Watch Hill Chapel History
1875 - Present
Over A Century Of Ministry
The Watch Hill Chapel has remained central to the life of Watch Hill and the surrounding communities as a cherished part of the lives of those who worship here. Its non-sectarian spirit and purpose give the Chapel a special quality.
The Chapel exists to support Christian worship in Watch Hill and to encourage religious, moral, charitable, educational and social activities that serve the spiritual needs of Watch Hill and the greater community.
The spirit of the Chapel is well expressed in the mottoes inscribed on its walls and shown below.
"The Church is Many as the Waves, but One, as the Sea."
Suggested by the Honorable James Leland Howard, a founder and early President of the Chapel.
"In Essentials, Unity: In Non-Essentials, Liberty: In All Things, Charity."
Attributed to Petrus Meiderlinus (1592-1651), a Lutheran priest. It reads: In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis lebertas, in utrisque caritas.
Watch Hill Chapel History 1875 - Present
Watch Hill Chapel Society in the Town of Westerly was organized on September 1,1875. By-Laws were adopted on September 4, 1875.
Act of the General Assembly establishing the Society was passed February 8, 1876. George M. Nash deed for the Chapel lot (70 x 120 feet) was conveyed to the Society on July 20, 1876.
The Chapel, built in the “English Gothic style” at a cost of $4,000, was dedicated on July 18, 1877. The initial design was perhaps suggested by James L. Howard of Hartford, later a President of the Chapel Society. The architect was actually George Keller of Hartford. Its initial dimensions were 36 x 60 feet, with a capacity estimated at 300-400 people.
Additional land (a 10 foot right-of-way) to the west of the Chapel was conveyed by deed from Howard Collins and Helen R. Collins.
The Chapel was enlarged by adding the transept to the southwest corner of the nave and rebuilding the chancel, thus creating an estimated capacity of 450. George Keller of Hartford was again the architect.
A second enlargement included extending the transept eastward to create a full south aisle, extending the chancel 25 feet westward and establishing the current dimensions (roughly 90 x 110 feet) with an estimated capacity of 600-750. A second front door and porch were added. The organ and fixed pews were also installed. George Keller again served as architect.
The deed from Edward S. Brewer was recorded, releasing his rights over the 10 foot parcel earlier conveyed by Collins grant.
The organ was rebuilt and enlarged.
The Chapel exterior was remodeled in the Colonial Revival style, and the Gothic steeple was replaced with a cupola.
Special Service of Prayer and Thanksgiving was held to mourn the losses from the Hurricane of September 21, 1938. The Rev. Remsen B. Ogilby, president of Trinity College, Hartford, presided.
In light of the Second World War, Watch Hill volunteers formed the Watch Hill Volunteer Defense Committee, which established support activities, including a Casualty Station, which was located in the Chapel Undercroft.
On Tuesday, August 14, 1945, the end of the Second World War was marked by the defeat of Japan, and on Wednesday morning, a Special Service of Thanksgiving was offered at the Chapel.
Entrance terrace and plantings were installed.
Watch Hill Chapel Prayer Book was published.
A $1.5 million, 3-year Capital Campaign for the restoration and mission of the Chapel was completed, allowing a major restoration to be undertaken, an outreach component established, and the endowment replenished.
Extensive renovations to the Undercroft included installing two new windows on the west wall and modernizing the entire kitchen and painting area, reconfiguring the restrooms into two ADA compliant restrooms and adding air-conditioning.
Virtual services were added to summer offerings. The Chapel also offered a full season of in-person services following State of Rhode Island mandates for safety regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Watch Hill Chapel Society
For almost 150 years since the establishment of the Chapel Society, its Board of Trustees has interpreted its mission to encompass a broad range of services and outreach to the community, including the use of its Chapel as an important community gathering center and supporting charitable services in the Westerly, RI area.
Elizabeth W. Bean, President
Andrew J. Parsons, Vice President
Kevin R. Hoben, Treasurer
Elisabeth N. Sayre, Clerk
Charlotte M. Brittan
Carl A. Contiguglia
Patrick A. Lemp
Thomas D. Lips
H. Jackson Marvel
Grant G. Simmons
Walter S. Tomenson
Charles S. Whitman III
Walter F. Geswell
Ellen N. Griffin