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Old Third Haven Meeting House
Third Haven Friends Meeting House is the oldest positively dated building in Maryland and likely the oldest extant Friends Meeting House in the country. According to an agreement that still survives, John Salter erected it between 1682 and 1684. As outlined in the agreement’s specifications, the original section of the meeting house is wood frame and is 60 feet in length, 22 feet in depth, and one-and-a-half stories in height. It originally had a cross-wing projecting to the front of the building that measured 20 x 22 feet and included the principal entry and a stairway to the half story above. A similar but smaller projection to the rear resulted in a modified cruciform plan. Along the wall opposite the entry and flanking the doorway into the rear projection was a “facing bench” from which the ministers and elders presided over the meeting for worship. In 1797, the meeting house was significantly modified to satisfy changing standards for meeting house design and use. This entailed removing the cross-wings and building a shed addition across the front, resulting in the current (reversed) salt-box form. The new six-bay facade included the dual entries for men and women indicative of the emerging American meeting house prototype.
Despite these modifications, changes to the original building are minimal; it retains its original framing and roof structure, including the valley framing for the cross wings and much of the original woodwork (still unpainted). While the early casement windows were replaced, their framed openings appear to be intact. The facing bench was somewhat modified and extended in each direction. The partition that divides the meeting house into men’s and women’s sections is also intact, a feature that likely dates to the 1797 restructuring. The meeting house has never been electrified, plumbed, or centrally heated, though there is evidence that a woodstove was once used for heating purposes. As a rare surviving early meeting house form modified during a crucial period in the evolution of the building type in America, Third Haven has added tremendously to our understanding of changing Quaker worship practices. It is also an extraordinary well-preserved artifact of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century building practices.
The modified cruciform plan of the original Third Haven building was unusual for an American Friends meeting house; the only other like it is the Merion Friends Meeting House in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, which dates to c. 1695. Because the cruciform plan is indicative of church architecture, many felt that such a plan would have been abhorrent to Friends who rejected traditional ecclesiastic architectural forms. Instead, they built plain-style structures free of iconography and other elements intended to facilitate religious rituals or sacraments. In addition, most Friends’ meeting houses are recognized by the prototypical form that developed during the latter part of the eighteenth century: a two-cell structure with separate men’s and women’s meeting rooms, each with its own entry, and divided by a retractable partition running through the center—the form of Third Haven following its 1797 renovation. However, like Merion, the original Third Haven building was erected prior to the development of the prototypical American Friends Meeting House. Having suffered persecution in England, Friends were accustomed to meeting in modified houses, barns, or other structures and had yet to erect purpose-built meeting houses at the time of the earliest waves of immigration to the colonies. It should not be surprising then that early Quaker settlers would design a meeting house that in its basic form was not unlike the local parish church.
In addition, according to English Quaker practice, men and women met together in a single room for worship, with the women removing themselves afterwards so that separate men’s and women’s business meetings could take place. The women of Third Haven likely followed this pattern, holding their business meeting in either the larger cross-wing or in the loft. The 1797 changes to the meeting house reflect the new American program whereby men and women met for both worship and business to either side of a retractable partition, which could simply be lowered during the meetings. Indicative of the prototype, the current six-bay-wide meeting house reads as a two-cell structure, with each cell (one for men and the other for women) indicated by a central door flanked by twelve-over-twelve-light sash windows. A side entrance to the southeast is covered by a gabled portico and flanked by windows.
The Maryland Colony was founded by proprietor George Calvert, known as Lord Baltimore, on the supposition of religious freedom and, while intended as a haven for persecuted Catholics, was open to all religions. Thus members of the Society of Friends, commonly referred to as Quakers, were among the early settlers to the colony. The freedoms outlined by Calvert’s 1649 Act Concerning Religion were repealed in 1692 and the Church of England established as the official state church in 1702, which encouraged many Maryland Quakers to relocate to William Penn’s Pennsylvania colony. Third Haven continued as one of the earliest and most vital Quaker meetings on the Eastern Shore. In fact, Third Haven Meeting House was intended to serve as a meeting place for Quarterly Meetings, meaning that it was built to accommodate a gathering of all the local Friends meetings in that area (including Betty’s Cove, Bayside, Choptank, and Tuckahoe) who came together four times a year. It was also one of two sites used for the half-yearly meeting of Maryland Friends (the other was held on the Western Shore near Annapolis) and had come to be known as the “Great Meeting House.” Thus Third Haven is also significant in the early establishment of Quakerism in the colonies. In 1693, Betty’s Cove Meeting, the first Quaker meeting in Maryland, was transferred to Third Haven Meeting House. Third Haven has also witnessed many eminent Quaker visitors or “traveling Friends” over the years including Thomas Chalkley (1698), Thomas Story (1699), John Fothergill (1722), Samuel Bownas (1728), John Woolman (1746, 1766), and Rufus Jones (1932). Although a new meeting house was erected on the property in 1880, the old meeting house remains in use for special meetings, and since 1929 is the site of meetings for worship during the summer months.
Carroll, Kenneth, and Orlando Ridout. Three Hundred Years and More of Third Haven Quakerism. Easton, MD: Queen Anne Press, 1984.
Lavoie, Catherine C., and Christopher Densmore. Silent Witness: Quaker Meetinghouses in the Delaware Valley, 1695 to the Present. Philadelphia: Published by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, 2002.
“Third Haven Meeting House,” HABS No. MD-703. Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, 2011.
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