Living Like The 1800s: Arch Street Meeting House

 

Photo: Hidden City Daily

Friends from around the region attending their yearly meeting later this month will walk over never varnished, native yellow pine floors laid in the early 1800s to take a seat on benches with horse hair filled cushions from the 1740s. They will discuss issues facing their faith and worship in the west meeting room of the Arch Street Meeting House just as their Philadelphia founding predecessors. The room exists with the same purpose and in much the same state as when completed in 1811.

William Penn gave the land at Arch Street between 3rd and 4th to the Quakers in the 1690s. The Friends used it as a burial ground until the congregation’s women pushed for additional meeting space. An east meeting room connected by a center pavilion to a west meeting room shortly covered the site’s 10,000 graves to serve as the home of Philadelphia’s Quakers.

The two left-most center windowpanes show the characteristic curvature of mouth-blown, crown glass. | Photo: Hidden City Daily

The Arch Street Meeting House’s historic treasures extend beyond the bench cushions, flooring, and unmarked graves to the wavy glass in its windowpanes, made by skilled craftsman using a mouth blown process. Glass makers opened a molten glass ball on the end of a blowpipe into a crown like shape, transferred it to a rod, flattened and reheated the crown to create a disc shape, and then thinned the disc by spinning the rod to increase the glass disc to a diameter of five or six feet. They then cut the glass to the appropriate windowpane size. Crown glass was one of the most common forms of window glass until the Industrial Revolution. Today its production process is practically a lost art; the replaced panes in the Arch Street Meeting House are easily identified by their lack of curvature.

Photo: Gayle Christiansen

Close inspection of the second floor benches, originally reserved for boys, revels another Arch Street Meeting House find. Intricately lettered initials in a cursive font appear carved into the wood. It seems the desire to quietly pass time by leaving one’s mark was as strong in the past as today.


View Larger Map

Gayle Christiansen began exploring the ins and outs of Camden as a middle school science teacher in the City. She has since written a chapter about Camden’s vibrant, essential and overlooked small businesses in Transforming Minds and Cities: Economy, Equity, and Environment, a forthcoming edited volume by Vanderbilt University Press. Gayle earned a bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College and Master of City Planning degree from MIT. She is a sometimes blogger with MIT’s CoLab Radio and part of the Project H.O.M.E. community in North Central Philadelphia.

Send a message!



2 Comments


  1. the Frankford friends meeting house on Unity Street south of Frankford Ave is the oldest continuously used meeting house in the country. it has always been a meeting house unlike Arch St. while he has had other uses, a paint factory at one point, I believe. the Frankford building get and the cemetery while in need of so ” help” date back to 1683. it is still used periodically and if you don’t mind musty, I really mean musty, it is awesome.

  2. According to Wikipedia, the Frankford meeting house, while founded in 1683, was replaced in the 1770s, which would make the oldest the Merion meeting house built in 1695.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Unlisted Philadelphia: Smith Memorial Arch

Unlisted Philadelphia: Smith Memorial Arch

March 29, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a grand gateway to an urban park paradise > more

Archeologists Dish Up Dirt On Philly History Under I-95

Archeologists Dish Up Dirt On Philly History Under I-95

March 28, 2017  |  News

Contributor Jared Brey takes us under the overpass and down in the trenches of the 95 Revive archeological excavation where field workers are piecing together centuries of lost Philadelphia history > more

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

March 23, 2017  |  Vantage

PREIT's transformation of The Gallery into an upscale shopping outlet promises to be the suburban-minded downtown destination that the first mall failed to deliver. Contributor Chris Giuliano takes a look at the redevelopment of East Market and Edmond Bacon's original plan. > more

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

March 20, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes a stroll down to Society Hill where business is stirring at an old 19th century coal company headquarters after 12 years of vacancy > more

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

March 17, 2017  |  Buzz

Two fans of Modernism re-evaluate architectural history with the exhibition, "What Was the Philadelphia School?" > more

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

March 16, 2017  |  Vantage

The site of Penn's new riverside research campus has a long, decorated history of industrial enterprise. Contributor Madeline Helmer dives deep into the backstory > more