Bethel AME Church (Crawfordsville)

Montgomery County’s Black population, while recorded on census data, has not been documented as thoroughly in primary sources. Early settlers may have arrived around the 1820s, with the population growing steadily throughout the 19th century. Most blacks lived around Crawfordsville and Union Township. Crawfordsville’s early Black settlement is seen through the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Through Bethel AME, we glimpse a piece of Crawfordsville’s African American history and the lives of her residents.

The Bethel AME Church of Crawfordsville was built in 1847 and remodeled in 1892, located on West North Street. Like many other buildings in Crawfordsville, such as the Speed Cabin, Crawfordsville AME was a stop on the Underground Railroad. From 1840-45 Bethel Crawfordsville is reported to have around twenty congregants. Along these lines, Crawfordsville AME’s building is made of parts and materials thought to date back to 1847. Church records confirm that the school was held in Crawfordsville AME into the 1880s. Indiana’s public education system was both legally and societally segregated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Black students, while receiving support from local institutions like Crawfordsville AME, were too numerous to all be accommodated in one church house. The overcrowding of Crawfordsville AME’s church school resulted in the construction of two Colored Lincoln schools, in 1882 and 1924 respectively.

Early Black settlers such as Isaac Jones and Maria Patterson made up some of the earliest influx in the 1800s. Settlers, like the Black Gates family, came alongside white families while traveling North. The Greencastle route of the Underground Railroad, running up the Wabash River, went directly through Crawfordsville, making it a hub for escaping slaves. According to church historians, the cellar was used to shelter runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. The church is the most prominent, as well as the oldest structure, associated with African American settlement in the area. The Patterson family, members of Crawfordsville AME, were known to shelter fugitive slaves alongside famous abolitionist John Speed. Around the 1840s, the construction of a new Presbyterian college brought new white immigrants from New England. Many, such as Caleb Mills, joined Speed in Abolitionist rhetoric.

The property itself consists of a one-story, gable-fronted, white frame on a foundation of brick. It features a large arched window and a two-story corner tower. Twenty-six carved oak pews, a gift of Rev. Lewis Pettiford in 1895, line its carpeted aisles. Similarly, the pulpit is a gift of Crawfordsville’s Second Baptist Church in 1978, another historically Black congregation that closed that year. An 1880 Eastlake-style pump organ is used to this day. The original parsonage, in the Queen Anne style, remains on the property. Crawfordsville AME has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001.



213 North St W, Crawfordsville, IN 47933 ~ Private Property