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Culture & History

This Church In The Metro East Used To Be An Underground Railroad Stop — Now It Needs Help

 Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn, Illinois. Members of the church are now holding services at a nearby senior citizens' center because of the buildings unsafe conditions.
Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn, Illinois. Members of the church are now holding services at a nearby senior citizens' center because of the building's unsafe conditions.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

BROOKLYN — For at least two years, the foundation of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church has eroded.

A wall of the church is gradually bulging, prompting the pastor’s concern for his members’ safety.

The church has been at its present location on 108 N. 5th Street in Brooklyn for nearly 200 years. Now, members are having in-person services at a nearby senior citizens’ center due to the building’s unsafe conditions, according to the pastor.

“I believe in God,” said Rev. Devione Burrell, who’s pastored the church for 3 years. “I believe in him working miracles and this is one of those times when he’d need to work that.”

Since last month, the church of nearly 20 members has held services at Marcelles West Senior Citizens Center on Canal Street. The church previously held services via conference call due to the pandemic.

Burrell said fixing the wall would cost about $85,000, which is why his goal is to build a new church , given the building’s age. He also hopes to keep the current building as a historical landmark. A new church building would cost roughly $250,000.

“We’re not going to take any chances,” Burrell said about his decision to not have services in the church. “God is sovereign and all-knowing, but we do have a responsibility to use wisdom, and that is not a chance I’ll take.”

Members are asking for the public’s help to save the historic church.

Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church is directly tied to the establishment of Brooklyn, America’s oldest incorporated Black town. The village was started by Priscilla Baltimore (“Mother Baltimore”), who in the 1820s led 11 families from St. Louis to Brooklyn in an effort to create a freer society for Black people.

The church, originally founded as Brooklyn A.M.E. Church in 1825, was started by Rev. William Paul Quinn, who came to Brooklyn from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quickly became acquainted with Baltimore.

“When he first started out, he was not affiliated with the A.M.E. Church,” George J. McShan, the church’s secretary, said about Quinn. “He came down as a traveling preacher and he came down through Brooklyn and that’s when he met up with Priscilla Baltimore, and they did various things. When he became acquainted with the AME Church, then that’s when they named the church after him. It was the first A.M.E. Church in this area.”

The original church, which was located on Short Street, also functioned as a stop on the Underground Railroad, becoming a symbol for the town’s anti-slavery sentiment. The church was renamed Quinn Chapel, in honor of Quinn, in 1839.

McShan, 87, has attended the church since the 1940s and has recorded the church’s history. He’s confident in the building getting fixed.

“I’m not that upset about it or anything because I know everything is going to work out OK,” McShan said. “If you look at the church, and you’re really looking for it, you won’t really see it. Inside, we’re not really having any known problems, but we just want to get that taken care of before it gets out of hand.”

Here are ways to help:

- Buying a T-shirt from INFOREDD Designs (all proceeds for the white shirts containing an image of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church will go to the church)

- Contacting the church (618-271-6917) or Rev. Burrell (618-960-4845)

-Donate via Givelify app (donate to Quinn Chapel AME Church-Lovejoy)

“I support my community, and I hate to see a historic church go down, and this is my contribution.” said Veljohn Banks, owner of INFOREDD Designs.

DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.