Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Cole Memorial Chapel

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Chapel
Location on Campus: Upper Campus
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1917original construction Cram, Ralph Adams
1963addition of tiled floor Unknown
1969chancel redesign Adams & Woodbridge
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: poured concrete; brick (facing)
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
1917-present (2007)faculty offices
1917-present (2007)chapel

Significance: architecture, culture, education, religion
Landmark designation:
National RegisterNorton Center Historic District (1977)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, and constructed in 1917, the Chapel is one of the major anchoring buildings of the original campus plan. It was the culmination of President and Congregational minister Samuel Valentine Cole's hopes and dreams for the campus, providing a beautiful location for morning chapel and religious ceremonies, and an impressive backdrop for concerts, lectures, and the like. Its peacock weathervane, an ancient Christian symbol of rebirth, named the pond (Peacock Pond) constructed below Chapel Field in 1929, for it is reflected in the pond's calm waters. The exterior of the chapel has remained virtually unchanged, except for the installation of a ramp at the south door.

Paradoxically, despite Cole Chapel's red brick and white wood Georgian Revival beauty, it is one of the finest works by the man who did more than any other early 20th century architect to adapt European Gothic styles to modern uses. Cole Chapel contributes much to the appearance of the upper campus as a town green or common, which was a goal of Ralph Adams Cram's campus plan of 1900, and the building recalls early New England architecture such as the Old North Church in Boston. The Chapel was awarded a prize by the Society of American Architects "as being the most beautiful ecclesiastical structure erected for twenty-five years in New England" (Cole). Cole Chapel is the focus of many annual ceremonies, including opening and honors convocations; matriculation ceremony; Candlelight Ceremony for first year students and seniors; and Sentimental Night (seniors). Its bell is rung at opening convocation and commencement.

The chapel was named in 1926 for the Rev. Samuel Valentine Cole, trustee from 1893 to 1925, college president from 1897 until his death in 1925, and the personal choice as Wheaton's first male president of its founder Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton. He was the major moving force in the transformation of Wheaton from a female seminary to a college. In the twenty-eight years of his presidency, twelve buildings were constructed and another planned, all in accordance with Cram's campus plan.

The original seating capacity of approximately 900 persons was expanded in 1934. The original Hook & Hastings organ was given by alumnae in memory of Wheaton founder Eliza Baylies Chapin Wheaton. The original wood floor was replaced with a concrete sub-floor overlaid with tile in 1963. William Isaac Cole, brother of Samuel V. Cole and Professor of Applied Sociology from 1912 to 1926, and trustee from 1913 to 1935, donated a reredos by painter Emil Pollak-Ottendorf and sculptor Angelo Lualdi in 1934, in memory of his mother Catherine Sophia Valentine Cole. At the same time, the chancel was extended to increase seating for the choir. William I. Cole also donated a bas-relief plaque in memory of Annie Talbot Cole, first wife of Samuel V. Cole. The current Casavant Freres organ replaced the reredos in 1969, and was the gift of Catherine Filene Shouse (Class of 1918) and the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation. At the same time, Adams and Woodbridge redesigned the chancel.

Although Cram had planned formal gardens for the space, Chapel Field was the site of the college's tennis courts in the 1920s-40s. It has since been used for pick-up baseball games, Frisbee playing, picnics, campus carnivals, commencement collations, and occasionally for tents for commencement activities.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Boulding, Christine, and Hope Phillips. Norton Center Historic District [including Wheaton College]. National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

Cole, Samuel Valentine. President's Report. 1921-22. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Cram, Ralph Adams. "College and University Chapels." Architectural Forum 44 (June 1926): 367-72.

Dahl, Curtis. The Architects of Norton. Norton, MA: Norton Patriot, 1978.

Helmreich, Paul C. Wheaton College 1834-1957: A Massachusetts Family Affair. New York: Cornwall Books, 2002.

Klauder, Charles Z., and Herbert C. Wise. College Architecture in America and Its Part in the Development of the Campus. New York and London: C. Scribner's Sons, 1929.

Shepard, Grace F. "Reference History of Wheaton College." Typescript. 1931. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Architectural History of the Wheaton College Campus: History of Land and Building Acquisition. [Norton, MA.: s.n.], 1987, rev. 2002.

Stickney, Zephorene L. "Faces behind the Facades: Campus Development & Named Buildings at Wheaton College, Norton, MA." Online (2006). Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Wheaton Imagined, Wheaton Realized: Twentieth Century Perspectives on Planning. Norton, MA: Wheaton College, February 1988.

Stickney, Zephorene L., and Sandra C. Davidson. Of All Our Immemorial Past: 150 Years at Wheaton. Norton, MA: Watson Gallery, Wheaton College, 1985.

"Wheaton College Chapel, Norton, Mass." Architectural Review (January 1918): Plates I-IV, Supplementary Photographic Plates, XXXI, XXXII.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

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