Cumberland County community rallies to preserve historic Mount Tabor church

MOUNT HOLLY SPRINGS, P.A. --- February is Black History Month and the Cumberland County community is trying to save a local piece of that history.

About two years ago, Lindsay Varner with the Cumberland County Historical Society said they learned the importance of Mount Tabor Church from the community.

The historic site still has a family connection to it: octogenarian Harriett Gumby.

"My mother's father came up from Virginia after the Civil War as an ex-slave and settled in the little town of Mount Holly Springs," said Gumby.

Around 1870, Gumby's grandfather, Elias Van Buren Parker, built the Mount Tabor Church for the black community he founded.

For nearly 100 years, the church served the community, including Carmen James.

"When I was a child, this was the church I attended with my brothers and we would come every Sunday," said James.

However, congregations at the church stopped around 1970.

It remained untouched, until recently.

"Harriett let us interview her and tell us her fantastic family story and it evolved into this amazing community project," said Varner.

The Cumberland County Historical Society, with help from the Greater Carlisle Heart and Soul Project, is looking to keep Mount Tabor's history intact.

The community has rallied to clear overgrowth around the building, preserve items left inside, such as pews and a piano, and has registered Mount Tabor as a historic site.

"Local businesses, private residents...it has been an amazing community effort," said Varner.

"It's like a miracle to me to see a little, small town take a black, senior citizen and try to help her preserve the memory and legacy of her mother and grandfather," said Gumby.

The non-profit Preservation Pennsylvania recently selected Mount Tabor as a site with statewide significance, as something important to the history of the commonwealth.

julia chain/preservation pennsylvania: "this is a great example of a documented site and it has the perfect storm of a community who cares about it and residents and family members who have a direct relationship with the building," said Julia Chain with Preservation Pennsylvania.

However, Varna said the future of what the site will look like still remains unclear.

"It's possible that the building might not survive but we would love to make sure this site is memorialized. We don't want the site to just become overgrown and forgotten," said Varna.

As part of the preservation efforts, work continues on a cemetary near by where Elias Parker, original families, and Civil War veterans rest.

Gumby said she hopes with a little more help, their place in history will remain forever.

"That we can finally say this ex-slave that fought in the Civil War for the North...His legacy has finally been laid to rest after all these years," said Gumby.

For more information on how to help with the preservation process, visit the Cumberland County Historical Society website here.

For more information on the history of Mount Tabor Church site, as well as other "at-risk" sites, visit Preservation Pennsylvania website here.