that we can use to make the necessary repairs that need to be done to the building,” she said.

Rankin said the church will likely find out about the SVHS grant in March.

Donations for the renovation project can be sent directly to St. Matthew A.M.E. Zion Church, P.O. Box 266, Sewickley, PA 15143.