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Restored 1914 Nacogdoches Church now a Hub for East Texas History

Zion Hill Church Congregation in 1930s
Zion Hill Church Congregation in 1930s

Zion Hill Church is home to one of the oldest African American congregations in Texas, originally founded in 1878.

Zion Hill Church is home to one of the oldest African American congregations in Texas, originally founded in 1878. Over time, the congregation had moved through multiple church houses, but in 1914, Diedrich Rulf designed and built Zion Hill Church on the corner of Lanana and Bois d’arc streets. Now a historical site, the building belongs to the city of Nacogdoches. Veronica Amoe is the Historic Sites Manager for Nacogdoches, and she explains the history of Zion Hill Church.

Veronica Amoe A lot of Nacogdoches’s really early history has direct ties to Texas winning its independence. So, Nacogdoches, here in the earlier 1800s, was the gateway into Texas. So, you had all of these people coming in from the states and from Europe coming into Texas. That was, kind of, happening right before the church was built. Because there was so much, you know, immigration into Texas in the late 1800s from Europe, you had German immigrants like John Schmidt and Deidrich Rulf who came into Nacogdoches. Diedrich Rulf, you know, he did so much architectural work in Nacogdoches during that time. And so, even the church is, you know, the only church that he designed, one of the two, that’s still in Nacogdoches, but it’s also the only one that’s in its original location. The other church that he designed was moved. 

Over time, the church became unsafe for the congregation, and they had to abandon the building. Then in 2000 the church was donated to the Nacogdoches County Historical foundation for restoration. The project was finally finished in 2023, and Amoe explains why the restoration took so long.

Veronica Amoe A lot of the original plans for the restoration were before 1990, before ADA compliance laws came into effect. So a lot of the blueprints had to be completely redone to make the building accessible and usable as a modern facility while protecting the historic authenticity. So, the planning of the restoration was a big part of it, very important to take time on it to have it done correctly. And then in 2020 the bulk of the restoration started, however, like, it literally started in March of 2020, and then, you know, the world shut down. And then even after that, there was a lot of delay in getting supplies, even minute supplies took longer and longer to get in. And then the restoration was completed and the building reopened in July of 2023.

After a year of being open, the church has been a site for old congregation members to visit and tell personal stories of the site. The church also hosts “collection days” where members of the community can come to the museum and provide their own images and pieces of the church’s history. Amoe says the history of Zion Hill Church extends beyond the congregation and into the neighborhood around it.

Veronica Amoe This neighborhood was also affected by the growth in the late 1800s and 1900s. You know, there was definitely a working class in this neighborhood. They would work downtown or in those homes and other areas around Nacogdoches. It was kind of a community of its own. Everybody knew who everybody was. And as we’re reviewing oral history, you definitely get a feel of safety and comfort in the neighborhood. The church was, kind of, a center of that. So, the church held programs that a lot of the children would go to, most of the residents in the neighborhood attended the church. Some of the first African American Boy Scout troops met here. You had a lot of early sports activities, kind of, start in the yard of the church or the yard of the parsonage. So, a lot of history tied to the church for sure. 

Veronica Amoe helps with the upkeep of three other historic sites in Nacogdoches. She says she enjoys what she does because it allows her to look into the personal history of Nacogdoches citizens.

This is Alaina Antip with Red River Radio news.