JAMES GOODMAN · STAFF WRITER · MAY 24, 2009
This article originally ran in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Passers-by might not realize the importance of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse, which now looks like a barn hit by a hurricane.
But Judith Wellman, a historian who has spearheaded efforts to save this meetinghouse in north Farmington, Ontario County, says that the building played such an important role in struggles for equal rights that it must be saved.
“It doesn’t look so good now, but you will be proud when it is really restored,” said Wellman, who lives in Fulton,Oswego County, and is working with a small group of residents from the Farmington area on a fundraising plan.
Many crusaders for justice, including Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, gathered there during the 19th century.
“It is the most important building in the town of Farmington,” said Helen Kirker, a Farmington native who lives in the Ontario County town of Seneca and who has been involved in meetinghouse restoration efforts.
The preservation group, now being incorporated as the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse committee, came together after a storm in February 2006 ripped off the east wall of this two-story historic meetinghouse.
Almost $150,000 of the estimated $1.1 million needed for restoration has been raised. The committee also established an advisory board, which includes some notable historians, and hopes that will give fundraising greater visibility.
Discussion at the Farmington Town Board has turned from demolishing the historic building to hoping restoration efforts succeed.
“They seem to be making progress. They have a number of irons in the fire for support,” said board member Tim Mickelsen, who recently heard Wellman give a status report to the town.
Located on the west side of County Road 8, north of the intersection with Sheldon Road, the meetinghouse was surviving on borrowed time after the storm of three ears ago prompted the town to issue a demolition order.
But the structure has been stabilized by cables attached to posts, and a mesh netting covering the two-story building prevents loose parts from being blown off the grounds.
Farmington has rescinded the demolition order, and the meetinghouse has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original Quaker meetinghouse was built in 1796, on the northeast corner of Sheldon Road and County Road 8. Currently, the Farmington Friends Meeting is at this site and is where Kirker and some the other descendants of the early settlers of Farmington attend Sunday services.
In the early 19th century, members of this congregation — needing more space — switched over to the 1816 meetinghouse, built across the road.
A subsequent split among Quakers, in Farmington and elsewhere, sent the more orthodox members in Farmington back to the original site.
In the years that followed, the 1816 building became a hotbed of activism. Leaders of the movement to abolish slavery, such as Douglass, along with leaders for women’s rights, such as Anthony, spoke at the meetinghouse.
A meeting there in 1838, Kirker noted, resulted in a declaration that men and women have equal rights — a pronouncement a decade before the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls.
Gatherings were also held at the 1816 meetinghouse that helped members of the Seneca Nation keep some of their land.
In 1927, a local farmer bought the meetinghouse and moved it about 100 yards to the north, apparently to be closer to his potato and celery fields.
The meetinghouse is now owned by the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Foundation in Seneca Falls, but the title is soon expected to be handed over to the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse committee.
Wellman said that the next step is to move the 1816 building to the nearby southeast corner of Sheldon Road and County Road 8.
“The new site is much more like the original site because of the fields surrounding it,” Wellman said.
TO LEARN MORE
For more information about the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse restoration project, call (315) 529-7808 or go to www.farmingtonmeetinghouse.org.
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