Stained glass is next step in restoration of historic chapel in Maryland

Built in 1884, Dahlgren Chapel is modeled after the country Gothic chapels of England and Ireland. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Built in 1884, Dahlgren Chapel is modeled after the country Gothic chapels of England and Ireland. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) – The little stone chapel that sits atop South Mountain on Old National Pike is as elegant as it is tiny.

A group of Middletown-area citizens would like the Dahlgren Chapel to stay that way. Members of the Central Maryland Heritage League are starting an effort to restore the building’s intricate stained glass.

This will not be cheap. The first phase, estimated at $16,000, is to hand-paint and fire thousands of individual pieces that will make up the windows. The second phase, which does not yet have an estimated cost, will consist of assembling and installing the windows.

The Dahlgren chapel was completed in 1884. Madeleine Dahlgren had it built when her family summered at the South Mountain House, now the Old South Mountain Inn, just across the road. The chapel was modeled after the country Gothic chapels of England and Ireland. The soaring, cathedral-style ceiling and walnut paneled walls were made from local wood.

Family and friends used the chapel for Sunday worship and special occasions. Now the property of the Central Maryland Heritage League, the restored chapel is available for weddings. It seats 70 to 80 people. Warmth is from two propane heaters and the lighting is limited to two reproduction French provincial chandeliers, but natural light and candlelight add to the ambiance.

“The lighting is scrumptious for photography,” said Nancy Koval, a member of the league. “It’s because of the natural light and the stained glass, and how the light plays off the wood of the pews.”

The huge stones that form the chapel walls were quarried nearby. The iron bell in the tower came from a Baltimore church that had burned. Only the marble altar was imported, from Italy. The chapel was once a consecrated Catholic church.

In 1997, the league began renting out the chapel for weddings, which has helped generate money for repairs. Since then, 14 pews have been installed, resembling the two original pews that remained in the chapel.

The slate roof has been replaced and new copper gutters and downspouts were added. The stonework has been repointed over the years and the bell tower has been repaird. The building was rewired and wrought iron railings were installed on the stone steps.

The last big project is to repair the stained glass. There are 16 windows in the main part of the chapel. These are arranged in pairs of two along the pews. There is also a circular window above the balcony, a pair of windows in the vestibule and three windows surrounding the altar.

Of the 16 windows, seven of the stained glass panels are intact.

Two are damaged and the remaining will need to be replaced.

“We’re trying to find a religious historian who can help us put in the ovals,” said Bill Wilson, executive director of the league. The ovals in each stained glass panel represented the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Two of the altar windows and one of the vestibule windows, along with the balcony window also need to be replaced. Sharon Rowland of Art in Glass in Woodsboro will restore and re-create the windows.

The chapel was used by the Dahlgren family until 1922 when it was given to an order of nuns as a retreat. The nuns returned the chapel to a Dahlgren descendant in 1925, but it was mostly abandoned for 30 years. In 1960, Richard Griffin of Frederick bought the chapel and began the building’s restoration.

Many of the windows had been shot out or smashed, the altar was in pieces, and the interior was covered with honeysuckle, poison ivy and hornets’ nests. A local Boy Scout troop found pieces of the damaged windows while camping in nearby Washington Monument State Park. The pieces were taken to the Russell Glass Studio in Frederick, and the chapel opened for occasional tours starting in 1962. On the exterior, a Plexiglas-like material protects the stained glass from further damage by vandals.

In 1996, the league bought the chapel from Griffin, who has since died, and the restoration continues. The nonprofit group collects $600 for each wedding rental, a fee which can be written off as a tax donation. The group has collected $115,000 for upkeep and restoration so far.

From the chapel, visitors can see the Appalachian Trail, which goes through the property, and a sweeping view across the Middletown Valley. Off in the distance Sugarloaf Mountain is visible.

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AP-ES-10-24-10 0010EDT