Coming from England, William Cooper, settled at Pyne Point in 1680. He and other Quakers who had settled further south on Newton Creek (by the Walt Whitman Bridge) worshipped with Friends who had settled at Shackamaxon on the Pennsylvania side. With the arrival of William Penn, the Pennsylvania Quakers were gathered into meetings on their side and New Jersey Friends formerly formed the Newton Meeting in 1682. The first meetinghouse was built on Newton Creek, in what would now be West Collingswood, in 1684. It burned down in 1817. However, by that time a new brick meetinghouse had been built on Mount Ephraim Avenue in Camden (near Mt Vernon Street) in 1801. This building survived until about 1950 and the graveyard still remains on open land.
It was in this building that the great schism of Friends occurred with a physical division of the meeting between Orthodox and so-called Hicksites. In Camden the Orthodox seized the meetinghouse (those who stayed varied from meeting to meeting) and the Hicksites ultimately built the beginnings of the current facility as “a little cabin in the woods”.
This structure dated from 1827 and constitutes about two-thirds of the current meetinghouse. About 1850 a one room school building was added adjoining the meetinghouse and the school was enlarged about 1870. In 1885, in an effort to add creature comfort and modernize the Greek Revival meetinghouse, the Philadelphia architect, Wilson Eyre, designed additions which included a fireplace (with a furnace below), an entrance vestibule, and a small library wing. The attic was also removed and tie rods inserted to enlarge the space. Thus, was created perhaps the only American Queen Revival Meetinghouse in the country. It was added to the National Register in 1971, #7100048.
In the 1960’s following many years of planning the school house (Guild Hall) was moved east to allow the passage of the Haddon Avenue extension.
The society of Friends grew out of the mystical journey of the Englishman, George Fox, in seeking a way to serve God without the “steeplehouses” and the often abusive formal religious structure present in the mid-Seventeenth Century. His work came out of the same radical protestant movement that led to Cromwell’s toppling of the English monarchy, and also ultimately led to the Baptists, Separatists and Puritan reformers in the Church of England.
Worship is based on silent seeking for the Inner Light in a communal setting. Friends have no formal creed. In practice they have been notable for their stress on plain clothing, speech and refusal to acknowledge rank.
The basic unit of organization is local, Monthly Meeting, which includes monthly meetings for business where decisions are made by consensus. Groups of Monthly Meetings are organized into Quarterly Meetings (eg. Haddonfield, Burlington,
Salem) which meet every three months; these in turn are organized into a Yearly Meeting which is the overall administrative and organizational unit for a large area (for example Philadelphia).
Meetings such as Newton, generally along the East Coast, are called Unprogrammed meetings reflecting the type of worship. In the course of western settlement, with great distances and resulting problems in corporate decision making , a type of Programmed Meeting developed with ministers and a more evangelical orientation.
Newton Meeting follows Quaker practice as outlined in the Faith and Practice discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in the conduct of meetings for worship and business and the unprogrammed Quaker style worship. We believe many who visit are attracted to the scale of our meeting, which feels family-like and allows for a refreshing simplicity as we seek God’s leading and work to create conditions for peace and justice.
The Meeting maintains a donation garden including peach and fig trees; as well as many varieties of vegetables for distribution to needy Camden residents.
Newton welcomes Eco Charter School for use of the grounds for their garden and recreational activities.
On Saturdays, Newton hosts guests from Garrett House, a halfway house operated by Volunteers of America who use the time to help maintain the garden and property to gain community service hours for their release.
Petty’s Island was originally owned by a founder of Newton and has historical significance.