West Grove Meeting's Confusing History (From Chester County Genealogy website)
by Admin on Wed, 04/17/2013 - 6:07am
Over the years of wandering around Chester County and its neighboring counties to photograph the old meeting houses, I've found myself confused more times than I really care to admit about some of the history involved. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that, thanks to the Separation in the 1800's, there are a number of cases where there is more than one meeting house in existence tied to a particular modern day meeting. Goshen, for example, has two meetinghouses and cemeteries side by side - the original one retained by the Hicksites after the Separataion, is the site of the current Goshen meeting, while the Orthodox one next door is in use by the Friends' School. In many cases, the buildings that were constructed after the Separation have been converted into private homes or completely obliterated, and since the two sides have long since rejoined, many of those secondary meeting houses have faded into a distant memory. In Chester County, more often than not, it was the Hicksite branch that ended up retaining the original properties and many of the old Orthodox houses are long gone. West Grove, however, proved to be the exception.
The first West Grove meeting house was built in 1787 on what is now Harmony Road in West Grove. The postcard to the left shows what that first meeting house looked like at some point prior to 1903. The land had been owned by William Jackson and was "given for the benefit and use of the people called Quakers, forever..." It was a fairly small brick building and over the years, it was altered and repaired, until finally, in 1903, it was replaced by the much larger brick building we know today as West Grove. The meeting house and grounds were retained by the Orthodox branch of the meeting, so it was up to the Hicksites to build themselves a new home for their meetings. And that's where things started getting a bit harder to follow.
I knew from my journeys in the area that there was another West Grove Meetinghouse, which was called New West Grove, located on State Road south of West Grove itself. It's a one-story red brick building with a burial ground laid out beside it. The problem was, the book that has been so useful to me in my research into these old meetings, the WPA's Inventory of Church Archives, didn't have a listing for New West Grove, just West Grove, and the address it showed for the Hicksite meeting was 124 Prospect Avenue in West Grove, not State Road. And to make it more confusing, I had come across a postcard of the Prospect Avenue meeting house and it very clearly was not the same building that I had seen on State Road. Bryn Mawr's Triptych site has lots of pictures of the old meeting houses, which helped muddy the waters a bit more. There was a section for New West Grove, but it showed four different pictures of what appeared to be two different buildings - two looked like the postcard and the other two looked like the building on State Road. Here's what the Bryn Mawr site said about New West Grove:
Date of Building: 1831: red brick, 1901: limestone
History of the Meeting: Set up in September 1789 by New Garden Monthly Meeting, after having functioned as an indulged meeting since 1787. In 1787 a brick meeting-house was erected and an adjoining 3 1/2 acre plot was set aside for a burial ground. The land had been owned by William Jackson. Alterations and repairs were made to this building in 1858 and 1860, and in 1903 it was replaced with the present larger two-story red brick meeting-house. This house was built in order to accommodate Western Quarterly Meeting, made up of New Garden and London Grove Monthly Meetings. In 1955 West Grove merged with New Garden to form West Grove Monthly Meeting.
If you've been following along, you might be able to tell from this that the section for History is actually referring to the building on Harmony Street that was held by the Orthodox branch, but the Date section refers to the Hicksite branch. There's actually nothing in that listing to indicate that they are actually discussing three different buildings. Since both the State Road meeting house and the Harmony road meeting house were made of red brick, where was the limestone building?
GoogleMaps came to the rescue with their Street View Option - I found the limestone building right where the WPA book said it was, at 124 Prospect and it still looks very much like the postcard I had found - which can also be seen on the Bryn Mawr site.
And when I looked at my own photos from the New West Grove site on State Road, I found one that captured the 1831 date stone in the gable.
So, the history actually looks like this:
1787 - First meeting house built on Harmony Road Property
1831 - Hicksite branch builds State Road Meeting House
1901 - Hicksite branch builds Prospect Avenue meeting house
1903 - Orthodox branch replaces Harmony road meetinghouse with current structure
1920 and onward - the Hicksite preparative meeting only meets once a year.
Once the Hicksites and Orthodox branches re-united, the West Grove meetinghouse and the New West Grove meetinghouse on State Road were retained and apparently, the Prospect Avenue property was sold. Part of my original confusion stemmed from the fact that the State Road property is now called New West Grove, but when it was an active meeting, it was West Grove (Hicksite). Both the Orthodox branch of the West Grove Preparative and the Hicksite branch were discontinued around the 1940's and presumably, both groups of members were then attached to what is now West Grove Monthly. The State Road property is occasionally open for special events and is part of West Grove Monthly Meeting