The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 1 – preparation meetings of Haverford and Merion

In recounting the story of the old Ithan Store in last week’s column, we stated that Robert Curley, present owner of the property, has found that it was in 1681 that Richard Daves obtained 500 acres from William Penn as part of the original grant of land from the Charles II of England to Penn made one year earlier. Daves’ holdings were in what is now the Ithan section of Radnor Township and it was from him that John Jarman purchased the 100 acres on part of which the old store now stands. It was soon after 1688 that the store was built.

It was not until the middle nineties, probably somewhere between 1693 and 1695, that the original Radnor Meeting across the road was built. There is no record of the materials used for it. It may indeed, have been built of logs, as were some of the early dwellings. By 1717 Friends of Radnor were considering the erection of a meeting home to be built of stone. According to some of the old records encouragement for this undertaking was needed, for early records mention “A letter from one frd (friend) Benjamin Holm to this meeting recomending to their Consideration The Stirring up of frds (friends) In Ye Building of their Meeting house att Radnor.”

Benjamin Holm’s letter to the Meeting also states that those concerned with the building “should be concerned for ye prosperity of Truth.” David Morris, David Lewis, Edd. Rees and Robert Jones, Richard Hayes and Samuel Lewis were appointed “to assist In Ye contrivance and ye building Thereof, and they meet together abt (about) it on ye 21st of this instant, and report to ye next morning.”

The members of the Committee all belonged to the Preparation Meetings of Haverford and Merion. The next Meeting was held at Merion, and one of its minutes embraces the report of the Committee.

“Some friends of those appointed to assist Radnor friends in Ye Contrivance of a new meeting house, then having acct. yt. they have accordingly met and given their thoughts as to ye bigness and form thereof. To wch (which) Radnor frds Then there present seemed generally to agree with.”

The monthly meetings were held alternately at Haverford, Merion and radnor, and in course a meeting would be held in the early part of December, 1718. This meeting was ordered to be held at Haverford, “their meeting home at Radnor being not ready.”

The west end of the present building was constructed at that time but the east end was not completed for several years. It was in 1721 that Radnor Friends “Made a Motion . . . for some assistance to finish their Meeting House. And it is desired that the friends of the Severall parts belonging to this Meeting do contribute what they think Meet for so comendable a work.” The east end was still under construction in 1722 and was for a period used for a Friends School. Here Enoch Lewis, a well-known mathematician, and later a member of the Westtown faculty, went to school and later taught.

Today that meeting house, built in the closing years of the 17th century, with its addition made some twenty-five years later, still stands in its quiet dignity, at one of the busiest intersections of roads along the Old Conestoga Road. The building is in good repair, and in constant use, with a membership of some 125 Friends. It is a “united meeting,” that is, with membership from both Arch Street and Race Street meetings.

The old burying ground in its quiet serenity looks much as it always has throughout these many years. There is occasionally a new grave in the midst of the old ones. Although of course long outdated now, the old vault still stands as a reminder of the days when frozen ground made permanent burial impossible until spring should come. An endowment fund provides for lasting upkeep of the burial ground. There is still, too, the old block from which one dismounted from horse or carriage when coming to services.

Inside there is still the old division between the men’s side and the women’s, though that custom of seating has now fallen into disuse. the original old pine panelling is still lovely as is whatever old glass remains. Quite recently the “pot-bellied” stoves have been dispensed with, and a modern heating system has been installed.

Due to the large numbers who attend First Day School, an interesting use has been made of the old fashioned wagon sheds. Five of these now have been converted into connecting rooms for First Day School, the backs of these rooms still the thick stone walls of the sheds, and their fronts glass enclosed in a most attractive manner. Two more still remain to be converted when the demands come for more First Day School space.
Still standing after more than two hundred and fifty years, the Radnor Meeting looks much as it did originally, though some modernization has taken place. Like its close neighbors, Merion Meeting and Haverford Meeting, it is a living memorial to the faith of some of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers, a faith still enduring in our present generation of the Society of Friends.
(The intervening years between the early days of Radnor Meeting and the present will be described in subsequent articles. For her information Mrs. Patterson is indebted to Miss Dorothy Harris, of the Historical Library of Swarthmore ; to Mrs. Ralph Unkefer, of Ithan and to the “History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania,” by George Smith, M.D.)