Cole Memorial Chapel

Designed by Ralph Adams Cram and built by L.M. Witherell & Sons of Taunton for $61,693, Cole Memorial Chapel was constructed in 1917 by a handful of men with a few mules for transportation. World War I made it impossible to obtain additional workmen.

The main structure is of water-struck red brick with light trim. The columns are of wood, and the spire rises to a height of one hundred and forty-seven feet from the ground. The walls and woodwork of the Chapel are treated in French gray and white, with mahogany trimmings on the pews, and the windows are filled with clear glass in small panes. The combined seating capacity of the main floor and the galleries is about nine hundred. The original wooden floor was replaced with a concrete sub-floor overlaid with tile in 1963.

The Class of 1906 began the “chapel fund” with a $40 senior class gift (Bulletin, June 1906, p.12). Dr. Cole’s Annual Report of 1921-22 noted that the chapel had been awarded prizes from several groups of architects. The Society of American Architects gave it a prize as “the most beautiful ecclesiastical structure erected for twenty-five years in New England.”

The Chapel was used for required morning chapel and Sunday services and continues to be used for formal lectures, concerts, convocations, and the Candle Light Ceremony. Lower Chapel housed the Library before 1923, and was used for informal lectures and student meetings. Between 1950 and 1961, Lower Chapel housed the Art Department.

Cole Memorial Chapel was the site of baccalaureate and commencement exercises for many years. For many years, Founders’ Day celebrations were held in the chapel. Beginning with a morning lecture sponsored by the Annie Talbot Cole Fund (established in memory of Rev. Cole’s first wife), and followed by afternoon exercises, the festivities were preceded by an academic procession of faculty, alumnae, and students.

In 1934, William Isaac Cole, brother of Samuel Valentine Cole and Professor of Applied Sociology 1912-1926, Trustee 1913-1935 and Treasurer 1914-1926, donated the reredos, “Nativity,” by Emil Pollak-Ottendorf, in memory of his mother, Catherine Sophia Valentine Cole, his brother, Samuel Valentine Cole, and his sister, Sarah Elizabeth Cole Burnham. The reredos hung above the altar under the window. The painting is now stored in the Collection Study Room in Watson Fine Arts Center. William Cole also placed the Annie Talbot Cole Memorial Tablet in memory of his late sister-in-law, Samuel Valentine Cole’s first wife, in 1928.

The original organ, built by Hook & Hastings Co. of Boston, was donated by alumnae in memory of Eliza Baylies Wheaton. In 1969, the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation, Inc. donated $100,000 in honor of Catherine Filene Shouse 1918 to the Wheaton College Program, the College’s 1960s endowment campaign. With this gift, the College purchased a 39-stop mechanical-action organ from Casavant Freres, Ltd. of Montreal, Canada. The organ was installed in the chancel and inaugurated on 17 December 1969.

The chapel was dedicated on 16 October 1926 to the memory of the Rev. Samuel Valentine Cole, trustee from 1893 to 1925 and College President from 1897 until his death in 1925.