Quaker History in Farmington Informs How We Can "Let Our Lives Speak!" Today

by Lyle Jenks 
Old Chatham Meeting, Clerk, 1816 Board of Trustees


In recent weeks, the characteristically quiet Quaker Crossroads Historic District has been an intersection of vision and activity as the post and beam frame of the 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse is restored to its original dimensions. Guided by John G. Waite Architects of Albany, and carefully following the research compiled in our Historic Structure Report by both professional historians and local enthusiasts, crews are carrying out a 21st century version of an old-fashioned “barn raising.”


Why all this attention to and expense for what still looks like an old barn? For decades in our Quaker past, Farmington Friends welcomed, witnessed, and often led important reform movements that helped shape American democracy.  The 1816 Meetinghouse served as the gathering place for annual sessions of Genesee Yearly Meeting, which drew Friends from our current Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting area as well as Quakers from Ontario Province and eastern Michigan. Farmington served as the crossroads for those working for equal rights for all people, most especially women, African-Americans, and Native Americans.  Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Susan B. Anthony are among those documented to have spoken in Farmington on the issues of their time—and our time.


The 1816 Board of Trustees, which includes community members as well as Friends from four meetings in NYYM, is working under a provisional charter as a museum from the New York State Education Department. With grants from Humanities New York, we have provided speakers and programs for the last several years, lifting up the issues and challenges of equal rights.  One highlight in 2018 was hosting the North Star Players in “No Struggle, No Progress” which included riveting renditions of the speeches of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Historian Ann Gordon spoke on Susan B. Anthony and the role of African-American women in the fight for women’s suffrage, and, at Fall Sessions, Michelle Schenandoah (Wolf Clan, Oneida Nation) and Mattie Schmitt and Mike Farrell of Rochester Meeting shared perspectives on how Quakers might be allies of Native peoples in ongoing witness for respect and justice.


Full restoration of the building will require additional historic preservation grants and contributions from many individuals who share the vision of the 1816 Meetinghouse as a center of history and interpretation of the Quaker values which point to a society of equality, peace, and justice. After having been moved twice in its first two centuries, the building now sits (almost!) squarely on a new foundation on land donated by Farmington Friends Church across the road, and is poised to stand as an active and interactive witness that will challenge visitors from around the world to consider how best to let their lives speak for justice. More information on our programs and restoration efforts is on our web site: www.farmingtonmeetinghouse.org.