WEST MARLBOROUGH -- Members of the London Grove Friends Meeting are looking forward to 10 months of special events to celebrate its 300th birthday.
This Saturday, March 29, will be the kick-off event with a piano concert by Thomas Pandolfi on the grand piano in the meetinghouse at Newark and Street roads. Pandolfi is a graduate of the Juillard School and has performed internationally with many symphony orchestras. The details of his how have not been announced, but it is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., admission is free, and refreshments will follow the concert. It is jointly sponsored by the meeting and the Hadley Fund.
Sandy Reber, who is head of the 12-member committee to plan the festivities of the congregation that began in 1714, said her group has put together a series of events that will take place monthly through December, each highlighting the longevity of London Grove meeting. She said the members of the meeting traditionally celebrate anniversaries every 50 years, and to mark year 300 they began putting ideas together as early as five years ago. In anticipation of the three centuries, they have even put together a book of text and pictures that will be available for purchase in May in time for the annual spring plant sale.
“In five years, we’ve go a big thing coming,” she said.
The London Grove Friends Meeting began in October of 1714 when a group of local Quakers began meeting at the home of John Smith, who lived on Street Road not far from the present meetinghouse. That house was called Scarlett Thicket, and it is still there. The names of those original members are familiar in the area even today -- names like Pusey, Pennock and Swayne.
According to Tom Macaluso, who is a current member-historian and a collector-vendor of old books, those original Quakers at the meeting were mostly working class farmers who had come to America to escape persecution by the Church of England. They chose Pennsylvania because its founder, William Penn, was himself a Quaker and he intended to have religious freedom in his state, unlike Massachusetts, where the Puritans drove out or even killed those who did not adhere to their religion.
Macaluso said they first met at the home of John Smith and then in 1924 they built a log cabin to accommodate the growing congregation. In 1810 they constructed the current meetinghouse.
Anyone who has visited the London Grove Friends Meetinghouse has seen the giant white oak tree that stands on the property. According to research and the plaque on its trunk, it is more than 300 years old and was living before William Penn csame to Pennsylvania in 1682.
For many years it was classified among the biggest oaks in the state. Last year, however, the champion (biggest in girth, height and width) was struck by lightning and fell. Now, the London Grove Penn Oak is the champion.
Mark Myers, who is in charge of maintenance and property at the meeting, said the tree is still in good shape because they feed it, trim it, have it wired to bear weight evenly and have a lightning rod on the top. “Most of the members hope the tree will outlive them,” he said.
In April as the meeting’s special event for the month. Arborist SCott Wade will present a program about the Penn Oak and champion tress of Pennsylvania at 11 a.m. on April 27 after the service.
Reber said the annual plant sale, which is extensive and takes a lot of work, is enough of an event for celebrating in May. And yet, the sale will be special this year because the book they are publishing will be released that day for sale at $29.95 each. That book includes drawings, stories and diagrams that have been gathered from members and even has information about the founding and operation of the popular London Grove Kindergarten.
On June 14, architect and preservationist planner Seth Hinshaw will present a program 7 p.m. on the architecture of Quaker meetinghouses.
On July 19 and 20, meeting member Ruth Thompson and others have put together a riding tour of meetinghouses in the Western Quarter -- the Chester County area. Each meetinghouse will have a host or hostess to greet guests and talk about the respective buildings. The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
In August, London Grove is joining with the open house at Primitive Hall to honor the Pennocks, who built it. That will be on the 10th from 1 to 4 p.m.
There will be a potluck lunch on Sept. 21 which Reber said will feature fresh, home grown produce.
October is the actual anniversary of the first gathering of the members of the London Grove Friends Meeting, and that will be a big event. Reber said there will be tours of the graveyard, exhibits, antique cars and a chicken dinner by reservation only. Christopher Densmore of Swarthmore will give lectures on London Grove and its connection with the peace movement and with the abolition of slavery.
On Nov. 8, Chester County Preservation Officer Karen Marshall will talk about Quakers and their early development of Chester County.
And finally on Dec. 6, meeting member Gillian Grassie will give a concert on the celtic harp after a potluck dinner.
Reber said all the time spent planning has been worth it.
“It’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of excitement within the community. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and delight,” she said.