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| || MEMORIAL CHAPEL |
Dedicated: July 18, 1871
Type: Gothic Revival brownstone church
Builder: G. B. Kuling
Architects of Alterations: J.C. Cady and Henry Bacon
Height: One/two stories and tower
MEMORIAL CHAPEL, Wesleyan University, Middletown, is significant historically because it was built as a memorial to Wesleyan University men who died in the Civil War. In an 1868 fund-raising plea, the university's desire "to commemorate the heroism and patriotism of our alumni and students who died in defense of our country's cause" was linked to the long-recognized need for better accommodations for religious and public exercises. In addition, a salute to Methodism was invoked, creating a double- or triple-barreled appeal for support. $41,000 had already been raised; a further $20,000 was sought. The number of donors who responded was tremendous; a list of their names occupies many pages in the files of the Wesleyan Special Archival Collections. The chapel was built for $60,000.
The reason for the long (four-year) time span of 1867-1871 for construction of the building is not known, since substantial funds were in hand in 1868. The cornerstone at the northeast corner is incised with the year 1868. The dedication ceremony was held July 18, 1871.
MEMORIAL CHAPEL, Wesleyan, is the only religious building known to have been constructed in Connecticut as a Civil War memorial, and one of the few buildings of any type (see SOLDIERS' MEMORIAL HALL, Madison, and MEMORIAL HALL, Windsor Locks). Battell Chapel, Yale University, initially was planned as a Civil War memorial, but after conclusion of an architectural competition for the purpose, the project was delayed for some years. When construction of the building did go forward, with new architectural designs, the Civil War memorial purpose was abandoned.
MEMORIAL CHAPEL, Wesleyan University, is significant architecturally because it is a good example of a mid-19th-century religious building designed in the Gothic Revival style. The brownstone building material, which was quarried across the Connecticut River in Portland, steeply pitched gables, and vocabulary of Gothic ornament well articulate the Picturesque mode. Regrettably, the identify of the architect and information about the builder, other than his name, are not known. The chapel also gains significance from the prestige of the two architects who designed its alterations. Both J. Cleveland Cady (1837-1919) and Henry Bacon (1866-1924) were pre-eminent practitioners. Cady's work was more likely to be in the Gothic Revival style than Bacon's, whose renown is associated with the Neo-Classical Revival Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. Bacon also designed the Eclectic Society Building, Middletown, ca.1908.
MEMORIAL CHAPEL, Wesleyan University, is a brownstone Gothic Revival religious structure, constructed 1867-1871 by G.B. Kuling to the design of an unknown architect. It is one in a row of Wesleyan University buildings set well back from and above High Street in the heart of the campus. It was built as a memorial to Wesleyan University alumni and undergraduates who died in the Civil War.
The front elevation of the chapel has a central projecting porch supported by columns with elaborate foliated capitals and flanked by a tower to the north and a window to the south. Lancet windows, crockets, and trefoil and quatrefoil shapes embellish the facade. Side elevations have two tiers of stained-glass windows vertically separated by buttresses under a row of steeply pitched gables. The west (rear) elevation is shaped by the apse. The front tower rises to wooden belfry and polychromed slate roof. The main gabled roof also is covered with polychromed slate.
The narthex inside the front entrance is connected to the sanctuary by three pointed-arch openings. Stairways are located at the ends of the narthex. The large open space of the sanctuary is defined by galleries on the sides, an organ loft and Austin organ at the back, and a large raised platform and apse at the front. The two-story opening to the apse is an unusually tall pointed arch.
There is little religious iconography in the sanctuary, since it is used for multi-denominational services. But a devout and sacred tone is conveyed by the two tiers of stained-glass memorial windows. On the south side the second window from the back honors Wesleyan alumni and students who died in the war of 1861-1865. Eighteen names in upper and lower case are recorded in the red, blue, and green glass. Inexplicably, it is thought to be about half the number who actually died in service (Potts, January 5, 1994). Small stylized designs fill the spaces above and below the names. Similar windows on the north commemorate those who died in World War I and World War II.
As built, the interior space was divided horizontally into two floors. The lower level was classrooms, the upper level the chapel. The proportion of apse opening to the overall west wall was more conventional than it is now, as shown by historic photographs. The present beamed-and-coffered wooden ceiling does appear in historic photographs, indicating that it is original, although the nature of alterations planned in the late 19th century by J.C. Cady (Potts, page 335, n. 77) is unknown.
The major change to the interior was carried out in a 1916 commission by Henry Bacon. He caused a "transformation to an English parish church" by eliminating the first-floor classrooms and opening up the two stories into a single space, as it now appears. Interior decorating was in the hands of Horace Mann, of New York City. General contractor was Mylchreest Brothers, Middletown. Cost of the program was $32,000.
Presumably, the lower tier of stained-glass windows must date from 1916 or later, raising a question as to how and why the Civil War memorial window is located at this level.
The hurricane of 1938 did major damage to the steeple and roof, and extensive repairs were carried out afterward.
Baruch, p. 16.
Folders on Memorial Chapel. Special Archival Collections, Olin Library, Wesleyan University.
Alison C. Guiness, The Portland Brownstone Quarries (Middletown, 1987), p. 93.
David B. Potts, interview, January 6, 1994.
______________, Wesleyan University, 1831-1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 64, 72, 80, and 195.