History Of Mount Toby Meeting
The first recorded monthly meeting in the ancestry of Mt. Toby was the Northampton Meeting, which organized as an independent Meeting under the Friends Fellowship Council in Philadelphia in 1939. There had been other occasional worship groups of Friends in the Valley – in Amherst in 1924 and in Northfield in the 1930’s – but it was the initiative of a European couple who came to Smith College that led to the formal organization. These Friends had seen war coming in Europe and urged local Friends to join national movement among Friends preparing to witness for peace. At the time, the Northampton group did not want to choose either of the New England Yearly Meetings, which had divided in 1845 over the theologies of John Wilbur and John J. Guerney. But when the Yearly Meetings united in 1945, Northampton and other Friends in Connecticut joined the New England Yearly Meeting with the Connecticut Valley Friends Fellowship (started in 1936) that included Hartford and New Haven Independent Meetings. That group and Providence, RI and Cambridge, MA Independent Meetings made up the third group of Friends forming the new Yearly Meeting.
The new monthly meeting was called the Middle Connecticut Valley Monthly Meeting because it was in the middle of the Connecticut Valley Quarterly Meeting. There were worship groups in South Hadley, Greenfield, Northampton, and Great Barrington. They met together only for monthly meeting for business, often in Sherwood Friends Center, a barn studio given to Greenfield Friends by Mary Champney.
A meeting in Amherst was revived by Francis and Becky Holmes when they came to the University of Massachusetts in 1954. When many more Quaker families came to the growing University in the next decade, Amherst became the largest meeting. In 1959 the Monthly Meeting decided to try an “experimental consolidation” and rented the Grange Hall on Main Street in Amherst, to which all Friends came for First Day worship.
This experiment, which allowed for a First Day School for the 50-100 children, was so successful that the Meeting decided to try to build a meetinghouse. They eventually accepted a gift of land on the farm of Ethel Dubois on Long Plain Road in Leverett, and broke ground in 1963. In 1964, a meetinghouse designed by architect Elroy Weber opened. The Meeting was renamed Mt. Toby after the nearby hill.
At the same time, the Greenfield Sherwood Friends Center was taken by the State when Interstate 91 was to be built. Money from the settlement was lent to the Meeting and paid back to a fund under Greenfield Trustees, and later lent to other Meetings. A small loan and grant from the Friends General Conference Meetinghouse Fund has also helped the 25 families meet the challenge of paying for the building, and later buying the 120 acres of Ethel Dubois’ farm when she retired. In a few years, the Long Plain Nature Center she ran on the farm moved to Amherst and became the Hitchcock Center for the Environment.
An addition was added to the meetinghouse in 1997, when the Champney Room, designed by Nina Weyl, was built. The kitchen was enlarged and space redesigned. In 1994, Northampton Friends Meeting divided off from Mt. Toby and formed a new Meeting; they currently meet in downtown Northampton. South Berkshire had left in 1984 and built a meetinghouse in 2001.
The history of Mt. Toby and Friends’ peace testimony in World War II and the Vietnam War is another story, some of which can be read in the history up until 1960, (written by Helen Griffiths.) This history is in the Meeting library, or can be purchased from the History Committee. In fall of 2004 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the meetinghouse.
A very complete history of the Meeting up to 1964 written by Helen Griffin can be read or downloaded here.
A continuation of the complete history, from 1954 to the 1990s, was written by Georgana Foster and can be read or downloaded here.