A woman with deep Yardley Borough roots has undertaken a labor of love to renovate an old vacant African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church.
The structure at 188 S. Canal St. in the borough is just a short walk from where Shirley Lee Corsey and her 10 siblings grew up at 195 S. Canal. She now owns that house with her husband, Morris, along with one in New Jersey. The Yardley home is the last African American-owned house on the street, Corsey said.
Even though her family did not attend the AME church, it has always been an important part of Corsey’s life, and Yardley Borough’s history and culture. Originally built in 1817 as a hay barn that also hosted religious services under the name “The Colored Church,” the structure was refurbished and became an AME church in 1877. It hasn’t been used as a church since the early 1980s and has been completely unused for about 20 years, Corsey said.
But she, with the help of many others, wants to change all that. Corsey recently became legal conservator of the church and is leading a fundraising drive called Gather Place with the aim of refurbishing the church inside and outside. The goal is to turn it into a museum that will host historic talks and many other types of events.
Corsey estimates it will take about $50,000 to do the whole job, but she and her group that includes her brother Michael Lee and neighbor Nancy Cole are tackling the project in phases, raising money and doing work as they go. The first step is to raise $15,000 to restore the windows.
“It’s so important to keep that part of Yardley Borough known,” said Corsey, who with her siblings are all Pennsbury High School graduates.
“If we preserve it, the legacy will go on long after I’m gone. I want to make sure people know that a big part of Yardley’s culture is the African American story.”
Some of the work has already begun, with Michael Lee recently installing an air conditioning-heating system in the church. Cole said she is so happy about the direction things are going because she and many others didn’t want to see the AME property bought and become another house, and in the process losing a part of the borough’s history. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I’ve always been interested in preserving that building,” Cole said. “I was very glad when Shirley got things started.”
An open house will be held at the church from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sept. 10. The event will be a chance for people to see progress made to date, get a sneak preview of exhibits and activities, learn about upcoming fundraiser events, join in on a family fun photo booth and enjoy free hotdogs, beverages and bagged snacks.
To donate to the cause of restoring the church, visit gatherplace.org. Questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org