Sixth Street or Wilbur Friends Meeting House built in 1872

The second building in the Salem Preservation Society’s series on Century Homes in Salem and the surrounding area is truly a house.

It is known as the Sixth Street Meeting House or the Wilbur Friends Meeting House and was built in 1872 at a cost of about $11,000. The large brick building stands on a treed lot on the north side of 6th St. The original property ran all the way to 7th St. The area behind the meeting house included a number of stalls that could provide shelter for about 35 horses and buggies.

These were the most common form of transportation for the Meeting’s members. There is also a small white frame building to the west of the Meeting House which was built for, and operated as, a school for the children of the Meeting.

The school was built in 1897 at a cost of under $395. Here the children of the Meeting learned basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, and were educated there until their early teens. At that age most took up work for their families on a farm or at a business. Some Quaker children went to a boarding school in Barnesville, Ohio to continue their education.

The Meeting House is made of brick and the walls appear to be three bricks thick. Most meeting houses were of wood construction, so this was unusual. The building has a rectangular floor plan roughly 45 feet by 68 feet and a broad front porch. The porch pillars are original and they have wear marks showing where horses were tied while their owners attended services. The front of the meeting house has two sets of double doors that are usual for a Quaker entrance – one for the men and older boys and one for the women and young children. Plaster covers the brick on the inside and tall windows were strategically placed to let in as much natural light as possible. These are protected on the outside by large white shutters. The foundation is of cut stone and rubble. The original slate roof is still in place.

Inside the church are long wooden benches with backs which serve as seats for the congregation. Services included the entire membership of the Meeting. There is also a partition which was lowered from the ceiling for the business meetings with men and boys seated on one side and women and children on the other. Each group had its own responsibilities in the Meeting. Men handles business, legal, and financial matters. Women handled the welfare and health of the members. They made decisions on how best to do this during the women’s business meetings. This gave them experience working together to provide services outside their own homes, care for the sick and needy, and handle money, a truly unusual event in 19th century America.

The ladies developed confidence and skills that led to them calling for the right to vote. The first woman’s rights convention in Ohio was held in Salem in 1852 to call for woman’s suffrage. Although the ladies had to wait another three-quarters of a century to get the right to vote, this event is seen as a logical extension of the role women played in the Quaker faith. The wall is kept closed for most services now and, although it still works, it is seldom raised.

Business meetings now include all members of the meeting so it is no longer necessary to separate men and women. The wall may be raised for large gatherings such as a wedding or funeral. The interior is little changed from the original plan except that part of the women’s side was converted to a kitchen and dining room and the ceiling was lowered. Initially open to the lofty two-story roof, the ceiling was lowered in the mid 20th century to facilitate heating.

Meetings are still held in the Sixth Street Meeting House on the first day (Sunday) of each week. On the fourth Sunday of the month, three Quaker Meetings from Columbiana County gather together at one of the three meeting houses, either in Salem, Winona or Middleton. Quarterly meetings for the Friends district are also held in Salem. The building is a testament to the skill and wisdom of the people who built it and serves to remind all of us of the important role played by the Friends church in the growth and development of the city of Salem.

– Submitted material