Bicentennial Events Planned at Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse

Photo courtesy farmingtonmeetinghouse.org

“No public building still standing in New York state, and few in the country, better represent the irrepressible energies of many Americans before the Civil War to implement ideals of equality for all people.” —Professor Judith Wellman


The bicentennial of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse will be commemorated with a full weekend of events including an opening ceremony, a play, talks, musical performances, tours of the meetinghouse and appearances by portrayers of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Austin Steward who will stroll through the grounds to meet with visitors and answer questions about their roles in history and their connections with the Meetinghouse. Friends of Ganondagan will sponsor members of the Seneca Nation who will address the attendees.

The bicentennial weekend events, all free and open to the public, will be held on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22 and 23, at the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, County Road 8 (corner of Sheldon Road) and at the Farmington Friends Church, directly across from the meetinghouse grounds.

The commemoration is supported by the New York Council for the Humanities. It is co-sponsored by the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation, the Town of Farmington, Farmington Friends Church, and Friends of Ganondagan.

The Quakers (or Friends)—who sought to reform America through their discussions and their actions—were the original settlers of the town of Farmington and were remarkably vibrant local leaders in major national reform movements including women’s rights, abolitionism and the Underground Railroad, and Native American sovereignty. The hub of their work in upstate New York, a microcosm of national fervor, was their Quaker meetinghouse that was established in 1816 and which was nearly lost to the ages until a group of citizens joined together to save and restore the structure.

“The 1816 meetinghouse as a building certainly has great historical significance,” said Judith Wellman, State University of New York at Oswego professor emerita of history and coordinator of the citizens’ group restoring the meetinghouse. “But we especially seek to commemorate and celebrate the discussions that took place here and the actions that the Quakers and so many others took to advance the rights of women, African Americans and Native Americans.”

The commemoration begins on Saturday, Oct. 22, with the opening ceremony at 10:30 a.m. featuring remarks by Professor Wellman, Farmington Supervisor Peter Ingalsbe and Lyle Jenks, President of the group. Theodore Fafinski, past supervisor of the Town of Farmington; the Town of Farmington; and the Farmington Friends Church will be recognized for their support of the Meetinghouse restoration, along with descendants of Farmington’s early Quaker families.

On Sunday at 12:30 Kathy Hochul, New York State lieutenant governor, will be honored in her capacity as chair of the New York State Centennial Commission on Women’s Suffrage. Hochul and Mary Anne Krupsak, who was the first woman to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor from 1975 to 1978, will receive “Carrying on the Vision” awards. The awards will be presented on behalf of the 1816 Meetinghouse, Friends of Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Susan B. Anthony House, and Matilda Gage Joslyn Foundation.

Other highlights of the weekend include woman suffrage songs by Peggy Lynn (noon Saturday), a talk by Onondaga Clan Mother Freida Jacques, who will speak on “The Honorable Harvest” (2:00 p.m. Saturday), an address by Grandmother Mona Polacca of the International Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers (11:00 a.m. Sunday, as part of Farmington Friends worship service); and a stage performance of Bullis by Rand Darrow, the story of General John Lapham Bullis, a native of Macedon, N.Y., who served with and commanded U.S. Colored Troops (the Buffalo Soldiers) after the Civil War (2:00 p.m Sunday,). 

BACKGROUND FOR EDITORS

The Quakers, or Friends, were the original settlers of the town of Farmington, just a few miles north of Canandaigua. We think of them as a plain people, quiet and reserved. Yet they were remarkably vibrant local leaders in major national reform movements.

Native American sovereignty, women’s rights, abolitionism and the Underground Railroad — the Friends sought to reform America through their discussions, and through their actions. The hub of their work, which became a microcosm of national fervor, was the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, which was nearly lost to the ages.

A group of citizens is now working to preserve this building that became a national crucible. The first meetinghouse was built out of logs in 1796 near the hamlet of New Salem, known today as Pumpkin Hook at the corner of Allen-Padgham and Hook roads. After it was destroyed by fire in 1803, the Friends constructed a larger building nearby. When that became too small for the growing numbers of settlers, they erected a new meetinghouse in 1816.

The building was said to have held 1,000 people at times and served as the site of the Friends’ Genesee Yearly Meeting, drawing Quakers from throughout western New York, Michigan, and Canada.

The meetinghouse was a six-section structure. Ministers and elders sat on tiered seating. Members sat on plain board seats on the main floor or up in the gallery. Panels could be lowered down the middle of the room to separate men’s and women’s meetings. It was one of the earliest and largest meetinghouses west of the colonial settlements.

The Friends became active in the antislavery movement. They operated stations in Farmington on the Underground Railroad, sheltering Austin Steward, William Wells Brown, and the Edmondson sisters, among others.

Steward escaped from slavery around 1815 and lived in Farmington for four years. He became an African-American leader in the United States and Canada and is buried in Canandaigua. Several homes associated with the 1816 Meetinghouse were stations on the Underground Railroad.

Farmington Friends went on to help organize the antislavery Liberty League Party, which held their first national convention in Macedon in 1847. This was the first known national political convention to include women. Convention attendees gave votes to Lucretia Mott and Lydia Maria Child before nominating Gerrit Smith as its presidential nominee. They were leaders of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society and invited national leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to speak at the meetinghouse.

By July 1838, Farmington women formed one of the most active of the 20 female antislavery societies in New York state, publicly and explicitly connecting abolitionism to women’s rights.

In 1848, the Farmington Friends helped organize the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls. Professor Wellman noted, “There would have been no women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848 without people associated with Farmington Meetinghouse.” Quakers worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to organize the convention, and they formed about one-third of those who signed the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments.

That same year, the Friends organized a new meeting of Congregational Friends, abolishing separate meetings and welcoming men and women “on terms of perfect equality.” Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony each spoke in the Farmington meetinghouse.

The list of the Farmington Friends’ activities in these national movements spans more than a century.

After the Friends’ final meeting in the structure in 1926, a local farmer, John Van Lare, bought it and used it as a storage barn for potatoes and celery.

The meetinghouse remained in private ownership over the years. But within the last two decades, it was damaged when a car crashed into it, and then, a bigger disaster: In February 2006, a windstorm blew off the east wall.

With little time to spare, a group formed to preserve and restore the structure. Its owners at the time donated it to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation of Seneca Falls. In 2009, the citizens formed their own nonprofit group—the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse Museum — to take over the project.

Today, about 80 percent of the original structure remains, although in pieces that will need to be reassembled. It sits at a new location at the intersection of County Road 8 and Sheldon Road, on land donated by the Farmington Friends Church. An architectural historic structure report, prepared by John G. Waite Associates, Architects, in conjunction with local volunteers, will guide the restoration.

Professor Wellman says the meetinghouse is particularly significant because no public building still standing in New York state, and few in the country, better represent the continuity of reform movements over nearly two centuries.

Much work remains, but the restoration groundwork is in place. “We’ve had support from town of Farmington officials and have made progress, thanks to funding from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, Canandaigua National Bank, Rochester Area Community Foundation, National Park Service, 1772 Foundation, and many individual contributions,” she says.

Each summer, the group conducts programs throughout the area on topics that connect these historical movements for equal rights with contemporary social movements.

The meetinghouse is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the national level of significance, on the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and on the national Collaborative of Women’s History Sites. The National Park Service is conducting a study to determine whether the structure should be listed as a National Historic Landmark.