Early Congregation

Historical Marker #1495 in Frankfort commemorates St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the earliest African American congregations in Frankfort.

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church was founded in Philadelphia by Richard Allen, a free man of color, in the late eighteenth century. The church grew out of a mutual aid organization called the Free African Society, which was established in 1787 by Allen and Absalom Jones. Congregations of AME churches sprang up in the mid-Atlantic and northeast states in the early nineteenth century, and amazingly several developed in slave states such as Maryland and Kentucky, which traditionally had required slaves to worship in white congregations.

In 1839, land in Frankfort was given by a Mrs. Triplett to two of her slaves, Benjamin Dunmore and Benjamin Hunley, to establish an AME church. At that time the church building was located on Lewis Street, not far from where the congregation currently sits on Clinton Street. The church's first minister was Rev. George Harlan.

Frankfort's AME church received its present name, St. John, in 1881, when Rev. D. S. Bentley was the minister. Twelve years later the congregation constructed a new church building (at present site) on the northeast corner of Clinton and Lewis Streets. The brick building features many colored glass memorial windows and rich wooden ceiling arches. Scenes of bulrushes adorn the side-ceiling walls.

The St. John AME church building's location made its existence threatened in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a wave of urban renewal took away much of the property just west of the church. Fortunately, the historic building was spared and remains an influential and inspirational source for the community.