Arch Street Friends Meeting House - Philadelphia, PA
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
N 39° 57.123 W 075° 08.765
18S E 487521 N 4422445
Quick Description: This is the oldest Friends Meeting House still in use in Philadelphia and the largest in the world. It was built in 1804 and enlarged in 1811. Monthly business meetings are conducted here — as they have since the 19th century.
Location: Pennsylvania, United States
Date Posted: 11/15/2011 3:22:34 PM
Waymark Code: WMD420
Published By: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
Views: 8

Long Description:

On the right, midway between Fourth and Third Streets, is the ARCH STREET FRIENDS MEETING HOUSE (16). The building was erected in 1804 on ground granted by William Penn and originally used as a cemetery. The house has served continuously for the Yearly Meeting of (Orthodox) Friends. The grounds constitute a colorful garden of trees and flowers.

For about 70 years no one has been interred there, but within the century preceding that more than 20,000 persons were buried in the grounds - many of them victims of the yellow-fever epidemic of 1793.

The first person buried there was the wide of David Lloyd, one of the early Governors of the Provence of Pennsylvania. William Penn stood at her grave and spoke in appreciation of her character and piety. In the yard, also rest the remains of James Logan, Penn's distinguished secretary, who later became Governor of the Province, and Lydia Darrah, heroine of the Revolution.

The broad, low, red brick building, devoid of all ornamentation, is typical of the Quaker architecture of the times. The simple facade is relieved only by a large central pediment and the three small entrance porticos. Behind the building is the old Colonial watch box.

A big room in this old Meeting House was the scene of many early Quaker gatherings. The original key is still used, and the original deed from Penn is preserved by the Meeting.

The ground floor contains three large meeting rooms, and end rooms with galleries on three sides. Benches are made of wood from trees cut down to clear the site. On the second floor, in the center, roof beams are made of hand-hewn timbers.

Today the Arch Street Meeting House is one of the most frequently used in Philadelphia area, many of the Society's social functions being held here. --- Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, 1937; page 392-393

** To view the complete 20-photo gallery of this meeting house, please visit HERE. **

I have been to many meetinghouses in the area and this one is HUGE! The designer over 200 years ago was noted Federal Period architect & author Owen Biddle. Today, it is host to the Philadelphia yearly meeting and is still influential in Quakerism throughout the region. Tours are always welcome, doors are always open to the public unless there is Meeting for Worship in progress, then enter quietly, sit down and be quiet. Just remember S.P.E.C.: Simplicity, Peace, Equality and Community. I visited on a Monday and the site was open to the public. There was a tour going on and people were milling about exploring the property. When walking inside, look high above and just underneath the gable and you will see the date stone. It is a large, rectangular, 5 1/2 foot stone with the 1804 date incised thereon. The meeting house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2011.

The Philadelphia-area Yearly Meeting of Friends was established in 1681 and was housed in a number of earlier meeting houses prior to the construction of the current building. In 1804, the east wing and center section of the present Arch Street Meeting House was erected according to a design developed by Quaker carpenter and architect Owen Biddle. The annual session of the women's yearly meeting was held here. The present-day west wing was added in 1811, at which time the men's meeting was moved into the east section and the women moved to the newly completed western section. Arch Street Meeting House is a symmetrically balanced, three-part structure built of bricks laid up in Flemish bond. It is elegantly understated and, therefore despite its Georgian architectural styling and refined construction, is in keeping with Quaker plainness. SOURCE

William Penn himself would have likely felt at home in this large symmetrical meeting house, which hasn’t changed much since 1804. Today, men and women meet together in the unadorned West Room, a large meeting room with balconies and benches, originally designed for the conduct of women’s business. Men met on the other side of the house in the East Room, which now contains dioramas and a slide show about William Penn’s life.

There are displays about Quaker traditions and exhibit cases with historical artifacts, including a piece of “treaty elm” believed to be from Penn’s treaty with the Indians in 1682. An 18th-century funeral sleigh sits on the facing benches at the front of the room. SOURCE

The ground around the Meeting House was first used for burial purposes under a patent issued by William Penn in 1701 and many victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 are buried here. Burials continued until 1803, and the Meeting House was erected the following year. Certain burial exceptions were made for dignitaries such as Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), the first American novelist (Wieland), who rests here. Quaker Samuel Nicholas, the founder of the Marine Corps, is also buried here, which is curious considering the pacific stance of Friends. James Logan (1674-1751), secretary to William Penn, and along with Penn and Benjamin Franklin one of the three most important men in Philadelphia's Colonial period, lies here in an unmarked grave. SOURCE

I could not find any graves when I was there. Perhaps they are under the meeting house? I did manage to find one grave, out of place, in front, near a small, circular area with a bench and light landscaping. The interred is named Dr. Edward Owen, who's epitaph reads: "Beneath this stone lies the body of Doctor Edward Owen who desired while living that after his burial he might not be disturbed."

Book: Philadelphia

Page Number(s) of Excerpt: 392-393

Year Originally Published: 1937

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