A Meeting at the Meeting House

‘Twas in Burlington, NJ, the other day. That’s directly across the Delaware from Maple Beach and Bristol Borough, PA, a couple of this writer’s haunts on that side of the river.

Delaware River scene
Burlington-Bristol Bridge and the Delaware River in a Panorama of Maple Beach and Bristol Borough, PA.
Burlington Island is at the extreme right in this photo.

Maple Beach is my latest intrigue, which is a whole journal entry in itself. Wanting to see what the landmass looks like from across the waterway (as seen above), I drove over the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, landing myself in one of the oldest spots in the country.

London Neighborhood in Burlington, NJ, established in 1696.
London Neighborhood in Burlington, NJ, established in 1696.

A very historic place, this Burlington is, especially the illustrious, old neighborhood of “London,” with its age based on Quaker settlers from England.

In Pa., across the river, Bristol Borough was settled in 1681. William Penn, himself a Quaker, founded the entire Keystone State from a land charter given to him by England’s King Charles II in that same year, to satisfy a royal debt owed to Penn’s father.

Historical Marker in front of existing building
Quaker Meeting House Site, Est. 1678

Burlington predates Penn by a few years. A group from the Society of Friends relocated to the area in 1677. Having sailed over from Britain on a ship named “Kent,” the religious group established their meeting place in 1678, documented on an historical marker in front of the site, which sits in the middle of London Neighborhood.

The building on the grounds today was built in 1784, with additions constructed in the 1990s to form a conference center.

Quaker Meeting House, built in 1784.
Quaker Meeting House, built in 1784.

The original meetings took place under sails from the ship that carried the settlers over the Atlantic Ocean from London, England, with well over 200 people aboard to the Province of West Jersey.

The exact location of these gatherings was under the old sycamore tree in the graveyard behind the present-day structure. The tree limbs were perfect for suspending the meeting’s overhang.

Old Sycamore Tree and Quaker Cemetery.
Old Sycamore Tree and Quaker Cemetery.

Be it a morbid curiosity, although not an unusual pastime for some on a pleasant, fall afternoon, tombstone-spotting is an inspirational thing to do. Several local luminaries were buried in the Quaker’s cemetery, all of whom I wasn’t aware were there until researching about the meeting house.

The purpose of my quest, however, was to find the oldest monument there. One dated back to 1866. Another read 1882, and a third hawked back to 1817:

Gravestone from 1866
Gravestone from 1866

The eldest tombstone, that of Joseph Scattergood, Esq; lay facing the sycamore tree behind it, resting prominently flat on the ground:

Oldest Tombstone Found - 1754.
Oldest Tombstone Found – 1754.

According to the Quaker Meeting House’s Website: Society of Friends, the granddaddy of them all dated back to 1726; but I didn’t find it.

The gravestone most impressive to me was a boulder on the north side of the sycamore tree, seen on the right in the fish-eye photo previously displayed.

A bronze plaque embedded into the rock indicates the interment of Chief Ockanickon from the Mantas tribe of the Lenape Indians, a man so instrumental in the peaceful negotiations with the settlers who purchased parcels of land from the native people:

Memorial for Chief Ockanickon from the Mantas tribe of the Lenape Indians.
Memorial for Chief Ockanickon from the Mantas tribe of the Lenape Indians.

The quaint neighborhood maintained its serene essence from yesteryear, with alleys and walkways between houses, beautiful gardens with colorful, autumnal flowers in bloom.

Another significant site in old London captured my imagination immediately, that being Ulysses S. Grant’s family’s home during the latter period of the Civil War.

Grant Family Homestead and Garden
Grant Family Homestead and Garden
Front of Grant's Family Homestead
Front of Grant’s Family Homestead

An attractively clear voice from seemingly an angel emanated from within this splendid old villa, singing an operatic line at a pitch that could shatter glass, yet softly enough not to rattle the window panes. Maybe it was just a recording, but sounded live to me.

Short, sporadic outbursts of an angelic aria penetrated the silence, only to turn silent again in between each enchanting, melodic trill. A chandelier glowed from behind the French doors on the front porch, so someone must have been inside.

Envisioning Grant’s family—his children had to have been in their teens at the time—I imagined them lazin’ with their friends in the garden behind the house on a sunny afternoon, or heading downtown to one of the many markets and shops that lined all of High St.

The garden on the side of the house sported flowers, both real and fake. You be the judge of which was which:

Side of Grant Family House
Side of Grant Family House
Flowers behind the fence along the side walkway between houses.
Flowers behind the fence along the side walkway between houses.
Walkway between houses, looking toward High St.
Walkway between houses, looking toward High St.
A peek looking back toward Grant's house on the right and Wood Street straight ahead.
A peek looking back toward Grant’s house on the right and Wood Street straight ahead.
Historical marker in front of Grant's house.
Historical marker in front of Grant’s house.

Getting back to the meeting house, for my car was parked near the back gate, I prepared to take one final photo of the historic site. While on my knees and crouching low to get it, as I had done with all the tombstones inside the graveyard, I must have looked like a lunatic to someone who didn’t know a camera accompanied me; either that or a stranger in the throes of cardiac arrest.

Incidentally, I caught another case of poison ivy while wallowing in the graveyard, which is driving me crazy as I type. Thank goodness for Caladryl Lotion.

A friendly man walked up while I was about to take my last shot, stopping to tell me he finally found the city library, after having lived in Burlington for a few years.

“Everyone I asked about where it is didn’t know,” he said. “Just a little while ago, someone told me where it was. You’d think it would be somewhere in plain sight.”

“Who reads books, anymore?” I said while standing up. “People are using the Internet for their reading material, nowadays. No need for a library.”

“Oh, I have to hold a book in my hands to read.”

“I know what you mean. The smell and feel of the paper, the act of actually turning pages.”

“Yes, but not only for that. Don’t you just hate it when you accidentally scroll past the next few pages on your Kindle?” he said. “What if the batteries go dead on your electronic device and there aren’t any more around, then what?”

“Very true, I hate when that happens. You could plug in your charger, but what if the power goes out? How then would you read?”

“There’s always light. I’d find it. I’d use my penlight, shining it down to see.”

“Aha, and what if those batteries went dead?”

“Why, I’d use a candle. I’m no dummy.”

“No, you’re not. Nice meeting you. Enjoy your afternoon at the library.”

“Thanks, friend,” he said and vanished down the street.

Asking my philosophical acquaintance about how he’d react to not finding any matches for lighting his candle crossed my mind, but I decided to leave it be.

Wondering afterward if he was just fooling with me and knew where the library was all along, I realized my forgetting to inquire where the venerable public institution was actually.

If this enlightened, recent resident of Burlington was familiar with Kindle, certainly he was aware of Mapquest and Google to find his way.

The following is the last photo snapped during that delightful, late-afternoon exchange of ideas at the Meeting House:

Quaker Meeting House, Burlington, NJ.
Quaker Meeting House, Burlington, NJ.

For other pics of this fascinating town across the river, please click here, or you can click on any of the above shots for a larger version; but don’t forget to page back here on your browser when finished viewing each photo.

What’s up with Maple Beach should be the next entry. Thanks for your support.

Garden behind Grant's Next-door Neighbor.
Garden behind Grant’s Next-door Neighbor.

Postscript on 24 August 2019:

Yesterday while motoring around Burlington, I found the library, which was around the corner on West Union Street, as shown below.

The historical sign says that the Burlington Library Association was charted by King George II in 1757, which originally was housed in a rented room of the founder: Thomas Rodman. A wooden building constructed on the southeast corner of High Street and East Broad Street in 1789 was the first to solely contain the library’s collections. The one above was built in 1864.

About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at Lulu.com.
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