Friends General Conference

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Kennett Meeting House, now known as “Old Kennett,” was first constructed in 1710 on land donated by Ezekiel Harlan as a log structure. Log buildings were the quickest to construct, and allowed the members to have shelter on site while they prepared the permanent structure. Over the following two decades, these Quaker farmers gathered and hauled dressed fieldstone, felled, dried, and sawed timber, and finally ordered glass windows. In their spare time, they banded together to construct the meetinghouse and equip its interior. The completed building was ready for worship in 1731.

Quakers emphasize utility and plainness in architecture as in dress; simplicity without ostentation. Old Kennett is one of the oldest intact Quaker meetinghouse in America. Some modifications were made in 1750; the gambrel roof was changed to its current configuration, the small casement windows were replaced by larger double hung windows, the entrance was changed from north facing to south facing doors, the wraparound mezzanine level was reduced, and the sounding board that hung above the elders’ bench was removed. Later on, the initial fireplace was replaced by a wood stove, now removed.

Main framing timbers and ceiling attic floor beams are of pit sawn oak, and all woodwork is hand cut and carved, with joints of mortise and tenon. Floors are of hand hewn and planed oak boards pegged into rough-hewn timbers, with floor framing timbers that rest on top of brick and stone piers. Wainscoting is primarily poplar and chestnut.

Benches date from 1710 onwards with various graffiti from youth members dating from the eighteenth century. Notches in ceiling timbers show evidence of prior configurations. All the wood is original, fine-grained old growth timber. The sliding partitions were used to separate space for men’s and women’s meetings for business.

Early Quakers realized that women would not speak up in the presence of men. Quaker women honed their skills in leadership, finance, public speaking, and organization by managing committees within their community, and later on brought those skills to bear in the wider world. For broader meetings, including for worship, the partitions were raised. The attic area was used to care for young children during meeting, and to house traveling ministries of gifted speakers.