1740 Friends Meetinghouse
The Bordentown Friends Meetinghouse and Historical Society Museum is nestled in the heart of a National Register listed Historic District. Surrounded by over 800 historic buildings, the Bordentown 1740 Friends Meetinghouse has an incredible history in its own right.
The history of the Bordentown Friends Meeting House spans three centuries. The building at 302 Farnsworth Ave., originally built in 1740 as a place of worship for the local Quaker population, has changed with the times—in both purpose and appearance. The meeting house itself was built before Farnsworth Avenue on land deeded by Joseph Borden. Borden purchased substantial tracts and gave the community its original name, Borden’s Towne. The Meetinghouse was originally built as a tall one-story, one-room Flemish bond brick structure with a gabled roof, and though it currently faces Farnsworth Avenue, its original entrance was what people today would consider the back, most likely on Crosswicks Street facing the Delaware River and the area that would have been settled at the time.
The Meetinghouse operated continuously as a Quaker Meetinghouse until 1878. In the process it served another distinctive purpose as a stop on the three Underground Railroad routes that passed through Bordentown for slaves on route to freedom. The Bordentown Friends Meetinghouse is one of several Quaker Meetinghouses erected centuries ago in New Jersey. While, no longer used as a house of worship, the structure is the oldest original Quaker Meetinghouse in the State still located on its original foundation.
By 1878, the meetinghouse was no longer used for Quaker services, and by the 20th century the first floor of the historic building was used for offices and the second floor for an apartment.
In 1930, Abby Varley, Alphonse LeJambre, Susan Bradman, Helen Wells and some others — recognizing the rich history in Bordentown — gathered in 1930 to figure out how to preserve the meeting house, and with that the Bordentown Historical Society was born. It was used by several occupants over the succeeding decades, with it’s last owners as the Bordentown Banking Banking Company, joining to the structure nextdoor.
In 1999, Summit Bank donated the site to the Bordentown Historical Society as its permanent home. Kathleen Finch, then Trustee, is credited with acquiring the Friends Meeting House at 302 Farnsworth Avenue for the Historical Society. “When [the Bordentown Banking Company] was selling it, we asked if they would donate it to us if we would detach it from the bank. We received word from the bank that they would give it to us,” Finch said.
The Meetinghouse underwent a couple of phases of renovation in the following decades. In the most significant renovation of recent history, the Bordentown Historical Society restored the building by stabilizing and replacing the gable roof. The stabilization became an immediate priority and was paid for by a grant from the New Jersey Cultural Trust. The site was approved by the New Jersey Historic Trust for a $50,000 capital preservation grant, available through the New Jersey Cultural Trust in fiscal 2013.
Next, the front of the building was returned to its earliest known condition from an 1890 photograph when the building was already 150 years old, after it had a full second story built on top of it and was covered in white stucco. Most recently, the Historical Society completed an award winning $90,000 project to replace the shingle roof with a standing metal seam roof. In the next phase of restoration the building will be prepared for ADA compliance with the enhancement of outside accessibility and a first floor restroom. The much needed changes will truly make this storied structure a shared treasure and a first-class historical and cultural attraction in Bordentown.
Under ownership by BHS, The building has been used for community events and as exhibit space.The museum contains artifacts owned by some of Bordentown’s most famous residents: furniture from King Joseph Bonaparte’s Point Breeze Estate, a station sign from New Jersey’s first railroad, pastoral paintings from an early female artist, and the design for a Civil War steamship built along the Bordentown waterfront. The Bordentown Historical Society hosts three rotating exhibits per year in this space. It is open twice monthly to welcome visitors who wish to understand more of Bordentown’s history and to tell their own stories for future generations.