The restoration of Quarry Chapel
An embodiment of Gambier and the Kenyon community
The ongoing restoration of Quarry Chapel means more for Adam Sapp '02 than simply saving an historic structure. Sapp grew up in nearby Danville, Ohio, and believes the 140-year-old chapel represents the triumph of Gambier's character over the encroaching sprawl of Columbus and Mount Vernon.
The people who helped build Kenyon College "worshiped in the chapel, raised families in the church, and farmed and worked around the building itself," he said. "So both in a sociological and historical sense, that might qualify the Quarry Chapel as being the centerpiece of the area's first real community. And as the very essence of our own community on Gambier Hill is threatened by mega-malls and Mount Vernon development, there is no better place to begin working on community preservation than to begin working on Quarry Chapel preservation."
The restoration of the chapel is a labor of love involving Kenyon alumni and community members, just as its original conception and construction had been in the 1850s. The structure was erected by some of the same stonemasons who built such College landmarks as Ascension Hall. Today, the goal is to make the chapel a non denominational community facility to represent the cohesive and unique quality of Gambier and of Kenyon.
"There is something about the chapel that captures what the Gambier community is about - helping each other, neighbor to neighbor," said Peggy Oakes Shorr '79, a professional stained-glass designer who is actively involved in the project.
The chapel, officially known as Christ Church at the Quarry, was dedicated on January 18, 1863. It was designed by the English architect William Tinsley, who also designed the College's Ascension Hall. During construction, community and Kenyon workers and stonemasons worked side by side using stone donated by William Fisk's nearby quarry.
Built in the midst of the Civil War, the chapel provided a place to gather and worship. Bishop Gregory T. Bedell authorized the Episcopal congregation as a "missionary church" of Kenyon's Harcourt Parish, and the chapel served as the first permanent religious structure in College Township. Theology students attending Bexley Seminary conducted services, and the community established a small cemetery adjacent to the church.
Despite the active role in the community played by chapel during its first seventy-five years, it fell into disuse by the late 1930s. It was subsequently stripped of its contents, deconsecrated, and abandoned. In 1945, the Episcopal Church deeded the cemetery lot to the Trustees of College Township and transferred ownership of the chapel in 1966.
An effort to save the church was organized in 1972, including fundraising efforts and renovations. Donations amounted to more than $11,000, allowing for repairs to the windows, slate roof, and exterior stone walls. In addition, the funds paid for the chapel's nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Official acceptance came in September 1975.
"This beautiful stone chapel, with both Gothic and Celtic influences, stands in a grove of majestic oak and maple trees on a knoll surrounded by small meadows and rolling hills," the application read. "The building has the dignity of good proportions and simplicity."
But despite recognition in the National Register, Quarry Chapel still stood empty and unused.
It wasn't until 1999 that the Quarry Chapel Restoration Society was revived and committed itself to the complete restoration of the chapel to its 1863 condition. There was hope that the chapel would reclaim its active role in the community. Mother Nature, however, was not a willing participant in this endeavor. During the spring of 2001, a thunderstorm blew one of the "majestic oaks" onto the chapel, destroying the slate roof and damaging the stone walls. The Mount Vernon/Knox County Community Trust and the College Township trustees came to the rescue with funds to repair the damage.
Community members have also stepped in to donate money, materials, time, and skill. Trustee Doug McLaren and Professor of American Studies Peter Rutkoff are supplying building materials. David Kridler '75 is responsible for the stone work, while local restorer Lee Cubie is rebuilding the roof and floor foundation. Builder Jack Esslinger, a well-known craftsman and the husband of Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger, is designing the window jambs, and Kenyon art professor and sculptor Barry Gunderson is helping build the frames for the stained-glass windows.
Alan E. Rothenberg '67, a trustee of the College since 1995, visited the chapel during his thirty-fifth reunion and decided to fund a stained-glass window. "It seemed a noble way to honor the workmen who built so many of Kenyon's most enduring buildings," said Rothenberg, whose daughter Sara graduated from the College in 1996.
The stained-glass windows serve as both a necessary project and as a fundraising opportunity. The Society asked for donors to contribute $5,000 for each of the six smaller side windows and $10,000 for the large altar window. The windows are being commissioned and created jointly by stained-glass designer Peggy Oakes Shorr and stained-glass maker Carol Mason Rubenstein to reflect images that would be seen in the surrounding area of the chapel. Rubenstein will create the stained-glass windows out of German art glass, a task she expects to take eighteen months to two years for completion.
Shorr presented one of her designs for the altar window to the committee in July. The chapel has special significance for her, as for most of the people involved. "I had always loved that church when I was at Kenyon," she says. "Whether it was on a run, a walk, or a bike ride, reaching the top of that hill and seeing that church was always a welcome sight."
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