When William Penn was planning the settlement of Pennsylvania, he promised Welsh Quakers land in the new colony and sold them 40,000 acres. This was known as the “Welsh Tract” and included the present townships of Haverford, Merion, Radnor, and part of Goshen. Among the purchasers was a Richard Davies who bought 5,000 acres and in turn sold them to “Friends of Radnorshire in Wales.” These Friends settled what eventually became known as Radnor Township.
The first settlements began around 1682, and the Welsh Quakers presumably met for worship in private homes until the construction of the Meeting House. The exact year of construction is unknown, but it dates as early as 1693 when we have the record of a marriage of Philip Philip and Phoebe Evans taking place in “the meeting house in Rad(n)or & in a publick assembly of friends there met together.” No clue has been found as to the materials used in construction; it may have been built of logs, as were some of the early dwellings.
As noted on its gable, the present meeting house was erected in 1718, and the portion on the eastern end added sometime later as a school building. The sheds for carriages and horses were built in the late eighteenth century. Today they constitute the First Day (or Sunday) school building used for religious education, social events, and as a day care center.
During the Revolutionary War, the Meeting House functioned as a headquarters, hospital and “picquet” or outpost for George Washington’s Continental Army. From here, Washington received military and intelligence surveillance not only of the neighborhood, but of the entire sweep of country between Matson’s Ford on the Schuykill and the market towns of Darby and Chester to the south. George Washington said that previous to wintering at Valley Forge, he had looked upon the Quakers as Tories and British sympathizers, but he soon found them to be kind and reliable.
After recovering from the war and reopening in 1780, Radnor Monthly Meeting continued to grow. It is said that up to 200 carriages would gather at the meeting house on First Days; they would stand in the sheds and under the beautiful sycamore tree that stood at the end of the sheds. With the separation of 1827, Philadelphia Friends split into an “Orthodox” wing and a “Hicksite” wing. This division, the migration of Friends westward, and an increasingly exact discipline that disowned many members for marriage out of the Society caused a dwindling in membership, so that in 1882, a committee proposed that “Radnor Preparative Meeting be discontinued and its members joined with Valley Preparative Meeting”.
For the next 50 years, Radnor Meeting House was used as a location for Monthly and Quarterly Meetings for members from Valley, Merion and Haverford Meetings; occasionally meetings for worship were held there on First Days, but Radnor Preparative Meeting had ceased to exist.
The Meeting House Reopens
In 1930, a group of Friends from both branches of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting united to reopen the Meeting House for regular worship. Candles and oil lamps served as lights, and a pot-bellied stove provided heat. Gradually the Meeting began to take on a new life, gathering strength from a varied group of students, visitors and faithful concerned Friends, many of whom found the quiet meeting a source of spiritual power during their daily lives.
In 1937 it was constituted as Radnor United Monthly Meeting, with membership from Arch Street (Orthodox) and Race Street (Hicksite) groups. With the uniting of these two yearly meetings, it became Radnor Monthly Meeting in 1956.
These are the roots of the strong meeting which exists today — an important part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and a vibrant part of the religious community in Radnor Township.