Bart Friends Meeting House

John Walton, left, and Taylor Lamborn in front of the Bart Friends Meeting House. Structural repairs have begun to help preserve the circa-1825 building.

The 1825 Bart Friends Meeting House in Sadsbury Township, once a house of worship for prominent abolitionists, is currently undergoing major structural repairs to keep the building from literally breaking.

The church, located at 402 Quaker Church Road, was "laid down" as an active Quaker meeting in 1924 and since that cessation as an active congregation it has been maintained by the Bart Meeting of Society of Friends and its Bart Historical Society.

The group opens the building for worship and a picnic just once a year on Father's Day.

On one recent occasion, Friends realized the summer beam (an interior beam supporting ceiling joists) was cracked. It had been poorly repaired at some point in the building's history, further stressing the building's roof.

"The stress on the roof is spreading the building apart," said John Walton of New Providence, society treasurer. "With as much snow as we got last winter, I was very worried."

After consulting with masons, architects and an engineer, the society obtained a building permit from Sadsbury Township and hired Hugh Lofting Timber Framing, Inc.

The firm is replacing the beam, adding two column posts for support, and making repairs to the floor and ceiling.

Estimated repair cost is $50,000 and the work should be finished before Father's Day.

"If we want the building to stay here for the next century, it has to be done," said Taylor Lamborn, president of the society.

Lamborn and Walton both have ancestors who attended and were married and buried at Bart, although they say the reasons for preserving the building go beyond personal sentimental attachment.

Lamborn, who grew up in Little Britain Monthly Meeting and now lives in Reading, is the great-great grandson of Elijah Lewis, who is buried in the meeting house cemetery.

Lewis was among four Quakers arrested for participating in the 1851 Resistance at Christiana.

The Resistance, sometimes called the Christiana Riot, was a major event in African American history.

The skirmish on September 11 happened when Maryland slave owner Edward Gorsuch appeared with U.S. marshals at the William Parker house on Noble Road, demanding the return of his slaves under the Fugitive Slave Act.

Neighbors and Quakers came to Parker's aid, and Gorsuch was killed in the fighting, which some historians call the first shots fired in the Civil War.

"They were trying to keep the peace; they weren't fighting," said Lamborn, whose great-great grandfather was arrested and imprisoned for three months.

Lamborn treasures Lewis' arrest warrant, signed by Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who also wrote the Dred Scott decision.

Lamborn said the Friends who worshipped regularly at Bart meeting and then monthly at Sadsbury Friends Meeting in Christiana, were firm abolitionists and participants in the Underground Railroad, although written records of those activities purposefully do not exist.

The spare meeting house with an oak floor, original 4-by-5 windows, and plain benches fell into disuse for several reasons, according to Lamborn.

"People were moving, getting their educations, and moving to the city," Lamborn said. "Also, the Model T made it easier to drive to Sadsbury Meeting."

Small rural meeting houses such as Bart and Drumore were closed and often in need of maintenance.

For example, when John Walton's grandmother Emma Walton Martin walked into Bart in 1923 to place flowers in the windows for her wedding, her foot went through the floor.

New York businessman Rodney Gilbert returned to Lancaster County in 1939 and, aiming to preserve the building, organized the Bart Historical Society. Now a 501(c)3 organization, its volunteers have kept up the building ever since.

Lamborn said during the early 1950s the building was rented by conservative Amish Mennonites who later built Bart Mennonite Church.

The society welcomes contributions for the current work and other repairs which will be needed in the future.

Contributions to Bart Meeting of Society of Friends may be sent in care of John Walton, 755 Truce Road, New Providence, Pa. 17560. Walton may be reached at 717-284-5952.

The community is welcome to the meeting's annual gathering for worship at 11 a.m. Sunday June 15. A potluck lunch will follow.

Debbie Wygent is a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers.