The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 2

On one of last week’s warm summer afternoons the writer left the swift flowing traffic of Conestoga road to turn right at the corner of Radnor-Chester road in order to reach Newtown road. On the left, in a triangle bounded by three roads, stands the quaint little building once used as a Friends School and now home of F. A. Chidsey, Jr. Across Newtown road is the entrance to the old Radnor Meeting House, the original building dating back to the latter part of the 17th century, with the present building erected only about twently-five years later.

Once inside the gateway, the noise of the busy thoroughfare seemed at once muffled and far away. Low headstones in the burying ground to the west of the Meeting House marked old graves and new. A soft breeze, cooler here than on the road, swayed the branches of the trees surrounding the Meeting House and the tall grasses and flowers in the field beyond.

The front door was ajar . . . softly I stepped across the threshold of the old building that has stood in quiet serenity just off the busy highway for so many a long year. A peace and quietness that is difficult to feel in these days of fear and of unrest seemed to flow from the beautiful pine-banelled walls and to come in with the setting seem through the old panes of glass. It was a moment for pause, for reflection and for prayer that we of a generation so far removed from that of those who first worshipped here should face our future as courageously as they did their’s.

Softly I closed the door behind me and went out again along the highway. But in spite of the constant flow of automobile traffic the past seemed closer to me for the moment than did the present. Perhaps it was because Conestoga road is rather narrow between the Old Store and Ithan Station and with its cool woods for a short distance along each side suggests the narrow pathways trodden by our forefathers and the Indians who were their neighbors. For the moment at least I could almost see that sparsely populated settlement of Radnor in the “Welsh Tract” that William Penn sold to Welsh Friends in the early 1680’s.

Houses of these early Welshmen were few and far between. At first some were built of logs, later ones were of stone. Life must have been lonely and rather terrifying at times, especially to those who had come from the well populated parts of Wales. The wilderness of the forests through which Friends passed in going to meeting, is reflected in the Minutes of Radnor Meeting of 1693: “It is ordered by the Meeting & Consent of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Haverford and Radnor . . . ye (that) ye Inhabitants . . . should pay 1s (one shilling) per hundred (one hundred acres of land) towards ye takeing of Woolves”.

But at least the Pennsylvania Colony founded by that famous Quaker, the good William Penn, was free form the religious persecution which they had suffered in their homes overseas. The Quaker movement took root in America in 1656 and twenty-six years later, in 1682, Penn founded his colony as a “holy experiment” in the application of Quaker ideals to the State. Although later settlers were hostile to their ideals, the Quakers were consistent in using their influence to keep peace with the Indians and to protect them from fraud and debauchery. They always worked for popular education, peace, temperance and democracy and championed effectively the cause of religious liberty.

The founder of the Society of Friends was George Fox, an Englishman, whose followers were first called Quakers, because he had exhorted the magistrates “to terrible at the word of the Lord”. Believing himself to be the subject of divine call, he wandered from place to place spreading his views on religious reforms. he made missionary journeys through Ireland, Scotland, the West Indies, Holland, and even North America. Generally speaking, the Society of Friends exhibits a “form of Christianity widely divergent from the prevalent types, being a religious fellowship which has no formulated creed demanding definite subscription, and no liturgy, priesthood or outward sacrament, and which gives to women an equal place with men in church organizatioon.”

The “Welsh Tract” of 40,000 acres promised by William Penn to Welsh Friends included the present townships of Haverford, Merion, Radnor and part of Goshen. Among the purchasers was a Richard Davies, who bought 5000 acres and in turn sold it to Friends of Radnorshire in Wales. These were the Friends who first settled the present township of Radnor.

According to Miss Dorothy Harris of the Historical Library of Swarthmore, who has compiled form many sources an interesting history of Radnor Meeting, “As soon as homes were built, Welsh Friends began meeting together in them for worship, and continued meeting in homes for about ten years until their Meeting Houses could be built. Gradually four distinct worship groups developed, one in Merion, one in Haverford, one in Radnor, and one on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. This last one was held in the home of Thomas Duckett, whose farm occupied the ground on which the former West Philadelphia Station, at 32nd and Market, stood. Business meetings each month of the four groups began to be held in 1684 and at first rotated irregularly among the other localities of Schuylkill, Haverford and Merion. This was the beginning of Radnor Monthly Meeting–called in the early period Haverford Monthy Meeting.

(To be continued.)