- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

PERRYOPOLIS, Pa. (AP) - Del Carson is the sixth-generation owner of his Perry Township farm, where he raises beef cattle.

From his property, he can see the one-room Providence Meeting House, known as the Perryopolis Quaker Church, and the cemetery where his great-great-grandparents are buried.

He recalls attending a service at the sandstone church as a child as part of the Perryopolis sesquicentennial celebration.

“Quakers came in and conducted a meeting,” said Carson, 62. “It’s so tranquil up here. … This place is a jewel.”

A local family descendant manages the Fayette County site, which is one of the few original Quaker meeting houses still standing in the United States, according to the organization’s research. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

Carson is a member of the Providence Meeting House and Cemetery, a newly formed nonprofit that’s restoring the church and property.

Exposure to weather, neglect and vandalism have taken a toll on the sandstone cottage.

Adventurers into geocaching and ghost hunting have damaged the structure, the cemetery’s iron fencing and tombstones, members said. The building needs a new metal roof, windows and plaster and wall and foundation repairs.

“Right now, funding is probably our biggest obstacle,” Carson said.

Members are seeking $30,000 in grants and donations for repairs and hope to open the site for tours in the fall during the Perryopolis Pioneer Days festival.

Organization members credited the Pittsburgh Area Artist Blacksmiths Association, the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association and Steel Welding for donations of money and labor.

The artisans have taken on repairs to the site’s 850 feet of fencing, among other tasks.

“This is our largest project. It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Chris Holt, secretary and project manager of the blacksmiths association.

“Once the fence gets refurbished, I think it’s going to be a lot more dignified,” she said.

Known as a faith rooted in simplicity and quiet meditation, Quakers were among the earliest settlers on the farmland, which borders 1,300 acres owned at the time by Gen. George Washington.

Wheat farmers sold their grain to Washington or had it ground at his gristmill near Perryopolis. Others worked as blacksmiths, wheelwrights or carpenters.

Some descendants of the 500 people buried in the church’s cemetery, like Carson, still live in the area.

The church was founded by some of Fayette County’s earliest settlers.

Quaker James Purviance conducted meetings in his home until a log structure was built in 1789. He sold just over 15 acres of his property to the Little Redstone settlement of Quakers.

A stone meeting house was built in 1793, and worship continued there until 1871.

The following year, Samuel Strickler purchased most of the land. He granted the Society of Friends a 1-acre permit easement on the cemetery and meeting house.

By 1895, the meeting house had fallen into disrepair. Materials from the structure were recycled into a smaller replica, intended as a memorial and chapel for family members who visited the cemetery.

Over several recent work days, volunteers straightened sections of fencing surrounding the 1-acre cemetery, removed trees and shrubs and righted and repaired toppled gravestones, some dating to the early 1800s.

On Thursday, a dozen or so volunteers stood on the chapel’s gravel floor, pointing out the two fireplaces and passing around a rusted shutter hinge found on the grounds.

They wondered aloud if the Quakers had pews and talked about other ways to preserve the site’s history.

“See,” Holt said, grinning, “it really is a meeting place.”

A workday is planned June 11 to tackle more of the fence work: from wire brushing to priming and painting.

More volunteers are needed for landscaping and gardening work, historical research, community watch assistance and litter control. Organizers can be contacted through the group’s Facebook page.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2811ehk

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com


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