CENTER MORICHES, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The Mary Bell House in Center Moriches holds the history of Long Island’s early Black leaders.

The home was in jeopardy of being demolished, but it won a state preservation award, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday.

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Open the door to this modest wooden victorian and take a step back to a time of freed slaves in the middle of Long Island.

“Long Island was a very prominent area for slavery,” said history librarian Melonie Cardone-Leathers.

The tiny house of Railroad Avenue in Center Moriches was home to Mary Bell, a pillar of the community, in 1872.

In the mid 1800’s, Bell led freed slaves, with what little they had, to build one of Long Island’s first Black churches – the Bell AME Zion Church.

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Bell’s house held services while the church was being built.

It changed hands one century later.

“It was falling apart,” said preservationist Bertam Seides.

Seides, from the Ketcham Inn Foundation, rallied to save it from the wrecking ball.

“Most of what was done here was donated services. We had no funds specific for the restoration,” Seides said.

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The Town of Brookhaven bought the land to rescue the house.

“It’s important. Once you lose history, you can’t get it back again,” said town supervisor Ed Romaine.

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A decade later, it’s a registered historic site. It was honored this week with a prestigious New York Historic Preservation Award.

Bell’s daughter Alice, also a church pioneer, lived there until the 1980’s. The home has no running water, central heat or electricity.

“If you got a snowstorm, or you need a grass cutter, anything, you go to Miss Bell’s house and take care of what she needs done, and you take no money from her,” said Stanley Sneed of Bell AME Zion Church.

Thanks to determined volunteers, the story of emancipated slaves and their priorities lives one.

“They created a community center first for all these families to come together,” said Cardone-Leathers. “It’s a success story of women, African American woman who thrived and became pillars of their community.”

The state award is not monetary. It is an honor bestowed for excellence in the preserving of history.

The house is open for tours by reservation.

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Carolyn Gusoff