History of Mercer Street Friends
When Mahlon Stacy and other Quakers arrived in the area in 1679, Trenton was known as "The Falls." Stacy was instrumental in establishing the Chesterfield Monthly Meeting in 1684, which included Friends from Crosswicks and Trenton. In 1686, Quakers in what became Trenton organized the first local charity, which assisted Friends who had met with misfortune. Stacy contributed corn from his mill, which gave the Mill Hill area its name. After William Trent purchased land from the Stacy family in 1714, the town was called Trent's-town, sometimes Trent-town, and finally Trenton.
In 1827, the Society of Friends in the United States divided into two major branches, one known as Orthodox or conservative, the other known as liberal or Hicksite, after Elias Hicks. The meeting house at Hanover and Montgomery Streets in Trenton, finished in 1739, was retained by the Hicksites. The Orthodox Friends, who had been meeting in homes, started building the brick meeting house at 151 Mercer Street in 1857 and completed it in 1858.
The graveyard was always an attraction for energetic young people, and in 1917, The Sunday Times Advertiser printed the reminiscences of Howell Quigley, who remembered being one of a gang of Third Ward boys, the "turn-cap-follow-me clique," who, "on their run through the neighborhood, across the fences and yards" would disturb the sanctity of the Quaker Church lot...even climbing onto the roof of the building, in and out of the barns, over the sheds, into cellars, anywhere, everywhere, and, oh, the dare of the leaders." Another commentator from 1917 grumbled, "I wouldn’t give a two-year-old bull for the best boy ever raised on Mill Hill," a view disputed by Mr. Quigley who became one of the proprietors of the printing firm of MacCrellish & Quigley and maintained his home on Jackson Street in the Mill Hill area, where he had lived from boyhood. (see http://www.oldmillhillsociety.org/stories).
In 1955, the Philadelphia Orthodox and Hicksite Friends reunited and in 1957, the Chesterfield Monthly Meeting authorized the renovation and use of the meeting house on Mercer Street for activities that would express "Friends social concerns." The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.
The Quaker volunteers who created the Mercer Street Friends Center in 1957 and opened it in 1958 were concerned about the decaying urban community—inadequate housing, juvenile delinquency, racial antagonism, poor health and crime. The community center provided the residents of Trenton with a place to gather for social and educational functions and a baby-sitting co-op for working parents. The Friends Homemaker Service was founded in 1958 to provide employment to members of the community.
Because some of the neighbors were offended by seeing children playing in the graveyard on the upper terrace, the gravestones were turned down flat and buried, after an exact diagram had been made of all the graves. Later, paving stones were placed over that area, now the site of the Meetinghouse Garden.
Over the years, Mercer Street Friends has expanded its services and has grown to include a number of locations and program sites. It operates the regional food bank, provides full-day care for infants and toddlers in Trenton’s West Ward, and after-school care at fifteen area elementary schools. It also is a provider of home health services, youth-intervention services, parent-support services and basic skills and literacy education for adults.
As the needs of the community continue to evolve, so does Mercer Street Friends. Although our programs have outgrown the small brick meeting house, now our administrative headquarters, our mission remains steadfast: to lift up the community one person at a time.