West Falmouth Friends Meeting, 1895 - 1965

by Cecilia Bowerman Fuglister, June 1984

The story of early Quakers on the Cape has been well presented by John M. Dillingham in Simeon L. Deyo's "History of Barnstable County, Massachusetts" (1890). Since that account of the three Preparative Meetings of Friends in Sandwich, Yarmouth and Falmouth, several essays have dealt with later periods, though no comprehensive history has been written. This is not at all an attempt to do so, but is merely a brief picture of the West Falmouth Meeting as remembered by one who was well acquainted with it over a span of years.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Meeting was dwindling in membership and its affairs handled by a faithful few. Among those few was D. Wheeler Swift, a West Falmouth boy who had gone to Worcester and done well in business there. He and his brother Henry built the large houses on either side of the Meeting House grounds. His concern for the Meeting and the fading picture it presented led him to take steps to revitalize it. In the few years before 1900 he accomplished a number of things contributing to this end.

One of the goals was to improve the physical property. So the interior of the building was remodeled, a church interior of more current style introduced, old benches and furniture removed, resulting in the present pews, platform and pulpit, piano, varnished woodwork, and such new features. The building was made more comfortable by removal of old wood stoves and installation in the cellar of a large woodburning furnace with floor registers. A small collection of old bills gives us evidence of the work that was done. Antiquarians of today might question these improvements, as they detracted from the "quaintness" of the old meetinghouse. Its previous interior must have been similar to those in Sandwich and South Yarmouth.

But they were considered important for the more active future that was anticipated. One remaining feature was the old closet full of cherished Quaker books, a collection similar to others in many Meetings, standard reading for members. The earliest ones were carefully numbered, often provided with protective covers; there was a record sheet attached to the door, which noted borrowings. A copy of this record has been preserved, and explains the well-worn state of the volumes.

Cemeteries also were given attention. The ancient one in the woods over the eastern hill was cleared and surrounded by granite fenceposts and iron railings. A stone marker in one corner of the plot gives the 1720 date of that earliest burial spot, with the date 1900 on one corner post. Nearby another granite marker, F.M.H. 1720, indicates where the meetinghouse stood on the old carriage road through the woods. Photographs on hand show these details. Down below at the present location the newer cemetery was enlarged, graded, a sturdy stone wall erected around it, and a fund begun for the "perpetual care" of these grounds, with an encouraging Swift contribution.

Wheeler Swift and his wife Sarah envisioned a far more active Meeting than the diminished one that existed. They were well acquainted with others elsewhere, and had observed the vitality of the western meetings such as those in Ohio and Indiana. Many of those had Friends ministers and more conventional services. So a young man trained in religious education at Earlham College, and who was teaching at the Friends Academy in Fairmount, Indiana, was engaged to come to West Falmouth. He arrived in 1902, Elam Henderson, with his wife and small child, and settled into the local community. They were to introduce some of the new patterns, which they succeeded very well in doing.

  • The Falmouth Enterprise carried the following notice in 1904
  • Sabbath Service: 11 a.m.
  • Bible School, Meeting for Worship: 12:10 p.m.
  • Weekday Services: Tuesday evening 8 p.m.
  • Social workers: Thursday evening 8 p.m.

Except for a number of short intervals, Elam and Elda Henderson remained with the West Falmouth Meeting until 1918 when he left to become the minister of the Toronto Friends Meeting. During one interval they were in Jamaica at the Happy Grove School, and at another time in Vassalboro, Maine at the Oak Grove School.

Apparently arrangements were made for their absences, and available ministers or other substitutes were found. At one time the Methodist minister from Cataumet provided this assistance, but the Hendersons returned to West Falmouth after each absence. They had bought a home here and dearly loved the village. Pastoral calls were considered a minister's duty in most communities. Elam Henderson enjoyed these, and his visits were not confined to Quaker homes, He was evidently a sympathetic listener and the personal contacts resulted in a good deal of what today would be called counseling. Troubled individuals would often call on him in the evening in the privacy of his study.

With the loving oversight of the Hendersons our Meeting indeed assumed new patterns. There was a sermon every Sunday, Sunday School classes grouped about the room, much singing with hymnbooks available, collection plates passed around. Church connected activities came into being, and there was a Christian Endeavor Society, a Loyal Temperance Legion, a Missionary Society, summer fairs on the lawn, church suppers, appropriate program at Easter and Christmas, children speaking their pieces, a large Christmas tree with presents and a Santa Claus. There were "sociable", large gatherings held at various homes. Elam Henderson was a fun-loving man, full of practical jokes, and was the life of any party. A good deal of teasing and joking went on which we children loved, and there was a plentiful supply of parlor games and stunts, so those evenings were very jolly.

The balcony in the Meeting House provided space for the occasional suppers. It was furnished with long tables and benches dishes and tableware, and a kerosene stove for minimal cooking. A meal there must have entailed a good deal of work, with steep stairs to climb, and no water supply in the building. Water for coffee was carried across the street from the obliging home of Mary and Jim Bowman, and possibly that's where the dishes got washed. Willing hands must have been the answer.

There were larger occasions when the balcony space was inadequate. The Friends Quarterly Meeting was held in West Falmouth once a year, July being the traditional time. Quakers then gathered from a larger geographical area for a day of worship and business, and a sociable lunch. Much planning went into the arrangements for this occasion. Nearby Library space was engaged, where there was a large dining room in the basement, and kitchen facilities in the neighboring room. The meal provided by the local group was substantial, hams and chickens, salads, pickles, breads, milk, pies, cakes, and coffee. One gentleman, very fond of children, always brought large bags of popcorn, and something was very wrong if Joe Hiller wasn't on the scene with a generous hand. Local ladies helped with this meal, to free the Meeting wives for at least partial attendance at the sessions. In olden times Quarterly Meetings lasted for several days, necessarily because travel was by boat or horse and carriage; Visiting Friends were accommodated in local homes; it was an exciting occasion for the families, when news could be passed along, friendships made and deepened.

The Hendersons skillfully enlivened the life of the Meeting during their fifteen years of residence, and the membership and attendance expanded as hoped. A statistical record shows a membership of fifty-three, with eight Sunday-School teachers and thirty-one pupils in the year 1916. A number of record books are on hand, with details of various classes, and comments of the Sunday-School superintendent. These cover the years 1911 to 1918, apparently the last classes being in September of that year when the Hendersons left for Toronto. The listing includes Cradle Roll, primary, Junior, Senior, Intermediate and Adult classes. Sunday School pupils brought their contributions to put in envelopes for various good causes. One of these was the Union Settlement in New York, because Gaylord S. White, its headworker and Secretary, had visited many times to talk about his work. He would write appreciative letters to tell how the contributions had been used.

Much needlework was done by various women's groups for missionary projects and for the summer fairs. In the years 1918 and 1919 there was a very active Friends War Relief Committee, regarding which we have a detailed record, telling of materials purchased, garments made; sewing bags assembled, etc. A surprising amount of articles were dispatched, one list mentioning 62 girls' petticoats, 25 infant jackets, 30 men's shirts, 42 girls' dresses, 37 boys' shirts, 24 aprons, to mention a few items.

One of the enjoyable events of the summers were the Sunday-School picnics, usually one each year. In 1914 and 1915 a treasurer's record shows that a "barge" was hired to transport the attendees. It must have been an earlier occasion when I remember our family driving to Jenkins Pond with horse and carriage, with others making a small caravan. We made our way over the dusty Brick Kiln Road, then by equally dusty Sandwich Road to the cartway to the Pond, where there was a sandy beach and plenty of open space for such events. Games of course were part of the fun, the old three-legged and potato races, jumping contests and all such things. Another picnic spot was "the cliffs" at Old Silver Beach. There was a diverting path up to the top, though we picnicked at the foot of the bluff. Or sometimes we went to Goodwill Park where there was a covered shelter with long wooden tables. Usually the attendance seemed to be by the families with young folks, as might be expected.

When the Hendersons left in 1918 the membership dwindled again, and there were changes in arrangement for the Meeting. Services were increasingly attended by some of West Falmouth's summer families, particularly those who returned year after year. So it was felt that there should be an effort to hold their interest and thus increase the effectiveness of the Meeting. The main responsibility for planning fell to Arnold and Virtue Gifford, Alice C. Gifford, Albert and Lois Bowerman. By fortunate circumstance Dr. Elihu Grant had been attending and participating, and he felt much concern for the Meeting. He was a Professor of Biblical History and Literature in Haverford College. He volunteered to preach in the summers while vacationing in the village, and his sermons were lectures in his field. They were scholarly as well as gentle and heartfelt, and attracted an ever larger audience. Before long all seats in both sides of the Meeting House were filled each Sunday.

This pattern was so successful that when Elihu Grant was unable to serve longer other possibilities were suggested. Dr. D. Brewer Eddy from Chapaquoit was a chief supporter at this point. He was the Secretary of the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions and had broad contacts, so he not only preached on many Sundays for many years, but recommended others who might be available. In examining a collection of available programs for the summers from 1918 to 1965 one is impressed not only by the number of speakers who assisted, and also by the number of times some were with us. For the years examined we count Dr. Eddy at least forty-five times between 1921 and 1940, Dr. Harlow at least thirty-five Sundays from 1930 to 1962, Dr. Macy at least thirty times from 1924 to 1958, Dr. Gould twenty-four times from 1924 to 1939. In the summer of 1930 he was the speaker for eight out of twelve Sundays; Dr. Libby was with us once for at least seven years; and Dr. Hugon also for seven years. A list of these speakers has been prepared for our, files.

Dr. Eddy encouraged holding a Union Service with the Methodist Church, so for a period there were one or two such Sundays every summer, alternating between the two. Otherwise our Sunday meetings were generally programmed in any way the speaker of the day desired, and he would naturally follow the one customary in his own experience. So there were scripture readings, responsive readings, sermons, prayers, hymn singing, benedictions, collection plates. Meeting funds were replenished by the generous offerings from an appreciative audience. It was customary to offer a small fee to each speaker, sometimes accepted but often not. This kind of Sunday-by-Sunday programming required a great deal of advance correspondence in order to have a brochure printed, and this was largely handled by Arnold Gifford, greatly assisted by Brewer Eddy for some years. A file of some of this correspondence shows how much arranging was required.

The hymn singing was enjoyed very much, and there were occasional requests from the audience for favorites. This required the services of some available piano player, and for many summers Frank Kimball of Wild Harbor enjoyed doing this in his beautifully competent way. Occasional requests came from the audience for favorite hymns. There were other volunteers, and later Cecelia Bowerman was called on quite frequently, which meant that she was studying the sharps and flats while others listened to the sermons. Another contribution to our Sundays were the beautiful bouquets brought every week either from Alice Gifford's garden down the street or the Swift gardens next door.

With such busy summers and few year-round Quakers, Quaker meetings in winter were completely discontinued during these years. There were monthly business meetings with reports to Sandwich Monthly Meeting, and these took care of the finances, the grounds, miscellaneous affairs as needed. Members found other church services to attend until another summer arrived, satisfied to join in with larger groups and share for a while a different kind of religious worship. For several winters, about 1948 to 1951, our building was rented to the Seventh Day Adventists group which needed a meeting place until they could acquire their own. Later arrangements were made in 1962 to share the building with the Unitarian Fellowship, still an agreeable partnership in 1984.

With the deaths of mainstays such as Albert and Lois Bowerman, Arnold and Virtue Gifford, Alice Gifford, the remaining group was exceedingly small. Continuing efforts were made by Edward and Mary White, Paul and Marion Swift, John and Laura Moore, Cecelia Fuglister, to continue with the summer meetings as usual, but they were not well attended. It was at this low that Gregg and Helen Hibbs arrived in West Falmouth, the Douglas family became more actively and devotedly involved, Louise McManus became available with her energetic skills in organizing, and new life soon became apparent. It was felt that the time had come to renew Quaker patterns with year-round unprogrammed meetings and active committees. And so in 1965 another chapter began in the story of the West Falmouth Friends Meeting. At the present time, happily, the Meeting prospers with growing membership and renewed vitality.

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