The Whitewater Monthly Meeting House, built by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, is representative of late-nineteenth-century Quaker architecture. It also serves as a physical reminder of a group that made major contributions to the development of Richmond and Wayne County in East Central Indiana.
Some of the area’s first settlers were Quakers from North Carolina seeking good, affordable farmland that was not driven by a slave-based economy. The first gathering of Quakers in Richmond occurred in 1807 with approximately 35 Friends in attendance, most originating from North Carolina or Ohio. About a year later, the Friends built a one-story, hewn-log meeting house near the site of the existing brick Whitewater Monthly Meeting House in what would become Richmond’s Near North Neighborhood; it was significant as the first Friends meeting house in the Indiana Territory. By 1823, membership had grown enough to warrant the construction of a new two-story building. On account of differences in religious principles, in 1828 the North American Society of Friends divided into two groups: the Hicksite Friends and the Orthodox Friends. The Hicksite Friends erected another building elsewhere in Richmond, which now serves as a county museum. The Friends associated with the building on the site of the existing Whitewater Monthly Meeting House remained affiliated with the Orthodox faction. Friends from this Meeting House included many of Richmond’s affluent residents and influential community leaders.
The two-story brick building represents the norm of Quaker architecture and worship in the late nineteenth century. The Italianate architecture was a simpler version of the high style that was popular during the era. The roof is supported by paired Italianate brackets, although they are used sparingly to reflect the Friends’ stoicism. Likewise, window hoods are represented through three courses of brick rather than heavy applied ornamentation. The windows are placed high enough from the grade so that, when seated inside, members would not be distracted from worship by views of the outdoors. The center bay includes a prominent entrance with an ocular window above; the door extends up about two-thirds of the total wall height, a common feature used by the Friends. The building lacks a steeple, an absence typical of Quaker meetinghouses.
The interior plan is simple and functional. On the first floor, the open plan lacks an altar, pulpit, or religious decorations. Wide moldings around windows and doors serve as the only interior ornamentation. Two sets of identical stairs lead to the second story. A gradual curve of the second-floor ceiling provides a subdued architectural feature. Although no other physical evidence survives, it is possible that the space was divided by gender and accessed via identical stairs, since separation of the sexes was common in Quaker worship.
Richmond experienced a population boom after the National Road was constructed through the city in 1832. In 1853, a new railroad in Richmond cut through the Near North Neighborhood. Membership for the Whitewater Monthly Meeting started to decrease as the neighborhood’s demographics began to change and the more affluent Friends moved to a different section of the city. By the 1870s, the Friends constructed a smaller monthly meeting house to better fit their smaller congregation. The Friends’ membership continued to dwindle until the 1960s, when the meeting house was finally “laid down,” or closed. Although Richmond historically had several meeting houses, only two remain. While that of the Hicksite Friends currently serves as the Wayne County Historical Museum, the Whitewater Monthly Meeting House remains vacant.
Ratcliff, Richard P. Our special heritage: sesquicentennial history of Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers) 1821-1971. New Castle, IN: Community Printing Co., 1970.
Weigel, Jessica. ARCH 542. Research Files available from the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Department of Architecture, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.