ST. JOHN'S AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL (AME) CHURCH was the first AFRICAN-AMERICAN church, and the only permanent one, to be established in Cleveland during the antebellum period. The original charter was issued in 1836 to the African Methodist Episcopal Society, a group of six ex-slaves who had been recruited in 1830 by Father William Paul Quinn, Western Section Missionary for the new black denomination. As the group grew, services moved from members' homes to the Apollo Hall on the third floor in Merwin Square. The first church building was located at the southwest corner of Bolivar St. and Prospect Ave. and was dedicated as the Bolivar Street AME Church on 6 Jan. 1850. The church moved to Ohio St. (presently part of Carnegie Ave.) in 1863, where the name changed to the Ohio St. AME Church, then to Erie (E. 9th) St. in 1878, when the name became St. John's AME Church. In 1908, the congregation erected a new church at the cost of $55,000, a neo-gothic structure designed by John F. Aring and the firm of BADGLEY & Nicklas, at E. 40th and Central Ave. (2261 E. 40th), where it stands today (2023). The building's architecture is particularly notable for the Tudor hoods over the corner tower windows, its Perpendicular style tracery, and the decorative pointed arched bands in the brickwork along the parapets of both towers.
The congregation of St. John's AME grew from a small band of ex-slaves to include representatives of every strata of the city's black community. With increasing racial tensions after WORLD WAR I, church membership grew markedly, reaching a high of about 3,200 in the years after WORLD WAR II. In 1974, the church was recognized as a Cleveland Historical Landmark by the CLEVELAND LANDMARKS COMMISSION and, in 1982, it was placed on the National Register of Historical Places. A $1 million renovation was launched in 2005 under the direction of ROBERT P. MADISON INTERNATIONAL to upgrade the physical, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical infrastructure of the venerable institution. The CLEVELAND RESTORATION SOCIETY, the region's largest nonprofit preservation organization, recognized the renovation project at St. John's AME with the Preservation Award for sacred landmark preservation.
Since its inception, St. John's AME has been an influential institution and a place of refuge for Cleveland's African-American community. The church has consistently supported civil rights and its location within the CENTRAL community made it a recreational and social center from the 1920s onward. The social outreach programs of the church included an after-school program, a summer camp, and a senior daycare center. It also hosted a health fair, "Let's Focus on Health," connecting the community with representatives from heart and diabetes associations. The congregation has sponsored an annual community dinner and clothing giveaway, and a Sunday morning breakfast for residents of the Central neighborhood. As of 2009, Reverend Dr. Taylor T. Thompson served as the pastor of the congregation.