Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project



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Institution Name: Bowdoin College
Original/Historic Place Name: Chapel/ Bannister Hall
Location on Campus: on historic quadrangle
Date(s) of Construction:
1844-1855original design Upjohn, Richard
1997interior restoration Castro, Tony Williamstown Art Conservation Center
Designer: Richard Upjohn; Tony Castro
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Romanesque revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: stone
Walls: stone
Roof: metal
ca. 1855library
ca. 1855museum (art gallery space)
1855-present (2006)auditorium (sometimes houses concerts, recitals, and special events in addition to religious services)
1855-present (2006)chapel
ca. 2004-present (2006)classrooms (and psychology labs, in Bannister Hall)

The College Chapel's interior was painstakingly restored in 1997 by conservators under the direction of Tony Castro, with assistance from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. This included restoration of the wall frescoes and the elaborate ceiling and wall detail; many national firms completed the work. The College is currently investing in the preservation and reconstruction of the twin masonry towers that dominate the skyline on the east quad and, along with the single tower of the First Parish Church, are visible from Brunswick's downtown. Richard Upjohn's Chapel occupies a position of importance in American architecture as one of the two earliest examples of the Romanesque Revival in American architecture. The Romanesque Revival is important, because it was arguably this country's first national style of architecture. It started at Bowdoin, and its most famous example is Henry Hobson Richardson's Trinity Church on Copley Square. Gothic and stone, the original Chapel was meant to serve the needs of a combination chapel, library, and picture gallery. The chapel is a collaboration between then-President Leonard Woods and architect Richard Upjohn and is complex in function and symbolism. It solved the College's spatial problems, while providing Bowdoin with a monumental structure that became the focal point of the Quadrangle. The Chapel's design relies on the Latin cross plan. The nave, which is really the Chapel, is flanked by two doors, which appear to lead into side aisles, but instead lead into the literary societies' libraries. These spaces have been modified for classrooms and offices. The east end, Banister Hall, which was designed as a College library, now houses the Psychology Department.

Some of the interior spaces of the chapel will need to be reconfigured to accommodate changing program needs. Since 1955, the Psychology Department, with its classrooms and laboratories, has occupied Banister Hall. With the construction of the new academic building, Kanbar Hall, beginning in May 2003, Psychology will move out of the chapel to more appropriate spaces. Thus, Banister Hall will have space available for other College uses. The College is now in the process of reconstructing the Chapel's granite bell towers, due to their serious deterioration. Bowdoin is also applying to the Save America's Treasures Program to partially cover this expense. Other than this work, the exterior has not sustained extensive restoration or repair since construction was completed in 1854. To ensure that the stone on the towers matched the original, the Facilities Department and the Bowdoin faculty conducted extensive research until they located the original quarry--in Brunswick. Work undertaken to date, including the surveying of the towers' condition, has brought to light many of the original construction documents and materials used for construction. This material will be included in the Preservation Plan.


Anderson, Patricia McGraw. The Architecture of Bowdoin College. Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988.

"The Chapel Talks." Bowdoin Magazine 69.3 (Summer 1998).

Hatch, Louis Clinton. The History of Bowdoin College. Portland, ME: Loring, Short & Harmon, 1927.

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges VII. Brown, Bowdoin, Trinity and Wesleyan. Architectural Record 29 (February 1911): 144-66.

Sears, Robert. A Pictorial Description of the United States, Embracing the History, Geographical Position, Agricultural and Mineral Resources, Populations, Manufactures, Commerce and Sketches of Cities, Towns, Public Buildings, etc., etc., Interspersed with Revolutionary and Other Interesting Incidents Connected with the Early Settlement of the Country. Boston: John A. Lee, 1873.

Shettleworth, Earle G., Jr., and Frank A. Beard. Federal Street Historic District [including Bowdoin College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1976.

Tolles, Bryant Franklin. "College Architecture in New England before 1860 in Printed and Sketched Views." Antiques 103 (March 1973): 502-09.

Tolles, Bryant Franklin. "College Architecture in Northern New England before 1860: A Social and Cultural History." Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1970.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

"Written in Stone." Bowdoin Magazine 73.3 (Spring 2002).


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Last update: November 2006