Reverend Omotayo Cole Cineus, left, and historian Carolyn Brown at the Salem...

Reverend Omotayo Cole Cineus, left, and historian Carolyn Brown at the Salem AME Church in Roslyn Heights on Saturday. Credit: Linda Rosier

A religious leader who traced her family's roots to the early days of Salem African Methodist Episcopal Church is advocating for landmark status for the Roslyn Heights structure that descendants of slaves and Native Americans built in 1862.

The congregation formed two years earlier, holding meetings without a permanent home before clearing the land and building a board-and-batten chapel with an octagonal belfry cap, according to the Roslyn Landmark Society.

Church officials held a community meeting last week to discuss the possibility of landmarking the historic structure and are working to determine their next steps.

Carolyn Brown, 56, of Copiague, said it's paramount to protect a structure built with "blood, sweat and tears."

The church became a place where people of color worshipped during a time of segregation, according to Brown, an elder at Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Amityville.

Brown's grandparents, Birdsall Leroy Townsend and Gladys Conroy Townsend, wed in the Roslyn Heights chapel. In 1973, her grandfather's funeral also took place there.

Brown began researching her ancestry in the 1990s, a journey that continuously has brought her back to the church, where officials are considering her recommendation that they pursue landmark status from the Town of North Hempstead, before seeking state and national landmark status.

If landmarked by the town, the Roslyn Road structure never could be knocked down.

The Rev. Omotayo Cole Cineus, Salem AME Church's congregation leader, said the membership may apply for landmark status, but first want to collaborate to make sure it’s the right decision.

“It’s a process and we have to ensure that it is done well and that we’ve captured all the necessary elements,” Cole Cineus added.

The pastor said the congregation is looking for someone to spearhead the initiative and take it to the finish line, something they'll hold meetings to discuss.

Cole Cineus added that landmarking the church may be a way for many of the longtime or generational members to preserve family history — a sentiment Brown seconded.

“When you have these historical buildings that play an excellent role in the community, you kind of want to preserve that, so you can get a glimpse in the past of how things used to be,” Brown said. “Some things we have to hold on to.”

Church members completed a restoration of the structure in 2004, maintaining its original design.

The Town of North Hempstead has designated 18 historical landmarks, including Lakeville AME Zion Church in Manhasset, according to the town’s website.

For a structure to receive landmark status from the town it must either be associated with people or events of historic significance to the area, show historic growth and development, embody characteristics of a period or method of construction or contain unique architectural, archaeological, landscaping or artistic qualities.

Carol Clarke, an archivist at Bryant Library in Roslyn, said Salem AME Church is the oldest religious institution in the Roslyn area still is in operation. 

“The Salem African Methodist Episcopal edifice is an important mid-19th century structure in which we all take great pride,” Clarke said.

A religious leader who traced her family's roots to the early days of Salem African Methodist Episcopal Church is advocating for landmark status for the Roslyn Heights structure that descendants of slaves and Native Americans built in 1862.

The congregation formed two years earlier, holding meetings without a permanent home before clearing the land and building a board-and-batten chapel with an octagonal belfry cap, according to the Roslyn Landmark Society.

Church officials held a community meeting last week to discuss the possibility of landmarking the historic structure and are working to determine their next steps.

Salem AME Church is the oldest religious institution in the Roslyn...

Salem AME Church is the oldest religious institution in the Roslyn area still is in operation. Credit: Linda Rosier

Carolyn Brown, 56, of Copiague, said it's paramount to protect a structure built with "blood, sweat and tears."

The church became a place where people of color worshipped during a time of segregation, according to Brown, an elder at Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Amityville.

Brown's grandparents, Birdsall Leroy Townsend and Gladys Conroy Townsend, wed in the Roslyn Heights chapel. In 1973, her grandfather's funeral also took place there.

Brown began researching her ancestry in the 1990s, a journey that continuously has brought her back to the church, where officials are considering her recommendation that they pursue landmark status from the Town of North Hempstead, before seeking state and national landmark status.

If landmarked by the town, the Roslyn Road structure never could be knocked down.

The Rev. Omotayo Cole Cineus, Salem AME Church's congregation leader, said the membership may apply for landmark status, but first want to collaborate to make sure it’s the right decision.

“It’s a process and we have to ensure that it is done well and that we’ve captured all the necessary elements,” Cole Cineus added.

The pastor said the congregation is looking for someone to spearhead the initiative and take it to the finish line, something they'll hold meetings to discuss.

Cole Cineus added that landmarking the church may be a way for many of the longtime or generational members to preserve family history — a sentiment Brown seconded.

“When you have these historical buildings that play an excellent role in the community, you kind of want to preserve that, so you can get a glimpse in the past of how things used to be,” Brown said. “Some things we have to hold on to.”

Church members completed a restoration of the structure in 2004, maintaining its original design.

The Town of North Hempstead has designated 18 historical landmarks, including Lakeville AME Zion Church in Manhasset, according to the town’s website.

For a structure to receive landmark status from the town it must either be associated with people or events of historic significance to the area, show historic growth and development, embody characteristics of a period or method of construction or contain unique architectural, archaeological, landscaping or artistic qualities.

Carol Clarke, an archivist at Bryant Library in Roslyn, said Salem AME Church is the oldest religious institution in the Roslyn area still is in operation. 

“The Salem African Methodist Episcopal edifice is an important mid-19th century structure in which we all take great pride,” Clarke said.

A role in history

  • Built in 1862, it is the oldest African American church in the Roslyn area
  • The original congregants were descendants of slaves and Native Americans
  • The church building was restored in 2004

Source: Roslyn Landmark Society

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