Saylesville Meetinghouse, Lincoln, Rhode Island

Built in 1704 and expanded in 1745, the Saylesville Meetinghouse has been in continuous use as a gathering place for the Quakers for over 300 years. The modest design of the meetinghouse emulates the 18th century Quakers’ mandate for simplicity and plainness—allowing for clarity in purpose and desire so that one may “Walk cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in every person”.

Providence Friends Meeting, Providence, Rhode Island

The roots of the Providence Friends Meeting leads back to the summer of 1657 when The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) arrived into the harbor of Newport, Rhode Island. While Quakers do not believe that meeting for worship necessarily requires a special place, Providence Monthly Meeting was established in 1718 and due to the growth of the Quaker community in the area, a meeting house was established. Its current building, completed in 1953, reflects the philosophy of a Quaker Meeting House with its absence of liturgical symbols and simplicity of design. While it should be noted that the Quakers were not initially welcomed in Rhode Island, they did not face the persecutions that occurred in the neighboring state of Massachusetts. It is with great reverence that the Providence Monthly Meeting congregation firmly believes that, “In keeping with our belief that there is that of God in every person, Providence Monthly Meeting welcomes all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, race or color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability”.

The First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island

Gathered by Roger Williams in 1638, The First Baptist Church in America is the first and longest running Baptist church congregation in the United States. The present home of the First Baptist Church is currently housed in its third building. Completed in 1775, the structure’s architectural style combines Georgian with the traditional New England meetinghouse style with its plain walls, clear glass windows, and dominant pulpit. The lack of religious symbols follows iconoclastic Baptist thought, which regard all symbols, even the cross, as icons and idols. It is the first Baptist meetinghouse to have a steeple and bell in an effort by eighteenth century Baptist advocates to bring greater respectability and recognition to their faith. Roger Williams, the founder of this church and a significant campaigner for religious freedom, was in-part responsible for Rhode Island being a unique haven for religious liberty in the seventeenth century.

Round Church, Richmond, Vermont

Completed in 1813 under the leadership of local craftsman William Rhodes, the Federal style Round Church is a sixteen-sided meetinghouse that was built to serve the community as a meeting place and a church for the area’s five Protestant congregations. Nevertheless, shortly after the building was constructed, several of the individual congregations built their own churches and the structure reverted to the Town of Richmond to become exclusively a meetinghouse beginning in 1880. In 1973, the Round Church closed due to safety concerns. As a result, the Richmond Historical Society was formed and with the generosity of the community’s time and money as well as its ability to secure grants, the Round Church remains today—serving as a testament to the now rare traditional New England sixteen-sided meetinghouse.

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill is the oldest African American extant church in the United States. Built in the Colonial style in 1806 largely by black laborers in the heart of Boston’s African American community, the meetinghouse was a magnet for the free and self-emancipated black community in the new republic’s formative years. The African Meeting House served as a center for the community as a church, school, and public space for celebrations, political and social reform meetings. Its walls hosted key figures in the Abolitionist Movement including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Maria Stewart, and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. As the black community migrated to other neighborhoods in the late nineteenth century, the African Meeting House became a Jewish synagogue until 1972 when the Museum of African American History acquired it. Returned to its mid-nineteenth century appearance, the African Meeting House is a testament to black craftsmanship and a symbol for equality and freedom of speech.