Longwood Meeting honored for role in Underground Railroad


Now a Chester County visitors center, the Longwood Progressive Friends Meetinghouse, has been recognized by the National Park Service as a significant historic site.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The Kennett Underground Railroad Center (KURC) iannounced this week that the National Park Service (NPS) recently recognized the Longwood Progressive Meetinghouse and Longwood Cemetery as a significant historic site on the NPS Network to Freedom.

The Progressive Meetinghouse  offers free admittance to the public and currently houses the Chester County Conference and Visitor’s Bureau and is located at 300 Greenwood Road, just in front of Longwood Gardens.  The Network to Freedom is a National Park Service program designed to preserve and commemorate verified sites associated with the Underground Railroad and educate the public about these places. 

The NPS award comes after a multi-year process of in-depth research and documentation demonstrating that the Meetinghouse and Cemetery were crucial parts of the Underground Railroad and the campaign to end slavery. The award emphasizes their local and national importance in Kennett Square’s many abolitionist activities from about 1830-1860.

The Longwood Progressive Friends Meeting House and Longwood Cemetery is a remarkable, living testament to the struggle to abolish slavery and to the pursuit of liberty and equality for all individuals. The Meeting House claimed members who were among the nation’s leading and most outspoken anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activists and supporters. Many of these members are also buried in the Longwood Progressive Meeting cemetery across the street. 

In the first decades of the 19th century the Society of Friends (Quakers) struggled with some members’ decisions to advocate for societal and political reform. Many of these reformers broke away and formed their own more liberal meeting and adopted the term “Progressive”.   The new meeting at Longwood was at the forefront of many of the nation’s social justice movements such as:  campaigns to abolish slavery, end capital punishment, reform prisons and achieve equal rights for women. 45 of its initial 58 members are known to have been active participants in the local Underground Railroad. The meetinghouse itself was also used to shelter fugitive slaves on their journey to freedom.

The annual meetings drew attendees from near and far, though not all joined the Progressive Meeting. For instance women’s rights advocates and Underground Railroad agents Lucretia Mott and her husband James attended Longwood Meeting. William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Parker, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Sojourner Truth, and many other famous abolitionists and women’s rights activists spoke at the meetinghouse. 

KURC offers tours of many of the important Underground Railroad sites in historic Kennett Square beginning May, 2015. Please contact the center for information or to make reservations.

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