Forty Fort Meeting House
and Cemetery

History

Forty Fort Meetinghouse is a historic meeting house at River Street and Wyoming Avenue in the Old Forty Fort Cemetery in Forty Fort, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1806–08 in a New England meeting house style with white clapboard siding and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

The first European settler in the area came from Connecticut in the late 18th century. In 1768 public lands were set aside in the area for churches by the Susquehanna Company, but because of the Yankee-Pennamite Wars and the American Revolution actual building of the churches was delayed by over 30 years. An unfinished meetinghouse nearby was destroyed after the Battle of Wyoming in 1778.

Joseph Hitchcock of New Haven, Connecticut, who also designed the Old Ship Zion Church in Wilkes-Barre, designed the meetinghouse. It was the first completed church used for religious services in the area. It was a Union Church with both Congregationalist (now Presbyterians) and Methodists worshipping in the church. By 1837, both groups had built their own churches, and the meetinghouse has been used rarely since. In 1869, the Forty Fort Cemetery Association was created by the Pennsylvania state legislature and the Association still owns the church and cemetery.

Among the artifacts on display at the Meeting House is the original key to the Forty Fort meeting House and a receipt for payment of the final work completed by Master Carpenter Gideon Underwood. The receipt is dated June 27, 1808 in the amount of $35.

The five-paneled double door entrance with the large metal lock is original. The interior continues the symmetry of the exterior, with Gideon Underwood's original handcrafted pine interior which has never been painted. The normally light-colored pine has naturally darkened with age.

Master Carpenter Gideon Underwood and the members of the Meeting House's original building committee — Lazarus Dennison, Luke Swetland, Elijah Shoemaker Jr., Daniel Hoyt and Benjamin Dorrance — are buried in the Forty Fort Cemetery.

The most remarkable feature of the Forty Fort Meeting House is that it has remained virtually unchanged since 1807. This is attributed to early neglect, eventual careful stewardship and determined preservation efforts.

From 1837 to 1860, when the Forty Fort Cemetery Association was chartered, the Meeting House was ignored by everyone except Mother Nature. William Swetland, the first president of the Association, put a new roof on the building, painted it and repaired the fence.

Sixty years later in June, 1922, the Colonial Dames Society restored the interior of the Forty Fort Meeting House under the supervision of Col. Thomas H. Atherton, Architect. Later, Mrs. Franck Darte had the exterior painted.

During the Agnes Flood of1972, 2,000 lb. burial vaults and one-third of the Forty Fort Cemetery were washed away by the raging waters of the Susquehanna River. The waters rose to the tops of the pews, but the Meeting House was spared any structural damage and end, only needed a good cleaning.

In 1988, the Forty Fort Meeting House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In recent years, the entire building has been maintained by the Committee for the Preservation of the Forty Fort Meeting House. This group raised an alarm in 1992 when continuing deterioration of the building and the monies required to preserve the historical structure became paramount issues.

However, lingering moisture from the 1972 flood had caused rotting of the sills at the foundation's bace. A leaking roof was causing 185-year-old plaster to fall. In 1992-1993, the Meeting House received a new roof, the sills were replaced and the building was painted once again.

Realizing the need to seek funding for the continued care of the Meeting House, the Forty Fort Meeting House Preservation Committee was formed in 1991. Monies were secured through a Legislative Initiative Grant. In 1997 and 1998 additional repairs were made through a grant provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.