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The large limestone chapel can be seen from five to ten miles in all directions and is an icon for both the town and the college. The view of the surrounding area is unobstructed and the scale of all buildings controlled to maintain the vistas and make the chapel a central structure. No roads run across or through campus, making it a totally "walking" campus. There is no clear gateway or front entrance to the campus and it remains open on all sides--a park-like setting or a neighborhood within a small town.
King Chapel and the other structures reported here are part of some 120 listed in the Cornell-Mount Vernon Historic District (1980) that includes the entire campus and surrounding religious and residential buildings. The district illustrates the historic development of a small town and small college from 1853 to 1965. Hundreds of colleges were founded in this period and this district shows how the college and town helped shape the others. Taken together with the topography (landscape) of the town and college and the architectural integrity of the structures, the story of the national college building movement is well told.
The district includes nearly all of the styles widely deployed in the Midwest. The college's distance from major suburban and urban sprawl, and the conserving nature of private colleges have left the area with little impact on the natural environment and little intrusion on the landscape. Both local and regional architects are represented on the campus. Natural material (wood, limestone, and brick, all of local origin) ties the 19th century structures to the landscape. Structures in the 20th century are respectful of the earlier period and make references to specific details or elements. The campus plan seems to be dictated by the topography rather than an abstract notion of design. The campus remains open to fine vistas and to the town surrounding it. Mount Vernon is an upper middle class community with protection for its excellent historic housing stock. The college is in good condition, with all 19th century buildings recently renovated.
Bowers, M. H. Cornell College/Mount Vernon Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1980.
King Memorial Chapel [Cornell College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1976.
We Must Build a College--The History of Cornell College 1853-2003 (forthcoming).