Bicentennial Hall is the oldest building in Fair Haven. It was originally called Fisk Chapel, also known as the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Bethel Church. It is the oldest religious edifice still in use on the Rumson peninsula, and one of the few remaining Black churches in Monmouth County. It was originally located at 38 Fisk Street, but was moved to 25 Cedar Avenue in Fair Haven in 1975 to avoid demolition. Today, Bicentennial Hall is an events venue, and a new Fisk Chapel A.M.E. Bethel Church serves the community at the former location.
Fisk Chapel was named in memory of Union General Clinton B. Fisk. After the Civil War, Fisk ran President Lincoln’s Freedman’s Bureau and championed equal rights laws for African-Americans and education focusing on those rights. Fisk, benefactor of Fisk University, employed a number of Black people at his large estate in Rumson. He provided the land for the Church and donated $3000 for the construction of the building. He was also instrumental in erecting a school for black children on Fisk Street in Fair Haven known for many years as the Youth Center.
The Church was built in 1882 by a congregation which comprised a small but significant minority in the Rumson-Fair Haven area during the 19th century. According to the church’s application for National Historic Landmark designation, most of the members had come northward after the Civil War, augmenting a smaller black population that carried over from earlier times. In 1882, these members of the congregation were generally servants or farm hands for the wealthier, neighboring community of Rumson.
“During the half century before Fisk Chapel was built, free blacks had organized two separate African Methodist Episcopal congregations in Fair Haven,” according to the NPS application. “The first of these was formed in 1833, having a church on the Port Washington Road. Known as the St. James A.M.E. Zion Church, this group later moved to Red Bank after their church was destroyed by fire in 1873. The second congregation formed was the A.M.E. Bethel Church, organized in 1858. This group in 1882 received a donation from General Fisk amounting to $3,000.00 for the erection of a new chapel.”
The Chapel was formally dedicated on August 20, 1882. For decades after it opened, Fisk Chapel was the scene of an annual Emancipation celebration that featured the reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which officially ended slavery.
In 1974 Fisk Chapel was entered in the New Jersey State Register of Historic Sites, and in 1975 it was placed in the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the National Parks Service.
There are still a number of other historic Black churches in Monmouth County dating back to the 19th century:
- St. James A.M.E. Church, 232 Smithburg Road, Manalapan (1836)
- Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, 271 South Street, Eatontown (1845)
- Clinton Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, 210 Red Hill Road, Middletown (1890)
- Quinn A.M.E. Chapel Cemetery, 109 Prospect Avenue, Atlantic Highlands (1848 – 1855)
- Union Baptist Church, 819 Church Lane, Middletown (1898-1936)
- Shrewsbury A.M.E. Zion Church, 285 Shrewsbury Avene, Red Bank (1827)
Allen, Mary Beth. (1974). Fundraising Drive to be Launched for New Fisk Chapel. The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., Friday, June 14, 1974, P. 18.
Bitterly, Alison. (2012). Newly Restored, Fisk Chapel A Rich Reminder of Town’s Past. The Two River Times, Red Bank, N.J., January 20, 2012. Available: https://tworivertimes.com/newly-restored-fisk-chapel-a-rich-reminder-of-towns-past/
Bramley, Bob. (1975). Fair Haven Bicentennial Hall Listed as National Historic Place. The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., December 2, 1975, P. 11.
Fisk Chapel Cited by State. (1974). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., October 28, 1974, P. 15.
Israel, Nancy. (1975). US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places Inventory — Nomination Form, August 18, 1975. Available: Available: https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/75001146_text
New Jersey Historic Trust, Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund, Capital Preservation Grant. (2004). New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection – Historic Preservation Office. Available: https://www.nj.gov/dca/njht/funded/sitedetails/fisk_chapel.shtml
Take a Look at Bicentennial Hall. (2020). Historic Preservation Commission, Fair Haven, N.J., January 30, 2020. Available: https://www.fairhavennj.org/historic-preservation-commission/news/take-look-bicentennial-hall
Van Develde, Elaine. (2021). Honoring MLK Day: Fair Haven’s Fisk Chapel Community. Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect, January 18, 2021. Available: