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Greater Meetinghouse

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1754, Jonathan Zane, carpenter; 1812 rebuilt; 1980, Penelope Batchelor with Bower Lewis Thrower

Unlike the typical stone meetinghouses of Bucks County, the Quaker meetinghouse on the George School campus is built of brick, betraying its origins in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth century. In 1980, under the guidance of Philadelphia architect Penelope Batchelor, this classic double meetinghouse was dismantled from its former site at 12th and Market streets in Philadelphia to make way for the construction of the garage that serves the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society skyscraper ( PH46) and the adjacent 1234 Market Street. Reconstructed at the George School it preserves the original trusses, fittings, paneling, and furnishings within the rebuilt brick walls. Evidence suggests that the building may have a long history, with elements of the 1812 Greater Meetinghouse reused from the 1754 building that it replaced and that stood at 2nd and High (now Market) streets in Philadelphia. That building, dismantled and moved to 12th Street when the pressures of commerce proved too great in the vicinity of the city's principal markets, was rebuilt as a by then conventional double meetinghouse. An eighteenth-century engraving of the 1754 Greater Meetinghouse shows a building with centered doors on each of the four sides and the long orientation paralleling High Street. Short gabled porches sheltered the east and probably the south door, while decoration was confined to a belt course between the windows of the ground level and the balcony and a pent eave across the gables. Conforming to the Philadelphia grid, its long facades faced south and north with its principal entrances from the south. Ironically, when the removed building was finally placed at the George School, the use of siting to assert identity was long forgotten and the building was placed with its long axis on a north–south direction and its entrances oriented east and west. Historian Beatrice Garvan, in her essay on the Great Meeting in Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (1976), accurately places the historic role of the Greater Meeting as “the communication center for the ‘holy community,’ the Quaker population of eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Emanating from its conference rooms through the Annual Meeting and into the community were rules regulating the lives of its members, the welfare of the poor, and the sick, the education of the young, the manumission of slaves, the arbitration of disputes public and private.”

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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