Two old meetinghouses --elegant, plain, lifting your heart as you approach the top of the hill. One Hicksite, one Orthodox... built side by side. Still friendly neighbors? The shared graveyard, next to the Orthodox meeting; one school, across the graveyard from the Orthodox meeting; a Friends boarding home, for elderly Friends and young singles (women school-teachers), next door to the Hicksite meeting. Below the hill, a hundred yards away, the stores, shops, and traffic of the business district of Waynesville, Ohio. In New England, we have our village greens, with church, school, library, and town hall arrayed around the sides of the common. Here I suppose the library and town hall were in the business district. Yet the vision of community seemed the same -- even, stronger.
Imagine a time when most residents of Waynesville were Friends. They must have been friends, too. I caught a glimpse of the community that we yearn for in a fragmented postmodern age. Did they visit each other's church yard sales? Did they have afternoon committee meetings at one meetinghouse or the other, then walk across the yard to the school to pick up their children? At the Friends Boarding Home, our guide said that businessmen came to lunch at the boarding home daily, walking the two blocks from their offices.
I live in intentional communities -- co-ops, boarding schools, maybe co-housing someday. I think our broken American society needs more local community. But visiting this small Ohio town, I saw how from the 1810's to the 1910's they could have had that real community support and fellowship that I love, using simply the monthly meeting structure. As a historian, I know that local historians must know the real stories behind Waynesville. Evidence is surely preserved in journals, newspapers, diaries, meeting minutes. I'm sure it wasn't all rosy. But after all, the place is on the National Register for being well-preserved and representative; and their hilltop is spacious and green; and I could see the rhythms of a whole community of shared lives of caring, lived out there between White Brick and Red Brick meetinghouses. I hope it's really true.