New York State In-depth

Winooski church recognized for historic role serving buffalo soldiers

WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) – A Winooski site is getting recognition for the part it played in history with a historic site marker and a spot on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail.

The Winooski United Methodist Church is in the process of becoming a registered historic landmark. The church was the home church for many buffalo soldiers and their families from 1909 to 1913.

Buffalo soldiers were African American soldiers who mainly served on the western frontier following the American Civil War.

“I think in addition to being a historic building this is really a space where there’s been community and giving back to the community for over a hundred years,” Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott said.

Ellen Ravelin, the pastor of the church, intervened when the church was on the verge of being torn down and spearheaded the movement to get it historically recognized.

“When I think about how close this church was to shutting down, how could it get so close to the history just being dissolved forever, no one would even know about the history. So, I feel the history is part of our future. We can’t forget what happened in the past,” Ravelin said.

Ravelin believes the work they do there carries on the legacy the soldiers left behind.

“We’re carrying on the tradition of the buffalo soldiers because they were here too, to serve the community and we’re here to serve the community, just anyone who has a need whether it be a building to do your work in or food clothing, whatever it is that should be our goal as a church,” Ravelin said.

She believes it’s important and an honor to be able to memorialize the role the African American soldiers had in making Winooski the city it is today.

“From what they did so many years ago, we now have the most diverse community in all of Vermont. Winooski has the most diverse community and I feel a lot of it comes from this history right here of the very first regiment that came to Vermont, the buffalo soldiers and were a part of this congregation,” Ravelin said.

The church, which was erected in 1860, continues to serve community members to this day and people here say they’re proud to be able to keep the history of the building alive.

“You know the Methodist church has been around since before Winooski was a city on its own,” Lott said.

The mayor says she supported the efforts and is excited it’s finally happening and to be able to memorialize soldiers.

“The buffalo soldiers are a part of American history, they’re a part of Vermont history and recognizing their local impact is really important,” Lott said.

The United Methodist Church is now one of 12 sites on the Vermont African American Heritage Trail and will continue to stand as an important reminder of the area’s diverse history.

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