Horsham Friends Meeting
The Horsham Friends Meeting is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document submitted to the National Park Service and accepted for registration in 1991. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Horsham Friends Meeting comprises an intact complex of Colonial and Federal era buildings and a cemetery located at the intersection of some of the oldest roads in Horsham township. The Meeting compound is divided functionally by the Easton Road (Route 611), into the meeting house and its dependent structures on the southeast, and the buildings of its supporting services to the northwest. These subsidiary structures are the schoolhouse, the tenant farmer's house, and the cemetery, and represent the more worldly needs of the Meeting community.
The Meeting House itself is a handsome example of the mature building type of the so-called double meeting house with separate entrances for men and women. Unlike most conventional urban meeting houses which were of brick, or the usual country meetings of stuccoed rubble stone, this is of carefully squared and cut stone giving the building particular distinction. It conforms to the norms of orientation of the buildings belonging to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, with its main, long elevation facing south at right angles to the main road. The careful choice and manipulation of building materials used to construct the meeting both celebrate the individual values of stone and wood and knit together an elegantly cohesive and powerful whole.
The meeting exterior is of a warm pink-tan sandstone laid up in a subtle pattern. The corners of the building are defined by carefully dressed and squared stones used as long and short work with a ribbon mortar joint; these give way to less regularly cut stone coursed with a weather joint. The meeting house is lit by large, six-over-six, single-hung sash windows on the first floor which retain their paneled shutters. Large eight-over-eight windows light the gallery. These are regularly spaced in groups of three on the south face, presumably reflecting the interior subdivision, while the north wall fenestration shows a subtle variation with windows organized in a pair on the east end, three in the center and two on the west above a centered entrance.
These windows are visible above the sheltering porch which nearly surrounds the building. An early photograph from around 1860 shows that the original meeting entrances were sheltered by simple gables above the doors, an architectural detail which survives at other meetings of the Philadelphia Yearly group including Buckingham, Bucks County. Similar canopies were used on the "Great Meeting" at Second and High (now Market Street). The surrounding porch, which replaced the small canopies, was added by 1890. The porch, carried on chamfer-edges posts, shelters and encircles the building on three sides, leaving the east side unprotected, presumably because it had neither an entrance nor was much traveled. According to T. Chalkley Matlack, this was unique in his survey of Quaker Meetings. In the twentieth century, the social room was added where the break in the porch occurred. This sheltered walk is a modification shared with other meetings of the contemporary quarterly meetings, which included Byberry, Germantown, and Abington, as well as some other suburban meetings, such as Darby and Old Concord. At the southwest corner, high under the porch, the numbers 1803 were inscribed in the stone and filled with lead, recording the date of completion of construction. A plain box eave crowns the facade. The gabled roof is sheathed in slates, a twentieth century alteration from the original wood shakes.
The meeting is fronted by a drive and parking area with a carriage shelter of considerable antiquity that appears in a c.1860 photograph of the facade of the meeting. This is a simple plank-sided, gabled structure, open on the west side and closed on the north and east sides. The photograph shows a second stone-sided shelter to the west which had succumbed to the widening of the highway by the end of the century. Presumably the stone shelter was the earlier, perhaps dating from as early as 1809 when a committee was formed to build a new stable. Large sycamore trees planted in front of the meeting house are reminders of the Quaker interest in the natural world.
The interior of the Meeting House retains virtually all of its original detail. The open, double height space is divided symmetrically into equal men's and women's meeting rooms by a movable central, paneled partition. The mechanism of pulleys and cables designed to draw up massive sections of the partition to unite the meeting into a single room when needed survives in working order in the attic above. A balcony encircles the entire double room and is reached by stairs at the southern corners of the room; it was used for overflow particularly when the quarterly meeting met in the building. Tuscan columns, far slenderer than those advocated by Owen Biddle in The Young Carpenter's Assistant (1805) support the balcony; above are superimposed a second tier carrying the ceiling structure, creating a vertical rhythm through the room. Much of the woodwork remains in its original, unvarnished state, and has developed a subtle patina with age. The unfinished, random width floor boards survive throughout, and the meeting retains many of its original benches. The walls are painted plaster above a wainscot. Apart from the removal of the pair of potbellied stoves that once stood at each end of the building, and the removable acoustic tile ceiling, added in a vain attempt to quiet the roar of the jets from Willow Grove air base, the interior is essentially as it was a century and more ago.
The original building was expanded on the east in 1961 by a one story addition to accommodate the meeting offices and a school. Those were functions which had been served by the earlier building across Easton Road, but with its transformation into a major highway were brought to the main site. The new building is in keeping with its architectural setting and heritage, a low gable roofed, stuccoed wing of simple construction.
Across Easton Road is a second cluster of buildings related to the broader social role of the meeting in the history of the community. To the north is a two-story, stuccoed, rubble stone house which was originally constructed as a tenant farmer's house, the income from which was to support the school. Interior finishes and the evidence of the plan indicate that the core of the tenant farmer's house is the oldest structure of this ensemble of buildings. Those early portions may be part of a two-story stone house which existed on the property at the time it was deeded to the Meeting in 1717. The house is oriented with its main, long elevation to the south, and is built of coursed rubble with ashlar long and short work at the corners, overlaid with stucco. The shallow roof slope and small windows in the attic story indicate a rebuilding of the house at the end of the eighteenth century, presumably in the 1794 rebuilding noted in the Meeting minutes. Within, a centered stair and massive fireplaces with flanking raised panel doors survive from the earlier phase of the house.
To the south of the tenant farmer's house is a cemetery surrounded by a low stone wall. It expresses the simple Quaker aesthetic with no differentiation between tombstones which are uniformly low, round-headed marble slabs set in rows. These bear the names of the leading citizens of Horsham: Kenderdine, Jarrett, Garrett, Gommere and others, demonstrating the central role of the meeting in the development of the community.
On the south side of the field is the one room school house which met the third mission of the meeting, the education of its youth. Though facilities were provided for a school back into the early eighteenth century, the present gable roofed, stuccoed, one and a half story building presumably dates from the first years of the nineteenth century at about the same time that the meeting was erected. A modest door under a small canopy opens on the east side towards the meeting. The south wall is lighted by a pair of one over one windows on either side of a central chimney. Earlier photographs show low windows under the eaves which have been stuccoed over during an early twentieth century alteration. The original building was constructed as a one room school house, but it has been continuously modified with various minor wood sheds throughout the course of the century. In recent years the building has been converted to a nursery school and updated with fire escapes.
Despite the alterations to the school and the addition of the wing to the meeting, the Horsham Meeting property is one of the most complete Quaker complexes with buildings for all of its functions intact and on their original sites. As such it possesses a remarkable degree of integrity.
The Horsham Friends Meeting holds a strategic place in the history of its region, and is intimately connected with the founding and settlement of the township in which it is located. Further, it is a surviving manifestation of William Penn's "Holy Experiment," one of the primary driving forces behind the founding of the Pennsylvania colony, and embodied and served as the focus of the social organization of the early settlement. The Meeting's fundamental role in its region is reflected in its location as the terminus to many of the area's earliest roads; in its position as the only house of worship in the township into the late nineteenth century; and in the name and identity of the community which was known as Horsham Meeting into the 1890s. As an institutional center, the Meeting provided other key community services in its school, in preserving the history of the township's inhabitants through record keeping, and in its cemetery. The Horsham Meeting represents an important and intact example of the mature form of the building type developed in Pennsylvania to suit the specific needs of its early Quaker settlers. Finally, with its graveyard, tenant farmer's house school house and stable, the Horsham Meeting complex is one of the most complete Quaker institutional groups surviving in eastern Pennsylvania.
Most of the land of today's Horsham Township was granted by Penn to Samuel Carpenter, a Quaker. The land was subdivided for settlement beginning in 1709, and the great majority of the land was sold to fellow Quakers. Carpenter made a gift of fifty acres on the petition of a group of these Friends in 1715 which forms the present property. By that date a portion of the present caretaker's house (formerly the tenant farmer's house), and a barn (which does not survive), had already been built on the property, and are mentioned in the grant. After his death, Carpenter's widow Hannah deeded this land to the Meeting in 1717, with the stipulation that it fulfill the obligations of building a roasting house and schoolhouse and opening a graveyard. The arduous winter journey to Abington, the nearest meeting, and the growth of the community caused Abington Monthly Meeting to grant the application for a permanent Preparative Meeting in 1717.
The region which is now Horsham Township was originally part of the quarterly meeting group which included Germantown Meeting. Thus many of the first members of the Meeting and settlers of the township were descendants of the founders of Germantown. Jan Lucken, one of the Germantown settlers, was the first recorded purchaser of land from Carpenter. His land was subdivided among his children, whose name was changed to Lukens, after his death. Other Lukenses purchased tracts early on and remained active in the meeting appearing on committees well into the nineteenth century; additional Germantown founders' descendants included Isaac Tyson, son of Rynear Tyson, and Cornelius Conrad, grandson of Thones Kunders. These, together with the Kenderdine family, also early members of the Meeting who built and operated the mill which survives to the present day at Keith Valley and Davis Grove Roads formed the backbone of Horsham Meeting as the early town was known.
Because access to this community for us was crucial, most of the first township roads led to the Meeting. The second township road to be laid out (after Welsh Road) was to connect Horsham Meeting to Byberry Meeting in 1719. Similarly, the Easton Road, now Route 611, connected Horsham and Willow Grove shortly thereafter. When Colonial Governor William Keith purchased the land that became Graeme Park, another road, the so-called Governor's road connected his rear drive to the meeting. The result is that Horsham Meeting is perhaps the most centrally located structure in the community. The persisting regional importance of the Meeting is demonstrated by the fact that as late as 1884, it was the only house of worship in the township.
Documentation on the Meeting is readily obtained; each meeting was a major center of record keeping, listing marriages, births and deaths, as well as moves of members. In addition, each major decision was made by a committee appointed by the meeting. Complete minutes of the meeting survive in the Quaker collection at the library of Swarthmore College. Evidence of the deeds and minutes makes it apparent that a meeting house had been erected by 1717, in accordance with Hannah Carpenter's deed. The records are voluminous and were surveyed by the WPA inventory of Friends' records; according to Charles Harper Smith, a historian of the Horsham area, this first meeting house was a small stone, one room structure on the northeast side of Easton Road. Increased Quaker settlement and access by better roads necessitated a larger building for the burgeoning congregation, and the original meeting was expanded by a large addition in 1724.
The 1724 building served for several generations, but by 1800, the enlarged community made it necessary to build a new meeting. By the summer of 1802 a site had been selected and work was underway. Minutes of the meeting for first month, 27th, 1804 reported that a committee of Friends had been appointed to collect subscriptions for a meeting house; a month later construction was nearing completion with only the shutters outstanding. The building which resulted was an extremely handsome version of the by then standard double meeting house, based on the Great Meeting of 1755 at Second and Market which was later moved to Twelfth Street and was reconstructed in the 1960s at the George School. Horsham Meeting, however, is unusual in its careful construction of coursed and squared rubble with carefully cut large stones at the corners. This choice of materials rather than the usual stucco over rubble gives the building a monumentality which is frequently lacking in country meetings.
While the meeting was being enlarged, suggesting that it was prospering and the community was growing, it was reported that the graveyard was nearly filled and in the early nineteenth century a committee was asked to see to its enlargement. At this time the perimeter wall was constructed and the graveyard reached its present size. This is of note, not merely as the aesthetic expression of Quaker sensibility but also as evidence of the growth of the community. In an era before centralized record keeping and the national census, it was the church and the meeting which maintained records of people of the colony and the young nation.
If the growth of the graveyard marked the ever-enlarging past within the community, the needs of the school denoted the expansion of the living population. While the meeting was being constructed, funds were raised to improve the schoolhouse, resulting in another committee "for the purpose of building a schoolhouse." That 24' by 30' building was the core of the present structure. Initially, to fulfill the deed obligation to provide a school, classes were held in the meeting house; the lower portion of the schoolhouse was built in 1739 according to its date stone, and minutes indicate that the second story was added in 1804-5 with a small interior stair reaching the second story. Functioning as the educational system of the community before public education was mandated, it educated boys and girls of all races. It was in that enlarged building that John Comly served as school master, and for which he wrote Comly's Spelling Books. That book was used throughout the state until it was supplanted by the Webster's Sweller.
With its complete array of plain style Quaker buildings, the Horsham Meeting is an important example of the role that the Meeting had in serving as the institutional core of the developing Pennsylvania Townships in the early years of Penn's colony. As such it meets criterion A and warrants being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, its handsome stone meeting is an important example of the porch fronted type, and meets criterion C for placement on the National Register.
School District: Hatboro-Horsham