Varick History

In 1864, during the Civil War, a group of African Americans in central Bergen County established the first African American church in Hackensack. They first met in private homes and then at the Hackensack Meeting House at the corner of Main and Mercer Streets. At first the church became an outgrowth of the New York Mission Society, an agency of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church which was founded in 1796 by James Varick.

On December 7, 1866 the Society was incorporated and selected “The Olive Branch Colored Mission Number Three of Hackensack” as it’s name.

The trustees elected at the time were John Cisco, James Carroll and Benjamin Lee. On January 5, 1867, the present location of the church at 120 Atlantic Street, Hackensack was purchased for the sum of $300. The trustees charged with erecting a church building, secured from the Hackensack Board of Education a former lime shed that was being used as a social hall for African Americans. The lime shed was moved wholly by human effort from Clay Street and Railroad Avenue to Atlantic Street was renovated and served the congregation as a sanctuary until 1919. the present church building was erected under pastorate of Rev. J. D. Virgil.

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The Church went through several name changes between 1869 and 1917. On October 10, 1869 the church under he leadership of Rev. Jesse Porter changed the name to the “Union American church of Hackensack”. Then on September 27, 1883 while Rev. John T. Tilghman was pastor it was changed to “The First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of Hackensack”. And finally, on April 18, 1917, the Rev. I. B. Turner as pastor, the Church in honor of James Varick, the founder and first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, adopted its present name, VARICK MEMORIAL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH James Varick’s mother was a slave owned by the Varick family that resided in Hackensack as early as 1687. His father was Richard Varick who was baptized in 1728 in The Church of the Green on Court Street in Hackensack.

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