Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project



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Institution Name: Vassar College
Original/Historic Place Name: Chapel
Location on Campus: about 200 feet south of the main entrance gate along Raymond Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1904original construction Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge
Designer: Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Romanesque revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete masonry
Walls: Cape Ann granite exterior walls with sandstone trim
Roof: clay tile
ca. 1904-present (2006)chapel (services, lectures, musical events, solemn events)

The Vassar Chapel, dedicated November 4, 1904, is located prominently on the front lawn of the Vassar campus and was said by President Taylor in 1916 to have "usher[ed] in a new era of endowed buildings at Vassar." At first it seemed desirable to build the chapel in the Gothic tradition, but appropriate space for such an elaborate edifice was unavailable. Charles Coolidge, of the architectural firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, accordingly discarded his initial Gothic design and started afresh with the design of the present Norman building. The building erected has a square, three-story tower on the northwest corner and a semicircular, two story wing to the south, with closed belfries on each side. Interior trusses, decorated with angels, project into the nave. There are cloistered porches on the north and east sides of the building, with five rounded arches and pillars on the north side and four on the east side. Five wooden double-doors with iron hinges open to the north. The Chapel contains Louis Tiffany and John LaFarge stained glass windows: the "sunset" windows by LaFarge on the west, and the "morning" windows by Tiffany on the east, with a Tiffany Rose window in the north tower. The New York Daily Tribune on Nov. 5, 1904 reported on the chapel's dedication: "The new chapel is of the Norman style of architecture, and is built of "seamed" Cape Ann granite (a milestone: the first building not to employ brick). The trimmings are of sandstone. The brownish color of the granite gives a beautiful warm effect. In the interior decoration, brown relieved by dull gold, is the prevailing tone. There is much beautiful hand carving in the woodwork, especially in the organ case and the choir rails."

The building was and still is the largest religious edifice in Dutchess County. Although it has been altered, repaired, and improved in some details as time brought changing technologies, it is one of the few Vassar buildings that has not undergone considerable recycling. It no longer can house the whole college as it once did, but with the exception of Walker Field House and annex, it is still the largest indoor gathering place for important events on campus, and has been used for convocations, graduation ceremonies, concerts, and lectures through the last century. In recent years the chapel has been made available for weddings and community events.


Collens, Charles. "Vassar College." Architectural Review 123, no. 2411 (January 17, 1923).

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Main to Mudd and More. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1996.

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College. Clinton Corners, NY: College Avenue Press, 1994.

Gaines, Thomas A. The Campus as a Work of Art. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Lewis, Dio. The New Gymnastics. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1862.

Linner, Edward R. Vassar: The Remarkable Growth of a Man and His College. Elizabeth A. Daniels, ed. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1984.

Lloyd, Harriet Raymond. Life and Letters of John Howard Raymond. New York: Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1881.

Lossing, Benson J. Historical Sketch of Vassar College. New York: S. W. Green 1876.

Lossing, Benson J.. Vassar College and Its Founder. New York: C. A. Alvord, 1867.

MacCracken, Henry Noble. The Hickory Limb. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950.

Miscellany News. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Plum, Dorothy A., and George B. Dowell. The Great Experiment, A Chronicle of Vassar. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1961.

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges: X. Three Women's Colleges: Vassar, Wellesley & Smith." Architectural Record 31 (May 1912).

Swan, Frances W. et al., eds. Communications to the Board of Trustees of Vassar College by Its Founder. New York: Vassar College, 1886.

Van Lengen, Karen, and Lisa Reilly. Vassar College: An Architectural Tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

Vassar Quarterly. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassar Views, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassarion. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.


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Last update: November 2006