Chapel/Library/Gym Historical Marker
Written by: Abigail McPeek ('15)
The original Chapel Building was built in 1893-94, and was the first dedicated building in 32 years (preceded by the Academy Building-now known as Highbaugh Hall-in 1861). The Chapel Building was a magnificent, three-story building that housed many things, some of which were a swimming pool, faculty offices and meeting halls, and the libraries of the Ciceronian and Tau Theta Kappa literary societies. The "Chapel Building" was such a large part of student life because it was a looming structure that touched every part of the students' experiences. It wasn't just a place for gathered worship. It housed the campus's academic holdings and served as the location for indoor athletic competition for men and women. One student who witnessed the burning of the Chapel Building later stated in 1970 that "losing this center of campus life was a great shock to all of us."
Many buildings around the chapel, and even some a few blocks away, suffered damaged from burning particles that were carried away by the wind. More than 50,000 books from the library's holdings and numerous works of art were damaged, though some of these were salvaged as they were thrown out the window and the building by students and faculty attempting to salvage the College's material history. The structure imploded fifteen minutes after everyone was evacuated.
Despite the devastation of the fire on Saturday, April 26, 1930, classes resumed on the following Monday, though scattered around campus. The library that resided in the Chapel Building traveled from its original location to Giddings Hall, the Arts and Crafts Building, and finally settled in Cooke Memorial in the early 1950s. The library was moved to the Anna Ashcraft Ensor Learning Resource Center when the Arts and Crafts Building was torn down and the LRC was built in its place in 1997. The gym that was once housed in the Chapel Building moved to the gym that had already been built in 1926, Alumni Gym. A new site, the John L. Hill Chapel, was built and dedicated in 1949, almost 20 years later, over the original site, leaving some of the old bricks as a layer under the new ones. Today, the John L. Hill Chapel is used for worship services, classes, and even musical theatre performances-in short, it is the gathering space for campus and community.
To hear about the Chapel Fire, listen to Ancel Cook's Oral History recorded in 1979 click here.