W. Falmouth Friends Meeting House

West Falmouth Preparative Meeting

 

 

 

 

 

Read "The Gazette" published by West Falmouth Meeting -
“a news-sheet, a periodical publication giving an account of current events”

West Falmouth offers the Quaker House, a quiet setting for retreats, workshops, family gatherings and traveling Friends

There is a Principle which is pure, placed in the human Mind, which in different Places and Ages hath had different Names; it is, however, pure, and proceeds from God. It is deep, and inward, confined to no Forms of Religion, nor excluded from any, where the Heart stands in perfect Sincerity. In whomsoever this takes Root and grows, of what Nation soever, they become Brethren.

John Woolman

In 1685, a year before the tiny Cape Cod settlement which was to become Falmouth was incorporated, the West Falmouth Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends had its formal beginning.

Because Quaker worship eschewed practices of the established church, many Puritans viewed Quakers as heretical gadflies. Quakers were not welcome in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and two were hung for their beliefs in Boston in 1658. Thus, Quakers found their way to Cape Cod, in the far reaches of the less sternly puritanical Plymouth Colony, settling first in Sandwich.

The Main Meeting Area as seen from the second floor gallery

Early Quaker meetings were held in West Falmouth homes from the 1680's, but after persecution lessened, public Meeting Houses could be built. The first West Falmouth Friends Meeting House was built about 1720, "a one-story structure, 30 feet square, with a triangular shaped hopper roof, at its peak a hole to let out the smoke of a charcoal fire used for heating." It was located up the hill to the east of our present site (now at the end of Friends Way, off Blacksmith Shop Road) along the route of the old main road. The Friends' first burial ground nearby, contains 69 unmarked graves.

Nineteen years later, the carriage sheds across the street were built. One can read the attached sign, "Quaker Carriage Sheds, 1861, Built by Steven Dillingham for $175.00. Quakers had a stable near here in 1731."

W. Falmouth Carriage Shed in the summer. The road on the left is Main Street

A second, larger meeting house was built about 50 years later at the present site, where a new burial ground was laid out on the new main road through West Falmouth. Enlarged in 1794, that building was demolished and replaced with the present building in 1842, under contract with Moses Swift. The carriage sheds, originally longer, are similar to some that still stand on the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in East Sandwich, and they are still used. Also in 1861 a school building was put up by the Meeting in the location of the present West Falmouth Library. That school building was moved and now stands at the corner of Chapaquoit Road. A refurbishment during the 1890's brought matchboard wainscoting to the interior of the meetinghouse and enclosed a smoothly graded burial ground with carefully plumbed stone walls.

The spirit and general appearance of the West Falmouth Meeting House have changed little for more than 150 years. The building exemplifies Quaker ideals of simplicity, harmony, and community. Single storied with an interior east end balcony or loft, its entrance facade has two doors and two large windows of 20-over-20 panes. These windows and doors once had shutters. Inside, the entry space that stretches across the width of the building is simply furnished with coat hooks and shelves. There are two doors leading to the main hall, and a steeply turned, narrow stairway leading to the loft.

Original windlass for raising and lowering the partition that divided the meeting room into two separate rooms.

The spirit and general appearance of the West Falmouth Meeting House have changed little for more than 150 years. The building exemplifies Quaker ideals of simplicity, harmony, and community. Single storied with an interior east end balcony or loft, its entrance facade has two doors and two large windows of 20-over-20 panes. These windows and doors once had shutters. Inside, the entry space that stretches across the width of the building is simply furnished with coat hooks and shelves. There are two doors leading to the main hall, and a steeply turned, narrow stairway leading to the loft.

The main meeting area of the building is divided in two parts, but the partitions in the center of the room can be raised to create a single large meeting space. In earlier days the partitions were lowered for separate business meetings held by men and women, which in those times were considered a mark of their complete equality. Quakers, from their beginning, gave women equal standing with men. The movable partitions can still be operated by the original windlass in the building's attic (made of a rotating log that runs the length of the building).

The northern part of the hall is presently used for a library space, for socials, potluck suppers, and meetings by other groups.

Friends attending a Business Meeting

The main hall has striking large undecorated windows. The south half of the main hall is used during meetings for worship. Rows of pews face west. In the west end a raised platform (installed in the 19th century) supports a bench facing the room. There is no pulpit or sacraments, since this is a "silent meeting" with no programmed sermon or rituals.

West Falmouth Quakers have maintained an atmosphere conducive to contemplation and meditation in the space for worship, with plain walls, floors, and furnishings. Nevertheless, the quiet interior and muted colors have an aesthetic impact, and the wonderful views of sky, trees, and birds contribute to gentle inward calm.

The building has been remodeled somewhat, with practical changes. In 1894, the old narrow hard benches (some remain stored in the loft) were replaced by more generously sized pews, the wainscoting was added to the walls, and the balcony was enclosed to provide spaces for classes and meals. For a time in this century the meeting became "programmed," and Elam Henderson and others provided sermons. The unprogrammed silent meetings for worship were resumed in 1964. In 1962, with the help of Unitarians, who were sharing the use of the building at that time, gas heating replaced an old wood furnace, and two years later running water and lavatories were added. Recently, the exterior access ramp was added to the north entrance.

Grave stones in the cemetary by the W. Falmouth Meeting House

The burial grounds surrounding the Meeting House have been maintained since about 1775. The first grave was probably that of Benjamin Swift, who was clerk from 1745 to 1747. Many graves were unmarked, by Quaker tradition. In 1969, a house on adjoining land to the west, now known as Quaker House, was acquired. Children's first-day classes, seminars, retreats and diverse meetings and social activities can be held there. Thus the old site and its grouping of buildings serves the Meeting well today.

"The pleasant aspect of the site, with its prominent place on the Main Road, provides passers-by with a sense of West Falmouth's historical beginnings, as well as its continuing Quaker presence." The information presented here is taken mainly from a booklet titled Quakers in West Falmouth, 1685-1985, published 1985 and edited by Fred Turkington. The direct quotations come from it.

Interested readers might wish to see the entire booklet, as well as other sources such as The Book of Falmouth, 1986, edited by Mary Lou Smith, especially the entries by Mary Mangelsdorf and Cecelia Fuglister, or the paper, "A New Account of the History of the Quakers of Cape Cod" prepared by James Warren Gould, 1978.

 

You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from the God?"

George Fox

Memories of the West Falmouth Meeting 1895 - 1965

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  • West Falmouth Preparative Meeting
  • Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
  • Copyright © Jeanne Stump and Jim Robb, 1994, 1999.