One of the most interesting parts of Springfield’s property is the Allen Jay House, located across the street at 606 E. Springfield Road.
Oral tradition says that the house dates back to around 1790, and was the home of the Josiah Nixon family. However, local historian Benjamin Briggs dates the house to 1846, when it was built to house David and Zelinda Marshall. David had been hired from New Garden Boarding School to teach at the Springfield School.
Local legend says that the house was a stop on the famous Underground Railroad, with a small door in one of the stairwells leading to a secret hiding area, a space where runaway slaves were hidden. A fact that may lend credence to the story is that Matthew Coffin, first clerk of Springfield Monthly Meeting, was a first cousin of Levi Coffin, who was known as the president of the Underground Railroad.
During the Reconstruction the Allen Jay house was the headquarters for the work of the Baltimore Association for eight years. Allen and Martha Jay lived there, while a steady flow of young volunteers from the North came down to teach in the schools. Many of the teachers stayed with the Jays until they were taken out to their assigned schools. In addition to serving as the Jay’s home, the front room on the ground floor served as the office, where books, school supplies and stationery were kept. Allen Jay would load these into his wagon and deliver them to the outlying schools.
There is no record of a barn at the Allen Jay house, but there must have been a number of outbuildings, since the Jays kept a dairy cow and horses, and there would have been an outhouse and perhaps other farm structures as well.
The house was donated to Springfield Friends Meeting in the 1940’s by members of the King family and was restored by Ruth Coltraine Cannon. The house was almost identical to the house where Allen Jay had lived eighty years before, with wide board paneling and pine floors.
The house was used for various purposes, including housing for the youth minister and the music minister at Springfield Friends Meeting. Then for a number of years the house served as the regional office of the American Friends Service Committee, which was run by Peggy Baxter. The AFSC gathered used clothing and volunteers made minor sewing repairs, before distributing the clothing locally and also sending it to the central office in Philadelphia to be shipped abroad.
When the AFSC closed down its clothing ministry, the Allen Jay house was taken over by Friends Emergency Material Assistance Program (FEMAP). This is a lively ministry where volunteers from over 15 Quaker meetings assemble health kits to give to victims of disasters and migrant workers, and layettes to give to families with newborn children. We are happy that the house is still being used today to help people in need, just as its most famous occupants did 150 years ago.
Last July, a disastrous fire did serious damage to the house. The fire was caused by overloaded and outdated electrical wiring. The damage will be covered by insurance, and we are in the process of getting repair estimates from contractors. We hope that the work can start in the next few weeks, and that FEMAP will be able to move back in some time this spring. Meanwhile, the FEMAP volunteers are using the Youth Center here in our meetinghouse so that they can continue their good work.