Union Chapel stands beside the restless sea
Why this chapel exists in this North Hampton location
Union Chapel is a "soft, silvery gray … concealed by green trees and shrubbery and beautified by stained glass windows, it rises in the midst of some of New Hampshire’s most attractive estates." Former trustee, William Plumer Fowler wrote that in 1952 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Chapel’s completion in 1877. And now on the 130th anniversary it remains true.
Union Chapel, facing Fuller Gardens on Willow Avenue. (Jim Cerny photo)
Union Chapel would be inconspicuous if it were not opposite the Fuller Gardens
. But why was it built? Who built it? How is it used today?
With a growing summer colony at Little Boar's Head, the wish also grew to have religious services nearby. A Union Chapel Fund Society was formed in 1875 to raise the money, a total of $3,000, in gifts ranging from $5 to $300.
George A. Moore was the architect with Elmer Hutchins and William Maddox as the builders. The chapel was to be constructed "exactly like Mr. Wingate’s Episcopal Chapel at Haverhill." The style is that of an English country church, with interior Gothic Revival arches.
The site of the Chapel was part of the Brown farm in the early 19th century. Franklin Pierce, when President, bought that part of the Brown farm in 1853 and then, when out of office, built a home in 1866. That land was then sold in 1869 to Mrs. Eliza P. Philbrick and she subsequently deeded the lot for the Chapel to the Trustees in 1877. The land between the Chapel and the sea was a field at the start of the 20th century, owned by Joseph Merrill. Alvan Fuller bought that field and built a large home in 1914, prominently sited until it was torn down in 1960. Since then it is a well-maintained lawn.
For two years during the construction of the Chapel, summer services were held in the Cathedral Woods, near the present intersection of Locke Road and Chapel Road, until the first service in the new Chapel was held on August 5, 1877.
Little Boar’s Head was a very different place in 1877 as this picture looking seaward across Atlantic Avenue shows. The Chapel is on the extreme far left. It was then primarily a summer colony and has evolved today into a neighborhood of permanent homes.
September 1884, looking across Little Boar’s Head and Atlantic Avenue to the sea, with Union Chapel at the extreme left. (Photo by Henry L. Hotchkiss)
It was also a time when similar chapels were built in the Seacoast for similar reasons. There is St. Andrew’s By the Sea
, an Episcopal chapel in Rye Beach, not far from the Union Chapel, built in 1876 under similar circumstances. And in Portsmouth there is Little Harbor Chapel, more formally the Church of the New Jerusalem, which was founded by Arthur Astor Carey and which opened in 1903, and is now an undenominational chapel.
Entrance (Jim Cerny photo)
Bell tower (Jim Cerny photo)
Contained within the quiet exterior is a magnificent vaulted ceiling and extremely fine stained glass windows. The windows have been given in memory of various people from the area. Altogether there are three windows above the altar (see below), three windows on the west end (Willow Avenue) facing the altar, three aisle windows on the north side that are seen on entering the Chapel (see below), two aisle windows on the south side, and a window in the south transept.
High-pointed interior arches, typical of the Gothic Revival era (Gregory Greene photo)
The altar and altar window, designed by Tiffany, given in 1926, are suggestive of the opening words of the 121st Psalm. (Gregory Greene photo)
An aisle window on the north side, one of a number of chapel windows designed by Charles J. Connick and donated by Alvan Tufts Fuller and Martha Fuller Halsey in memory of their mother, Flora Tufts Fuller. This design symbolizes joy and kindness to animals, showing Saint Francis of Assisi, with a lamb in his hand and the wolf of Gubbio by his side. (Gregory Greene photo)
The summer season of interdenominational sevices at Union Chapel brings a different distinguished minister each week. In addition, the Chapel is popular for weddings.
William Plumer Fowler summarized the Chapel and its history perfectly:
(Much of the material for this article is taken from William Plumer Fowler’s 35-page pamphlet, Union Chapel Centennial 1877-1977, made available courtesy of his daughter, Susan Fowler Boies.)
Those who founded the Chapel and many of those who have since worshiped here, come here no more, except in spirit. But their descendants and their successors in the community still come here on summer Sundays to enjoy a quiet hour of worship, regardless of creed, at Little Boar’s Head beside the unresting sea.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2007. All rights reserved.