A Brief History of Valley Friends Meeting
Valley Meeting began as an "allowed" meeting of Radnor Preparative Meeting in July (Fifth Month), 1713. It was a part of the Monthly Meeting of the Welsh Tract, which included at that time the Meetings in Haverford (now called the Old Haverford Meeting) , Merion, Gwynedd, Plymouth, Radnor and the Valley. These early meetings of Friends in the Valley were held in the homes of Lewis Walker and Joseph Richardson. Meetings for Worship were held on both the first day of the week and mid-week.
Lewis Walker, one of the earliest settlers in Tredyffrin, and one of the founding members of this Meeting, left to Friends in the Valley the property on which his family burial ground was located, now the burial grounds of Valley Meeting. Over the years, this small piece of property was added to at different times until now the Meeting grounds span both sides of Old Eagle School Road. In 1731, a meetinghouse, probably made of logs, was erected in the northeast corner of the present Burial Grounds.
As the American Revolution took hold in the Philadelphia area, Friends in the Valley as elsewhere felt they were unable to support the war because of their peace testimony. Because they did not feel able to support either side of the war, they found their produce and home furnishings often confiscated by one of the warring factions or the other. Grain and farm produce, all types of livestock, blankets and household linens, clothing, household and farm equipment, and other items were simply taken because the items were needed and Friends were unwilling to accept payment for their use by either army.
Being situated so closely with Valley Forge, Valley Meeting, like most other meetinghouses and churches in this area, found its space converted to "hospital" service during the winter encampment of George Washington and his forces at Valley Forge. Little information about this period survives, but what there is suggest that Friends accepted this use of their property graciously and strove to be hospitable to their "guests". Oral tradition tells us that many who died in this "hospital" are interred in unmarked graves in our burial ground.
In November, 1785, it was decided that the joint meeting of Radnor and Valley to prepare for the Monthly Meeting would be held at Valley every other month, with the first such meeting being held at the Valley on the first Wednesday in January, 1786. In August, 1810, Valley became a Preparative Meeting, which meant that it now would hold its own meeting in preparation for the Monthly Meeting for Business.
Soon after Valley became a Preparative Meeting, Friends in the outer reaches of the Meeting’s geographic span asked that they be permitted to meet closer to their homes, and a "Religious Meeting" was "indulged" at Charlestown beginning in February, 1812. In 1843, that meeting became the Schuylkill Preparative Meeting.
In 1829, Friends throughout the eastern portion of the United States went through a difficult time with a division between Friends which lasted nearly 125 years. Few Friends in the Valley felt inclined to separate from their meeting, but Valley Meeting was not untouched by these events. Valley Meeting identified itself at that time as an "Hicksite Meeting". In 1870, it was felt that Valley needed a larger meetinghouse. Valley was then a part of the Philadelphia Quarter of Friends. With yellow fever a frequent problem in the summer months, particularly within the city of Philadelphia, Friends of the Quarter were eager to have a suitable meeting place outside the city. The Columbia Railroad line was near the meetinghouse with frequent passenger trains making travel from Philadelphia relatively easy, so the Philadelphia Quarter agreed to assist with the funding to make the new Valley meetinghouse large enough to accommodate the Quarterly Meeting. The Quarter contributed nearly a third of the cost of the building ($3,000 of the total cost of $9,572). The August Meetings of the Philadelphia Quarter were held at Valley until 1902 when there were not enough Friends at Valley to provide adequate hospitality to such a large group.
Construction of the present meetinghouse was begun in 1871 and it was opened for Worship on the 28th of 4th month, 1872 (April 28, 1872). This new meetinghouse was divided by a moveable partition which allowed the men and women to hold their business meetings separately. This custom was begun early in the history of Friends to assure that women would be able to make decisions on those matters of concern to them. It arose from the belief of Friends— then as now—that men and women were equal in the sight and service of God. These separate men’s and women’s business meetings discontinued at Valley and other Quaker Meetings in the Philadelphia area and a single business meeting began so after the completion of this building. The original machinery used to raise and lower these partitions remains in the attic of the meetinghouse. The ropes which pulled the dividing wall are visible through a small door in the meeting room wall.
Three years after the present meetinghouse was built, an elementary school was begun, in large measure through the efforts of the women of the Meeting. A teacher was employed for $50 a month. In September, 1875, the school opened with 25 pupils. Tuition was $25 for the ten month term, with an additional fee of $10 for instruction in Latin. The school closed in 1885 because there were not enough students to support it.
Valley became a Monthly Meeting in 1936. This important step enabled Valley to have oversight of weddings and memorial services under the care of the Meeting, as well as to act upon its own business. In 1955, it joined with other Meetings in the Philadelphia area to create a "single" Quaker Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia, thus healing the breach which occurred in 1829. Valley became a part of the Haverford Quarter which was formed at that time.
Valley Friends Meeting remains a small but active meeting. We cherish our long history, but are focused on today. Throughout the years, our meetinghouse has been renovated and added to many times. The most recent renovation (2006), was undertaken to make our meetinghouse more accessible and useful for our present needs. Today, our meetinghouse seamlessly blends our past and present. Likewise, our living community seeks to bring together traditional Quaker insights and values with the demands and understandings of modern life to provide its attending community with an orientation to life which, being both reality-based and truth-based, offers a firm foundation in a rapidly changing world.
Last updated: 2008-08-15