Arch Street Friends Meeting House
320 Arch Street
The land for the meetinghouse was used as a burial ground from as early as the late 17the century but William Penn formally deeded the land to the Society of Friends in 1701.
There may have been early wooden structures on the site, but the existing meetinghouse was constructed over a decade starting in 1801. Owen Biddle (1774-1806), a carpenter, builder, and Quaker, designed the building in three parts. The center hall and east wing were completed in 1805, followed by the west wing in 1811.
Little is known about Biddle’s short life and work. He is best known for publishing “The Young Carpenter’s Assistant” in 1805, which became an essential builders’ resource at a time before the profession of architect had been formally established in the US.
The building is both the home of the local Arch Street congregation and also the headquarters of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which is the central coordinating organization for the hundreds of individual meetings in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.
Prior to the construction of this building, meetings had been held at the Greater Philadelphia Meeting House on Market Square (2nd and Market Streets). Built in nearest meeting house had been built in 1755. By the late 18th century, commercial activities had encroached on the building and the Friends made various changes. First, they built the Arch Street meeting house. Second, the main structural elements of that older building were dismantled and reused in a new meeting house at 12th and Market Streets to serve the newer residential areas to the west. (Curiously, that building was again dismantled in 1971 and moved to the campus of the George School in Bucks County.)
The Arch Street meeting house is stylistically conservative for its time, reflecting Middle Georgian architecture of the mid-18th century. Such stylistic conservatism was typical of the Quakers, who eschewed such worldly concerns.