you’ve been attending our Meeting for any length of time, you most
likely heard someone speak of "Old Caln." Were they mentioning
a town, a township, or what? In fact, they most likely were speaking of
an historic meeting house, located not far from our Meeting, along the
Kings Highway (U.S. Route 340) in Caln Township. Just how did this
meeting house get its nickname and what’s its relationship to our
Many Quakers lived in this area during the early 18th
century. Only 34 years had passed since William Penn received his
charter from the King of England and many Friends emigrated to his
colony of Pennsylvania. Among them were two brothers, John and Aaron
Mendenhall, who by 1716 had become older "weighty" Friends.
Both lived on what was then the frontier to the west of the Quaker
stronghold of Philadelphia. To meet the increased spiritual demand of
farming families in the area, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting set up
Caln Preparative Meeting. The Mendenhall brothers donated a piece of
their land in what’s now Thorndale, Pennsylvania, to build a simple
log Meeting House, which became known as Calne Meeting.
As the members of the fledgling meeting prospered over the next 10
years, they decided to build a more substantial stone Meeting House on
land owned by Richard Pike "On the further side of ye valley, upon
ye mountain" in a grove of trees along the North side of the King's
Provincial Road, or Lancaster Road, the only road connecting
Philadelphia with Lancaster–known as King's Highway today.
In 1728 the original Caln Township split, creating West Caln
Township. Friends in the new township built their own Meeting House near
Waggontown in 1756 and called it "West Caln." From that point
on, the original Meeting House became what we know today as "Old
THE MEETING GROWS
By the end of the 18th century, a number of meetings had
blossomed to the west of Philadelphia. The Quarterly
Meeting of Caln, created in 1800 by Bradford, Robeson,
Sadsbury, and Uwchlan Monthly Meetings, met in the 1726 Meeting House.
In those early years, just about everyone attended Quarterly Meeting–both
to participate in conducting business of the Quarter and to socialize.
And since the Meeting House wasn’t large enough to accommodate
everyone who attended Quarterly Meeting, they enlarged the east room of
the original two-room building in 1801.
gathered every stone used in the Meeting House’s walls from local
fields and lifted them into place. Because wet mortar couldn’t support
a high wall of stone, the builders laid the stone up to two feet high.
After the mortar in that section set, they’d add another
"band" of stone on top of it, and so on until it reached the
desired height. They meticulously laid flat stones on the exterior and
interior of the walls, filling the center with rubble. Unlike many of
the farmhouses built at the time, the builders of the Caln Meeting House
meant for their work to be seen rather than covered over with stucco.
The laid one-inch-thick white oak planks for the floor in the Meeting
House. Instead of going down to their local building supply store as we
do now, they had to fell trees with axes and drag the logs behind horses
or oxen to a clearing where they sawed, planed, and scraped each board
by hand. They secured the floor boards with expensive handmade iron
The builders used poplar for the interior walls, sliding panels,
chair rails and benches within the Meeting House. At that time, men and
women met in separate Meetings for Business, necessitating the movable
walls. A designated individual would go between the rooms informing the
groups of decisions about items on the agenda.
In 1827/28, a Hicksite/Orthodox
division occurred and Bradford, Robeson, and Uwchlan went mostly
Orthodox. Sadsbury and its half dozen preparative meetings went mostly
Hicksite. At Old Caln, those who went Orthodox met in the east room of
the large meetinghouse while the Hicksites met in the west room, with
both groups using the middle room as needed. The Orthodox at Old Caln
also created a separate burial ground across King's Highway from the now
Hicksite Meeting House. In 1907 the Orthodox began holding their
meetings in a home in Coatesville and continued doing so for a few years
until they built a new meetinghouse in Coatesville where members of the
small Orthodox Sadsbury Meeting joined them.
Sometime in the 1960s Sadsbury appealed
to Caln Quarterly Meeting for financial help with Old Caln. Caln
Quarterly Meeting took over paying for the insurance the abandoned
Sometime after this, both Bradford and Sadsbury had less than a dozen
active participants, with only four persons attending First Day Meeting
for Worship. Some individuals at Sadsbury were looking at the
possibility of laying down the monthly meeting, but then the question of
what to do about all of their properties became a major problem and Old
Caln soon fell into neglect. Their largest single concern was what to do
about Old Caln. Eventually, both Bradford and Sadsbury became active
meetings again, but both are still rather small.
Caln Meeting House endured vandalism and neglect until after a fire in
1970 when a group of interested Friends–some from Downingtown Meeting–and
other individuals formed the Old Caln Township Historical Society.
Until taken over by the Caln Historical Society, Old Caln was always
under the care of Sadsbury Monthly Meeting. East Caln was never a
monthly meeting, it was always preparative to Sadsbury. When Sadsbury
Meeting discontinued weekly Meetings for Worship and then decided to lay
down the East Caln Preparative Meeting, it still had full responsibility
for the property. And since Old Caln Meeting was Hicksite and
Downingtown (Uwchlan) was Orthodox, there was an impediment to activity
between them. Thus, Downingtown Friends couldn’t have officially taken
over care of Old Caln.
During its time as an active meeting, Old Caln wasn’t preparative
to Sadsbury. Before the 1828 division, Old Caln was preparative first to
Concord Monthly Meeting and then Bradford Monthly Meeting. After the
division, both the orthodox and Hicksite Old Caln Preparative Meetings
were preparative to their respective Bradford Monthly Meetings. Many
erroneously believe that after the division only Caln Preparative
Meeting Orthodox was under Bradford Monthly Meeting, while the Caln
Preparative Meeting Hicksite was under Sadsbury Monthly Meeting Hicksite.
Actually, it was only after Bradford Monthly Meeting Hicksite became
discontinued that Sadsbury came into official control of Old Caln.
Caln Quarterly Meeting Hicksite was, for all practical purposes,
Sadsbury Monthly Meeting, since of the three monthly meetings
constituting Caln Quarter, only Sadsbury was a viable meeting. As
meetings get weak, quarterly Meetings are expected to make sure the
properties of their weak meetings, especially the cemeteries, are
receiving good care. Thus Sadsbury Friends would be concerned about Old
Caln even before Sadsbury came into actual possession of Old Caln.
THE MEETING HOUSE
The Old Caln
Meeting House today remains much the same as it did in the 19th
century, though electricity had to be installed. A wood stove still
heats the interior in winter for Meeting for Worship. To the rear of the
Meeting House stands the Hicksite graveyard, enclosed by stone walls.
Here lie the remains of about 730 Friends, though many of the graves now
lie unmarked. The last burial at Old Caln was in 1932.
Today, as the population of the area increases, Old Caln is again
active as a Quaker Meeting House, but this time it’s Orthodox Friends who
meet there on each Sunday, except the last one of the month, at 10:30
A.M. for Meeting for Worship.
With sincere thanks to Taylor Lamborn of Sadsbury Friends Meeting for his insightful input.
Read more about the Hicksite/Orthodox
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