Finding Friends in Pennsylvania by cqp14386


									Catherine C. Lavoie

Finding Friends in Pennsylvania

                                f architecture reflects a society’s cul-   Athenaeum, the exhibit will go to the Arch Street
                                ture, the design of houses of worship      Meetinghouse2 in Philadelphia where it will be
                                may offer an insight into its soul. For    open to the public from February through May
                                more than 300 years, the Religious         2003. This will coincide with the spring session
                    Society of Friends, known also as Quakers, have        of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting when Friends
                    practiced their religion in simple meetinghouses,      from the region gather for annual business meet-
                    structures that reflect an aesthetic often referred    ings.
                    to as “Quaker Plain Style.”                                  The documentation project was funded
                          Nestled in communities throughout the            through a Congressional appropriation secured
                    Delaware Valley, more than 150 meetinghouses           by then-U.S. Representative Peter Kostmeyer of
                    dating from as early as 1695 still stand. A multi-     Pennsylvania. Looking broadly at the meeting-
                    year project to research and document this             houses in southeastern Pennsylvania, HABS com-
                    regionally, and in some cases nationally, signifi-     prehensively examined and selectively recorded a
                    cant building type has produced a substantial          large sampling of structures. These written histo-
                    body of knowledge adding to the scholarship on         ries, measured drawings, and large-format pho-
                    Friends meetinghouses. The documentation was           tographs constitute a lasting, publicly accessible
                    undertaken by the Historic American Buildings          record.3
                    Survey (HABS) of the National Park Service and              Tangible History
                    is on public exhibition at The Athenaeum of                   The Friends Meetinghouses of the Delaware
Figure 1: Upper
Providence          Philadelphia through the end of 2002.                  Valley are important historic resources — tangi-
Meetinghouse               The exhibition, “Silent Witness: Quaker         ble reminders of the contributions of Friends to
in Oaks, PA, is a   Meetinghouses in the Delaware Valley, 1695 to          the history of the region, starting with the found-
good example
of an intact,
                    the Present,” is sponsored by Philadelphia Yearly      ing of the Pennsylvania colony by a Quaker,
early 19th-cen-     Meeting1 of the Religious Society of Friends,          William Penn, on the principle of religious toler-
tury Friends        HABS, the Quaker Information Center, and The           ation for all. Penn’s “Charter of Privileges” offered
Jack E.
                    Philadelphia Athenaeum to raise awareness of the       colonists guarantees of civic, as well religious,
Boucher, NPS        richness of the architectural heritage of the          freedom. This document later became the basis
photographer.       Friends in the Delaware Valley. From The               for America’s Bill of Rights. Friends are also
                                                                           responsible for myriad landmark institutions of
                                                                           social reform in Philadelphia advocating humane
                                                                           treatment for the insane, the imprisoned, and the
                                                                           unempowered, including Native Americans,
                                                                           slaves, and the poor.
                                                                                  Included among the meetinghouses are
                                                                           many well-preserved colonial-era examples,
                                                                           which provide important venues for studying the
                                                                           area’s early vernacular architecture (see Figure 1).
                                                                           Taken as a group, the meetinghouses survive as
                                                                           physical manifestations of the changing expres-
                                                                           sions of Quaker faith and practice. The number
                                                                           of structures and the changes they represent over
                                                                           more that 300 years of association with
                                                                           Philadelphia Yearly Meeting present an unparal-
                                                                           leled opportunity to document the evolution of
                                                                           an important American building type.

                    CRM No. 5—2002                                                                                            3
Figure 2:                Penn’s Pennsylvania colony
Buckingham         became a safe haven for those
erected in 1768    persecuted for their religious
in Lahaska, PA,    beliefs and home to a unique
was the first of   variety of religious groups. The
its type to be
built in the
                   most influential of these were
North American     members of the Society of
colonies. It       Friends, the Quakers.
became a pro-
totype for the
                         From the founding of the
development of     Society in England in 1652
the American       until the passage of the 1689
Friends meet-      Act of Toleration, Friends were
inghouse. Jack
E. Boucher,        unable to meet openly and with-
NPS photogra-      out fear of reprisal. The follow-
pher.              ers of George Fox, founder of
                   the Quaker movement, were
                   forced to meet in houses, barns, and other build-    struction dates, accounts of prior meetinghouses
                   ings adapted for use as meeting places. Prior to     on the site, and monthly/quarterly meeting asso-
                   the 1690s, only rarely did they attempt to build a   ciations. The information was compiled and
                   structure for the explicit purpose of holding        examined both chronologically and by region to
                   Quaker worship. In search of religious freedom,      reveal specific types, periods, and patterns of
                   Friends began immigrating to Pennsylvania in         meetinghouse development. Representative meet-
                   1681. In this region, religious toleration permit-   inghouse forms were then selected for recording
                   ted them the freedom to pursue their beliefs and     based upon their architectural integrity and abil-
                   to develop buildings forms conducive to their        ity to exemplify a particular stage in the evolution
                   silent worship and separate men’s and women’s        of Friends’ meetinghouse design over more than
                   business meetings.                                   300 years.
                        American Meetinghouse Design                          In the summer of 1997, a field team of
                          Early Quaker settlers adhered to a pattern    architectural technicians working under the
                   for meetings established in England that also        direction of HABS architects, the survey histori-
                   informed the plan of their meetinghouses.            ans, and the HABS photographer produced mea-
                   However, given the liberty to experiment with        sured drawings, written histories, and large for-
                   building design as well as religious practice, the   mat photographs of six meetinghouses in
                   colonial Friends eventually deviated from English    Pennsylvania, those in the towns of Merion (circa
                   patterns to create their own building forms. In so   1695-1714), Radnor (1718), Buckingham
                   doing, Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting        (1768), Chichester (1769), Caln (1726, rebuilt
                   developed a uniquely American meetinghouse           1782), and West Grove (1903). The measured
                   that set the standard nationwide for nearly a cen-   drawings conveyed characteristic features of each
                   tury (see Figure 2).                                 meetinghouse and included a floor plan(s), front
                          Meetinghouse designs continued to evolve      and side elevations, structure (often documented
                   over time to adapt to changing patterns of           in a section drawing), and details such as win-
                   Quaker faith and practice. With this in mind,        dows, doorways, bench-end profiles, facing
                   HABS embarked upon a documentation pro-              benches, and partitions (see Figure 3). Smaller
                   gram to identify and selectively record the meet-    scale elements were also recorded, such as door-
                   inghouses of this region and provide the context     way hoods, shutters, hardware, date stones,
                   for their evaluation and interpretation.             carved graffiti, and horse mounting blocks.
                          The HABS project began with a survey of             HABS returned to the field in spring 1999
                   all Friends meetinghouses within the greater         to expand the scope of the survey. Recognizing
                   Philadelphia area, which included Bucks,             that Quaker culture and the influence of
                   Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties.          Philadelphia Yearly Meeting extended beyond
                   The survey identified the essential elements of      Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, the
                   meetinghouses and, along with preliminary            second phase of the survey included structures
                   research, recorded historical data such as con-      built by meetings in other areas of Pennsylvania,

                   4                                                                                       CRM No. 5—2002
                     and in Delaware4 and New Jersey. All together,       torical and architectural value of the meeting-
                     approximately 150 meetinghouses were exam-           houses and promote their preservation.
                     ined. With matching funds from the William                  For HABS partners – Philadelphia Yearly
                     Penn Foundation, during the summer of 1999 a         Meeting, the Quaker Information Center, The
                     second team recorded the meetinghouses at            Athenaeum of Philadelphia, and the William
                     Sadsbury (circa 1747), Frankford (1775), Arney’s     Penn Foundation – the project and its culminat-
                     Mount, NJ (1775), Downingtown (1806), Little         ing exhibition and symposium were opportuni-
                     Egg Harbor, NJ (1863), Germantown (1869),            ties to further the understanding of the role
                     Middletown (remodeled 1888), and South-              played by Friends in the development of the
                     ampton (1969). In an effort to round out the         region’s history and architecture.
                     selection, large-format photography and short               For the HABS program, the Quaker meet-
                     historical reports were also prepared for 13 other   inghouse project was significant because it
                     meetinghouses dating from 1708 to 1931.5             focused on recording an important vernacular
                          Wide Influence                                  building form. This was a goal of Charles E.
                           In addition to creating a lasting public       Peterson, who founded HABS in 1933, saying:
                     record, the HABS study was the first comprehen-          The [Historic American Buildings] Survey
                     sive examination of Friends meetinghouses his-           shall cover structures of all types from the
                     torically associated with Philadelphia Yearly            smallest utilitarian structures to the largest
                                                                              and most monumental. Buildings of every
                     Meeting. Due to its location at the heart of             description are to be included so that a com-
                     Penn’s colony, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting main-         plete picture of the culture of the times as
                     tained a powerful influence on Quaker settle-            reflected in the building of the period may be
                     ments throughout the colonies and the western            put on record.6
                     migrations of Friends to Ohio and Indiana dur-              The genius of Peterson’s vision is its all-
                     ing the first few decades of the 19th century.       inclusive outlook. The commonplace vernacular
                           Even though the study focused on the           buildings that are a part of everyday life are far
                     Delaware Valley, the study’s findings are relevant   more representative of our culture than the
                     within a far broader context of Quaker practice      exceptional high-style forms. Without them, we
                     and meetinghouse development. Beyond its acad-       risk presenting a skewed perception of our cul-
                     emic usefulness, the study and sharing of infor-     ture to future generations.
                     mation will enhance public awareness of the his-
Figure 3: This
drawing of
Arney’s Mount
erected in 1775
in the vicinity of
Mt. Holly, NJ,
includes an ele-
vation, section,
and partition and
bench end
details. James
McGrath, Jr.,
John P. White,
and Kelly
Willard, NPS

                     CRM No. 5—2002                                                                                            5
      The HABS’ recording of the Friends meet-            3 The material will be deposited with the Library of
inghouses of the Delaware Valley is a model for             Congress, which has a longstanding partnership
capturing regionally significant vernacular archi-          with HABS to maintain and provide public access
tecture. By identifying a combination of exem-              to the HABS online collections at <
                                                            gov/habshaer/>. The exhibit catalogue may be pur-
plary and representative examples of significant            chased for $10 at The Athenaeum or online at
vernacular building forms, a lasting account of             < >.
these structures and the larger cultural patterns         4 Delaware’s Friends meetinghouses were not
that they reflect can be preserved. From field sur-         recorded as part of the HABS project because stu-
veys and contextual studies that examine all                dents at the University of Delaware, under the
                                                            direction of Professor Bernard Herman, have under-
forms within a given region, criteria can be devel-         taken measured drawings to HABS standards that
oped to target those for more comprehensive and             will be donated to the HABS collection.
detailed documentation.                                   5 Of the 27 meetinghouses documented, 13 are listed
      The Friends meetinghouses are significant             in the National Register of Historic Places: Merion,
as important architectural forms and as effective           Plymouth, Radnor, Old Kennett, Bradford,
venues for presenting a unique aspect of                    Buckingham, Chichester, Caln, Arch Street, Darby,
                                                            and Race Street in Pennsylvania and Arney’s Mount
American history. With the HABS project, their              and Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey. Of these,
silent story has been given voice.                          Merion and Race Street are also National Historic
                                                            Landmarks; the designation of Buckingham as a
      Notes                                                 National Historic Landmark is pending.
1 Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is an event, a faith        6 Historic American Buildings Survey, HABS Bulletin
  community, and an organization. The annual meet-          No. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
  ings are 4-5 day gatherings of the nearly 12,000          Office, 1933).
  Friends among the 104 monthly meetings in the           _______________
  region.                                                 Catherine C. Lavoie, is a historian with the National
2 The meetinghouse is located at 420 Arch Street.
                                                          Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey and
  Additional exhibitions of Silent Witness are planned,
                                                          was a project manager and historian on the Quaker meet-
  but not yet confirmed.
                                                          inghouse project.

                                                           The “Silent Witness: Quaker Meetinghouses in the
                                                           Delaware Valley, 1695 to the Present,” exhibition and
                                                           symposium was made possible by grants from the
                                                           Marshall-Reynolds Foundation, the HABS/HAER
                                                           Foundation, the Thomas H. and Mary Williams
                                                           Shoemaker Fund, and the following funds of
                                                           Philadelphia Yearly Meeting: Bequests Funds, the
                                                           Anna H. and Elizabeth M. Chace Fund, and the
                                                           Publications Grants Group. The organizing commit-
                                                           tee included representatives from HABS; the
                                                           National Park Service’s regional office in
                                                           Philadelphia; Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and its
                                                           constituent meetings; the Quaker Information
                                                           Center; Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore
                                                           College; The Quaker Collection, Haverford College;
                                                           and the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia. The
                                                           National Park Service team was led by project man-
                                                           agers Robert Arzola, architect, and Catherine C.
                                                           Lavoie, historian, and included Aaron Wunsch,
                                                           Virginia Price, and Lavoie who served as historians
                                                           for the project and conducted the field survey; John
                                                           White, Roger Miller, and Arzola, who supervised the
                                                           summer teams of architectural technicians; and Jack
                                                           E. Boucher and Joseph Elliott, who undertook large-
                                                           format photography.
                                                           Left, cover of the exhibition catalogue.

6                                                                                               CRM No. 5—2002

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