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A place of solitude, peace and beauty in the heart of our 'neat little village' [Commentary]

BY ALLAN VOUGHT, avought@theaegis.com

June 7, 2013

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"...in the neat little village of Fallston - rather a small village, there being only seven or eight houses and a store. There is also a schoolhouse, and a machine shop, altogether it is quite a nice little Quaker village."

The above, taken from an essay entitled "A Meeting House," was written sometime in mid-19th Century by Mary Eleanor Lewis, who was born in 1835 and would later start with her husband, George C. Curtiss, the Oakland Boarding School in Fallston.

Mary Curtiss was describing what was then a "new" meeting house, built when she was 8 years old, a building that today isn't much changed from her day.

The full Curtiss essay is contained in a small booklet members of Little Falls Friends Meeting have prepared for this weekend's celebration of the 275th anniversary of the founding of the meeting. The booklet tells the story of Little Falls Meeting from 1738 to the present and the contributions Quakers have made to Harford County throughout its history.

The Quakers and Fallston are inseparable. In reading through the booklet, I got even more of an appreciation than I already possessed for the relationship between the meeting and the town my family and I have called home for 41 years. I was not aware, for instance, that a Little Falls member, Martha Ellicott Tyson, was instrumental in the founding of Swarthmore College, which is my wife's alma mater and is near the town where I grew up in Pennsylvania.

I found it fascinating to learn that the genesis of the meeting, and hence Fallston, came from a citizen soldier, William Amos, who, according to legend, was walking through Bond's Forest in his capacity with the militia, when he sat down on a log to rest "and here his meditations were such that he regarded them as worship." The story goes that Amos invited two friends to return to the spot with him on the following Sabbath and then continued to invite more and more friends to the point each succeeding week.

When someone noted their new mode of worship was similar to that of the Society of Friends, they visited a meeting in Cockeysville and subsequently formed their own meeting, naming it for the nearby Little Gunpowder Falls and erecting a log building on the spot of the Amos log. This building, which also served as a school, was used for 35 years until it was replaced in 1773 - the same year Harford County was separated from Baltimore County - by a fieldstone building that served as the meeting house for 70 years until the current meeting house was built. Also still in use on the site is a wooden schoolhouse, erected in 1850.

William Ferris so lamented the "destruction" of the 1773 building that he sketched it "just before it fell...and as I could not save it, I tried to preserve a shadow of it, which I send to be replaced among the archives, for the use of future generations, that they may see one of the memorials of piety of those who first set up the standard of Friends of the Little Falls of Gunpowder."

The current meeting house isn't the oldest building in town. It came after Bon Air (1794), but everything else, including other historic homes such as Mosswood (1850), Rochelle (1851) and Salem (1861) came later. All were at one time owned by prominent Quakers, as was my own home, built in 1903. In addition to the founder of the meeting, William Amos, you can find plenty of Watsons, Wilsons, Harlans, Tysons and Moores resting in the cemetery behind the meeting house which, truth be told, is one of the loveliest places in Harford County. If I have to die, I could think of worse places to end up.

The Quakers who settled in and around Fallston were farmers, millers and merchants. In the history of Little Falls, it is noted that some of the early members of the meeting owned slaves and did not want to part with them. The meeting's elders refused to bend, however, and many Quaker slaveholders were "disowned" during the period prior to the Civil War, which resulted in a reduction in members - as well as the founding of some new churches in Harford that were more tolerant, if that's the right word, of slavery than the Quakers, who decreed "no man shall own another."

Most people rightly associate the Quakers with the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad which passed through Harford County, as well as the later suffrage and civil rights movements. If you spend time around Fallston, you will notice that a simple welcoming sign, that sits along Old Fallston Road in front of the meeting house, will be changed from time to time to reflect a prominent Quaker values: social responsibility, education, peace, community.

In the 20th century, the meeting house was joined by other houses of worship built nearby: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Unitarian. There are many more homes, too, and the attendant traffic and noise that come with them. The meeting house, however, remains a place of solitude, peace and beauty right in the heart of our little village. It stands as a testament to our friends who founded Little Falls Meeting and to those who have kept its mission and values whole for all those 275 years and, hopefully, for many, many more years to come.