New Mount Zion virtual marker connects Athens’ Black history with its future

Reading time: About 3 minutes

A new virtual marker allows visitors to view the historic Mount Zion Baptist Church, a stately Gothic and Romanesque Revival building that stands at 32 W. Carpenter St. in Uptown Athens, as it was over 110 years ago. 

The historically Black church — one of only a small handful of Black churches in the history of Athens County — has sat empty and unused for over two decades. The church was built in 1909 by a group of Black Athens residents, including prominent businesspeople Edward and Martha “Mattie” Berry, who ran the Berry Hotel on Court Street for nearly 30 years. 

Courtesy Invisible Ground

The new marker, developed by the local history podcast Invisible Ground, prompts viewers to stand at a sign installed outside of the church or on one of two spots on the sidewalk labeled with small green circles containing text and a QR code. 

Using the Invisible Ground augmented reality app, users standing on those spots can view historic photos of the building overlaid with the present day. This is the podcast’s second marker; the first is for the Berry Hotel, across from where it previously stood on Court Street.

In a recent episode of Invisible Ground released in conjunction with the marker, creator and host Brian Koscho explored the legacy of the church and its community. The Berrys purchased the land, now prime Uptown Athens real estate, when it was “in the wilderness,” Ada Woodson Adams, of the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, tells Koscho in the episode.

Read more about the history of Mount Zion Baptist Church and its preservation society, and future renovation plans for the building

The 1961 Homecoming celebration (Courtesy Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society)

Athens residents and visitors can use the virtual marker to place themselves within the rich history of the church. One of the three photos viewable using the marker commemorated the congregation’s 89th annual homecoming ceremony in 1961, which brought back former members from around the state and country. 

The church shown today from the same angle (Courtesy Invisible Ground)

Support our work to deliver independent local news for Athens County

Like what you are reading?

The marker also comes with an audio orientation from the Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., a former member who joined as a student at Ohio University and now leads the Ohio Council of Churches.

One of the goals in installing the marker and producing the podcast episode was to build upon the years of work of Sullivan and others who have historically advocated for the church, Koscho said. 

Between the marker and the podcast episode, which heavily features the stories of people with direct memories of the church, “I wanted there to be these different ways that people could stumble on it, or get engaged in it,” Koscho said. “And then if they were into it, just keep digging further.”

The preservation society helped choose the photos, according to Trevellya Ford-Ahmed, the society’s communications director. Another photo, showing the church just after it was built in 1909, was originally from a postcard that was found on eBay and sent to the preservation society. 

“It’s an incredible image,” she said. She noted the “absence of telephone poles, so it looks pretty pristine and pure.” In the background is a small mountain of dirt or clay, potentially used for the city’s famous brick-making industry. 

Like the Berry Hotel marker and podcast episode, Koscho’s work on the augmented reality Mount Zion marker was borne out of his interest in “combining very different fields of work” to put “people into a physical space where history has happened, but then giving them the technical and modern pieces of media” that, when combined, make the historical experience even more “powerful.” Augmented reality has garnered use and attention from museums and other historic organizations in recent years. 

An antique postcard depicting the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Athens, Ohio, with a child on a bicycle in the foreground
Postcard depicting Mount Zion Baptist Church circa 1909 (Courtesy Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society)

Koscho plans to create virtual markers for other historical sites around Athens County, including the former Albany Enterprise Academy, David Butcher’s People of Color Museum in Stewart and the Athens County Courthouse. 

He recently started working with OU’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs to develop a long-term plan for the Invisible Ground project, which began as his thesis project for his master of fine arts degree at OU. Previously, he worked as the marketing director for Stuart’s Opera House and its Nelsonville Music Festival.

A longtime Athens resident, Koscho said he intends to “keep using the skills and the things that I’ve picked up and gathered over the years. keep doing more things that benefit people here and make people excited to come to our community and engage with it and learn about it.”

Learn more about Invisible Ground at, and the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society at Find the new historic marker in front of the Mount Zion Baptist Church at the intersection of Carpenter and Congress Streets in Athens.

We are interested about hearing news in our community! Let us know what's happening!

Get in touch and share a story!


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top