Campus News

Chapel Towers Restoration Completed

The restored Chapel Towers 2004.

Story posted September 20, 2004

The familiar tones of the famous Westminster Chime could be heard ringing once again across campus this morning, an attention-grabbing signal that the restoration of the Bowdoin Chapel Towers has been completed. The chiming recommenced at 8 a.m., Monday, September 20, and for the first time in two years the bells are back to ringing every quarter hour.

The meticulous and stunning $6 million restoration has returned the towers of the Richard Upjohn-designed Chapel to their original splendor. For most throughout the campus community, the sight of the spires has been missed during daily walks across the quad, and it's a most welcome return. For others - newer students, faculty and staff - the removal of heavy scaffolding and construction equipment has afforded them their first-ever unobstructed view of the soaring Romanesque-style twin granite towers, and it's a new delight.

The restoration project began in the fall of 2002 when heavy equipment rolled in and scaffolding and fencing went up. In March 2003 workers from Consigli Construction removed the first of 2,252 stones from the North Tower. On July 23, 2004, they placed the final stone - the 2,415th - back on the South Tower. The scaffolding came down in August, fully revealing the restored towers, each rising to a height of 118 feet, 3 1/2 inches, for the first time.

From the search for matching granite to the discovery of a time capsule, the restoration has made for a fascinating story.

Building Blocks

At the start of the Chapel restoration, one of the key tasks was to find granite that would match the existing stone. The fine grain and brownish tone of the granite would likely make for a tough match. Ideally, Bowdoin wanted to find the original quarry. But the clues to its location were sketchy, and documentation was sparse. All that was known was that it was a "local" quarry.

Construction atop one of the Chapel towers.

Capital Projects Manager Don Borkowski began the search, checking quarries in New Hampshire, Vermont, farther afield in New England, even as far away as Georgia. Meanwhile, he gave a Chapel granite sample to Art Hussey, geology professor emeritus, and asked, "Any idea?"

Just as Borkowski was preparing make inquiries in Europe, Hussey declared, "I found it." It turns out that the original quarry is right in Brunswick, near the intersection of Highland and Pleasant Hill roads, an inactive quarry owned by Geoffrey and Cecelia LaChance.

A "petrographer" verified the granite was an "exact match." So 150 years after the Chapel was erected, builders went back to the same quarry to "extract" the granite for the repairs - and found themselves reliving part of Bowdoin's past.

Meanwhile, when the footings for the new Children's Center on South Street were dug, Borkowski learned that the sand there was an exact match for the sand used to mix the original mortar used during the building's 1844-55 construction. So the sand needed for the new mortar turned out to be even closer by than the granite.

Blast from the Past

In May 2003, construction workers discovered a time capsule under the northwest cornerstone of the North Tower. The heavily corroded tin box, which measured approximately 18 x 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, contained two silver plaques. Other materials that had originally been placed in the time capsule had disintegrated, but they were likely a Bible, some information about the College, and other paperwork.

The larger of the two silver plaques is engraved in Latin with the names of fourth Bowdoin President Leonard Woods Jr., Gulielin King (vice president), Richard Upjohn (the architect), and 15 others on both the front and back.

The silver plaques from the time capsule.

The smaller plaque is engraved "A.L 5845 July 16th" followed by "This stone was laid in ample form by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Maine." Below this engraving is a list of the three lead masons (or managers) that constructed the building.

Bowdoin has purchased a new, stainless steel time capsule tube, and will eventually install it in the same cornerstone where the original time capsule was discovered. The cornerstone, located to the left of the Chapel's front door, has been carved with the years 1845 on one side, and 2004 on the other, to mark the two dates it was installed. The two silver plaques found in the first time capsule will be placed in the new time capsule for future generations to discover.

Another interesting find during the restoration was an old walnut striking tool, discovered buried in a wall. According to Borkowski, it's the type of tool used to strike mortar joints. One can only speculate how it came to be buried in the wall. Did some 19th-century construction worker just drop it? Did he break it and throw it in the wall to dispose of it? The answer will remain a mystery.

The Tintinnabulation That So Musically Wells

Before the restoration, the North Tower of the Chapel housed a single bell that was on a wheel and could only be rung manually. Originally this bell was rung to signal the beginning and end of each class. The South Tower housed 11 bells (more properly called chimes, since there are more than eight of them), that were a gift of Edward Payson Payson, Class of 1869, and William Martin Payson, Class of 1874, "in memory of their Payson and Martin ancestors who were trustees or graduates of the college" (as the bells are engraved). These chimes were originally installed in 1924.

The Chapel bells.

With the restoration, a total of 15 bells are now housed in the South Tower. The single North Tower bell was moved to the South Tower, and three more bells have been added to the South Tower's original 11 to expand their musical repertoire. The three new bells were made in Holland, and tuned in Cincinnati by The Verdin Company (tuning is accomplished by grinding; as metal is ground out, the pitch of the bell changes). The Chapel bells can now be programmed to play over 200 tunes, and can also be played from a keyboard.

American Graffiti

During the restoration, workers discovered eight sets of initials carved into the finial and other stones of the towers - apparently by Bowdoin students in 1852 when construction scaffolding would have been in place giving them access and a solid platform from which to "work." According to research conducted by Assistant Secretary of the College John R. Cross '76, the identities of the carvers are likely:

  • WWP: William Wirt Pendergast (Class of 1854). He left the College in the winter of '52-53, and became the first school teacher in Hutchinson, Territoryof Minnesota, in 1856.
  • HKT: Henry Kennedy Turner, a non-graduating member of the Class of1854, who went to California, ran a dairy farm, and became a California state senator.
  • WMB: William Morrison Bartley (1854), who went on to be ordained an Episcopal minister in Alabama.
  • JRO: James Ripley Osgood (1854), who became a well known publisher in Boston and England.
  • BFK: Bezaleel (Bion) Freeman Kendall (1852), who was a superintendent of Indian Affairs in Washington Territory, and newspaper publisher.
  • CPC: Either Charles Peleg Chander (1854), a Boston lawyer who died in the Civil War, or Charles Peter Clark (1854, who attended Bowdoin 1851-52), president of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
  • WPT: William Packard Tucker (1854), who went on to be Bowdoin librarian and archdeacon of Rhode Island.
  • DMP: David Marks Place (1853), who became a drygoods manufacturer and bookkeeper in Boston and Lynn, Mass.

They Do Windows

Workers noticed that the existing window glass in the towers was of two types: plain, and an amber pebbled glass. When the Chapel was first built, all the glass was of the pebbled variety. But when the South Tower was struck by lightning in 1894, its windows were shattered. The glass used to replace them was plain.

That amber pebbled glass is still produced, however (in Kokomo, Indiana), and Bowdoin acquired this type of glass to restore the windows in the South Tower. The large round window at the back of the building facing Sargent Gymnasium will also be restored.

The restored glass makes for a particularly memorable sight in the evening. The Chapel Towers are now illuminated nightly until 11 p.m., making this enduring Bowdoin landmark even more striking.


cornerstone.jpgThe cornerstone.

The Chapel will be rededicated at a ceremony to be held Thursday, October 21, at 8 p.m. The event will feature remarks by President Barry Mills '72 and Associate Professor of Art History Susan E. Wegner, and a performance of Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Percussion, with organist Sean Fleming and conductor Anthony Antolini '63.

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