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Church wins a spot on historic list

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE, ET edition of TAMPA & STATE)

Members of Mount Olive AME waited two years to get on the National Register of Historic Places.

A local church that traces its history to the 19th century has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Members of Mount Olive AME, 600 Jones St., learned Friday their application for inclusion, submitted two years ago, finally has been approved by the national board.

The church is the first in Clearwater to garner a listing on the prestigious register. In fact, it becomes only the third church in Pinellas County to make the list. The others are Andrews Memorial Chapel in Dunedin and First United Methodist Church of St. Petersburg.

"This is terrific news," said Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst. "This is wonderful. Mount Olive has been an important part of the community for a very long time."

Church member Helen Bowens, who was instrumental in securing the listing, said it is "quite an honor for any church to be on the list."

"It means a lot to me," she said. "And it will mean a lot to my children and grandchildren."

She said the church now will be eligible for state and federal grants to help keep it in good condition. One project members hope to undertake is the restoration of the bell tower. Because of its deteriorating condition, the bell hasn't chimed for 50 years, Bowens said.

Mount Olive AME began 106 years ago when a small group of Clearwater's African-American residents worshiped together for the first time in a small, wood house on Railroad Avenue just north of Drew Street.

The current stone structure, built in 1913, sits on or near the same site as the original wood house. The stones were cut by a former church treasurer, W.M. Buchanan. A storm blew down the church walls in 1926, but members rebuilt on the stone foundation.

E.M. Montana, a church member for 35 years, said Mount Olive deserves to be on the national register. "The church membership has always been a united group whose aim is to serve people less fortunate," she said. "We have a strong love for our fellow man, regardless of race or color."

Montana said she has always been proud to be a part of Mount Olive. Its listing on the national register "is a wonderful thing," she said.

Church members will receive their certificate at a service on Feb. 13. Since the day is also Founders Day for AME churches throughout the country, those who attend will wear period costumes, Montana said.

"You know, the gingham dresses with the aprons for the ladies and the overalls and flannel shirts for the men," she said.

Representatives from the governor's office, the Pinellas County Commission and the City Commission will attend, along with state leaders of the AME faith.

An invitation also has been extended to President and Mrs. Clinton, Bowens said. "We don't know if he'll accept," she said. "But he might."

Barbara Mattick, deputy historic preservation officer from the state's Bureau of Historic Preservation, will be the keynote speaker.

A booklet to be presented to church members that day will include reflections from early members on what Mount Olive has meant to them.

P.J. Rowe Sr. wrote: "The Atlantic Coast Line railroad tracks were in front of the church and when the trains came by everything stopped until the trains passed by.

"Most of the membership was domestic workers (maids, cooks and butlers). The 11 o'clock service was poorly attended, but the night services were well attended.

"Everyone in the community looked forward to summer revivals."

What is the national register?

The national register recognizes individual properties or districts for their historical significance. Cities or property owners can apply to be on the register by submitting a detailed physical description of a property and documentation of its importance. A building must be at least 50 years old and may be considered historically significant based on its architectural style, quality of construction or its relationship to a specific historic period, person or event. The state Bureau of Historic Preservation reviews and edits applications and forwards them to the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., which makes the final determination. A property does not have to be restored to be eligible. Property owners may receive certain grants to restore a building or income tax deductions if a property is on the register. Although local governments may restrict how a historic property can be renovated or used, the federal government does not. The register is maintained by the National Park Service.

Historic places

The following are Clearwater properties on the National Register of Historic Places:

Cleveland Street Post Office

Donald Roebling Estate on Druid Road (Roebling was the inventor of an amphibious military vehicle used in World War II. It was credited with saving thousands of lives and received a Medal of Merit from President Truman).

Louis Ducros House on S Fort Harrison Avenue (home of the first commercial photographer in Clearwater).

Pinellas County Courthouse.

South Ward Elementary School.

Harbor Oaks Neighborhood (between S Fort Harrison Avenue and Clearwater Harbor).