By Terry Miller and Steve Baker
African-American churches are a critical element in Monrovia’s rich history. Institutions such as the Shiloh A.M.E. Zion Church on Canyon proved to be more than a place of worship for local African Americans like Dorothy Dudley who spent the better part of ten years trying to get the city to honor her church and its rich history in some shape or form.
The story of Shiloh A.M.E. Zion church really begins with Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin, who bought some 8,000 acres of Rancho Santa Anita in 1875. Baldwin had noticed the fertile acres of the San Gabriel Valley while traveling through it on the way to his mining interests in the mountains above San Bernardino. In time, Baldwin acquired a stable of fine thoroughbred racing horses that were housed on the ranch when they were not winning races at the major race tracks around the country.
It was in his role as trusted employee that Fisher was sent by Baldwin to South Carolina to recruit families to work under contract on his ranch. Most, if not all of the families recruited by Fisher lived in Bennettsville, South Carolina, and many of them were related directly to each other or related by marriage. They had also been members of an A.M.E. Zion Church in Bennettsville.
The families arrived in January of 1886 after an arduous journey. Almost immediately they re-gathered as a congregation under the leadership of the Reverend Henry Hollins. They chose the name “Shiloh” for their new congregation; it may have been the name of their prior church in Bennettsville. Among those families who came were the Adams, Graham, Hollins, McClain, McCoy, McQueen, Moore, Morris, and Shaw families. The church was founded in 1886 and Rev. Hollins was the presiding pastor back then. The church was officially established in 1892.
While not eligible for Landmark status, the church community including Councilmember Larry Spicer celebrated the unveiling of a plaque Saturday afternoon.
Dudley was quick to point out that city staffers and friends of the church were extremely helpful in garnering the recognition. She also singled out Ralph Walker and KGEM for his invaluable service to the church and community. Dorothy Dudley said, “There’s a lot of love there (in the church) … people really help one another.”
The effervescent 81-year-old and her equally bubbly 87-year-old husband Earz Dudley Sr. came to Monrovia in 1973 and were invited by a co-worker to the church in 1974. She was hooked. The Dudley’s will be celebrating 60 years of marriage on Sept. 21. The couple has two children, Earz Jr. and Cheryl.
“I’m a blessed person,” Dudley told Monrovia Weekly on Monday. “I don’t know why … I ask people to do something and they just do it,” she said with a wonderfully addictive laugh referring to how she spearheaded the recognition plaque. What Dudley did was nothing short of magnificent and she and fellow church members (of which there are about 103) celebrated the church and its rich history Saturday.
Initially, the congregation met in the homes of members due to the lack of a permanent building. Enter John B. Adams.
Adams was an African-American agriculturist who purchased and donated the land to help establish the Zion church on the corner of Huntington Drive and Canyon Boulevard. Then the avenues’ names were Charlotte and Falling Leaf.
Alice Buckner and Mrs. Duncan Shaw bought a small building that was later relocated to the current site.
The original building on the site served for over twenty years, but it became inadequate as the congregation grew. Construction on the present building began late in 1914 and was completed the following year. W. H. McCune, a local builder, erected the building. The original church building was moved to the rear of the lot, where it serves today as a social hall.
One of the prime movers behind the new church was Kate “Aunt Catty” Morris, who was the sister of the Rev. Hollins and who came with the others from Bennettsville in 1886. She had established strong relationships with many of the early families of Monrovia for whom she worked after leaving Baldwin’s Ranch. One Sunday she hitched up her horse and buggy and visited those families, soliciting contributions for the new building. It was her efforts that assured the completion of the church. “Aunt Catty” was nearly one hundred years old at the time.
With the construction of a parsonage on Huntington Drive in 1923, the church plant was complete. The parsonage was later moved to the north side of the church after Huntington Drive was widened in the late 1920s. The church and social hall have been remodeled several times, but the basic structures remain.
Present at the dedication of the commemorative plaque on Sept. 8, 2018 were descendants of the founding families of 1886; the Adams and Hollins families representing the fourth, fifth, sixth, and even the seventh generation. No other church in Monrovia has worshipped at the same location for as long and few churches have had such continuity of membership. Rev. Doc. H.D. Bolton has been pastor at Zion church for the past year.