|A History of Pennsylvania Quakers|
Historical Information & Other Projects
The following is a history of Warrington Friends Meeting, located midway between the towns of Wellsville and Rossville in Warrington Township, Pennsylvania. Though credit is not given in this particular article, it is assumed that it was written by L. Dennis Heckert & Donald C. Bowers as part of their series on the history of early churches in central Pennsylvania. It was published in the TIMES on August 21, 1958, page 5.
Warrington Meeting House Built in 1767
Westward migration pushed forward in the late 1700's and forming the vanguard of that movement were the Irish Quakers. Beginning in 1682 the Friends first settled in Philadelphia, pioneered in Lancaster County as early as 1713, and formed their first settlement west of the Susquehanna in 1738.
However, westward expansion did not end with crossing the Susquehanna River, but rather it simply opened the door to a greater future for the Society of Friends.
The second outpost established after crossing the Susquehanna was Warrington Meeting. The first meeting house was a log structure which stood a little south-east of the present stone building on a part of the tract of land that has since been enclosed in the graveyard. The foundations were discovered in the late 1880's' by men digging in the graveyard.
Warrington Meeting House, located midway between the towns of Wellsville and Rossville in Warrington Township, was officially established in 1745. The previously mentioned log structure was erected at this time on a tract of 29 acres and 156 perches. According to early records the land was located "near the land of Stephen Aliles on a branch of Conewago Creek."
A warrant, dated July 5, 1745, was issued for the land to be held in trust for the Society of Friends, but because of an irregularity, the land was later, by proclamation, declared vacant. After issuance of the proclamation the land was granted by a patent date January 22, 1767, from John Penn, Lieutenant Governor, to William Garretson, William Underwood, William Penrose, and Peter Cleaver, in trust for the Society of Friends. The amount of money exchanged for the grant was nine pounds, 12 shillings, and nine pennies.
By 1769 the old log building became too small for the growing size of the congregation and also unsafe because of its age. In 1769 a new stone meeting house was built near the old one. The interior of this building, as it appears today, contains several rows of straight backed pews. The pews are arranged in two rows along the east and west sides. Directly behind the pews are two stone fireplaces which were used to heat the building before the installation of a stove. The stove is situated between the rows of pews, about half way between the north and south end of the original building.
The floor is constructed of wide boards in the typical fashion of colonial structures and the entire building is one of the best examples of colonial church architecture in Pennsylvania.
The main beam in the original building was 48 feet long, a considerable length for construction work of the day. It was hand hewn and chamfered along its edges. Also of interest is the fact that all of the hardware throughout the building is an example of hand craftsmanship.
Hanging from the ceiling; in the original building: are hand hewn candle holders, each of which holds several candles. In addition to this lighting, there is also one lamp hanging near the door. Wrought iron candelabra stand beside the two posts which support the ceiling from the center of the room. Similar candelabra also stand at either end of the two rows of raised pews which are located at the North end of the room. It is assumed that these pews were used by the elders of the church.
A simple folding table is attached to one of these raised pews and probably were used to accommodate the secretary for taking notes. Extensive minutes were always taken of the meetings and later published in volumes of photostatic copies. These copies are available for reference at the Pennsylvania State Library.
Natural light is admitted to the building through small windows located 'round the room. Entrance is gained to the original building through doors located on the north, south, and west sides. The unique feature of the west side doors is that they are located 24 inches above the ground to permit members of the congregation to dismount from their horses or alight from their carriages and enter the building directly without coming in contact with the ground. This feature eliminated the stone step arrangement which was mentioned in the last article as being used at Newberry Meeting.
The floors of the original building, as has been mentioned, are of wood with stone work around the fire places. The ceiling is of typical open beam construction covered with the flooring of the attic above.
Reputedly the attic of Warrington Meeting House was a station of the Underground Railway. During the time of the Civil War, Northerners who were sympathetic with Southern negroes established a long chain of hiding places stretching from the deep South and continuing to the Canadian border. The Quakers played a great part in the "underground railway". Slaves traveled mostly by night assisted by the Quakers or other aids. During the day they were hidden in secret quarters or stations where they obtained food and rest.
This secretiveness was the life of a runaway slave until he reached the Canadian border. After crossing the border the slave became a free man with rights equal to those of white men.
Plaster walls were used throughout the building and remain in good repair to this day. Also in equally good repair is the finish on the wainscoating which was used in the lower portion of the walls.
Music for the little singing that was done in meetings was provided by a small organ located at the rear of the pews in the center of the room. The organ still plays and is used for the annual Warrington Meeting.
In 1782 it was found necessary to enlarge the building to almost double its original size in order to accommodate the Quarterly Meeting. A stone addition was added to the north end of the original building. This addition, as it stands today, housed the "First Day" session of the meeting. In the room are backless, wooden benches where the congregation sat as they participated in services which may be compared to the present day "Sunday School".
The straight backed pews in this room are located in tiers along the west wall of the building. Presently, some of the benches have been elevated on trestles and are being used as tables for the younger children who attend the annual First Day service.
Access is gained to the room, by any of three doors leading outside from the west, north, and east side of the room. A door on the south side leads into the original building. Partitions separate the new and old buildings, but the partitions can be removed and the two rooms used as one in the event of an unusually large attendance. The order of the services used at these meetings will be discussed in a later article.
Heating was supplied in the new addition by a stove, which still remains in its original place near the center of the room. No fireplace was installed in the new section of the meeting house.
An interesting account of the progress on the 1782 addition is given by Albert Cook Myers in his book "Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania". From the book a portion of Benjamin Walker's diary has been taken and reported here. Benjamin Walker was a member of the Meeting and resided on an adjoining farm to the south of Warrington Meeting House. Walker was on the building committee and made the following entries, compiled by Mr. Myers, in his diary concerning the new addition:
"April 13, 1782, he (Walker) is 'One to provide Nesaryes (necessaries) and go on with Building and (an) addishing (addition) to our Meeting house.' May 16, 1782, 'agreed with ye Carpenters to Do ye work for the Meeting house.' June 13, 1782, 'at Meeting this Day we agreed with John and Jonah Thomas to Build a Stone End to the Meeting house and with ye Carpenters.'"
'Mr. Cook concludes the compilation by stating "The addition was soon completed, and, January 2, 1783, we find the committee settling with 'the Masons for Building ye new meeting house and ther (there) is Due to them 44 pounds and 4 shiliingis.'"
New flooring and roofing were installed on the older building in 1783, one year after the addition was completed. With the exception of a slate roof and other repairs completed around 1890, the structure looks much the same today as it did when the last alterations, were completed in 1782.
On account of the continued westward emigration the regular meetings were discontinued about the middle of the nineteenth century, and now meetings are held only once a year.