History & Architecture
Pequot Chapel is the most important surviving remnant of the Pequot Colony, but it is more than just an artifact; it continues as a spiritual, social, and cultural center for the neighborhood and the region. Please scroll down for an abbreviated history of the chapel and it's origins.
James Renwick Design
The Chapel is a fine example of the Carpenter Gothic Revival style espoused by Alexander Jackson Downing, utilizing varying texture and color to enrich the building. Its design has been attributed to James Renwick. Mr. Renwick is best known for designing "The Castle" for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
Buttresses in the rear of the building emphasize the gothic tradition while the board and batten construction stresses the rustic application of this style.
In the south transept of Pequot Chapel are two stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Mr. Tiffany was a regular summer visitor at the Pequot House. These enchanting windows are hung together in a side aisle, doubling their artistic impact. The windows were given to the Chapel in 1895 by Mrs. William Woodward, in memory of her husband (he donated the land for the Chapel) and of his mother. The windows were placed next to the pews the Woodwards always occupied.
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History of Pequot Chapel: The Beginnings
Every Sunday at 10:55 a.m. from June through early September, the lower New London shoreline area echoes with the chime of a familiar church bell. The sound announces the impending service at the Pequot Chapel, on Montauk Avenue midway between Lower Boulevard and Glenwood Avenue. As the chimes ring out, most of the congregation is already seated in the bright and airy carpenter gothic structure. Five minutes later, attendees rise, hymnals in hand, as the organ begins the processional hymn.
This scenario has been repeated every summer Sunday since 1872, when the chapel was founded by Henry Crocker, manager of the Pequot House, a summer hotel in the Pequot Colony in Southern New London, as a convenience for guests.
Obviously, Crocker possessed a good business sense. The Pequot House enjoyed an enviable reputation as a superior seasonal hotel. And it was undoubtably Crocker’s thoughtfulness as a consummate host that prompted him to have the chapel erected. Why, he felt, should his guests have to make a lengthy, bothersome journey to attend church?
After attending services at the chapel, Pequot House guests enthusiastically agreed with that reasoning. So did residents of the Pequot Colony, the surrounding area composed mainly of summer “cottages,” actually large estates. Encouraged by the positive response, Crocker decided to incorporate the facility.
Articles of Association were drawn up and approved by the Connecticut State Legislature. The Secretary of State issued a Certificate of Incorporation on September 6, 1872.
“By these Articles,” state the certificate, “The Trustees of the Pequot Chapel take and receive from Henry Crocker a conveyance of the Chapel with its fittings and furniture which has been built by the contributions of the undersigned and others on land of the said Henry Crocker, and of the land on which the Chapel stands, in Trust – for Protestant Christian worship according to the usages of any and all Protestant Christian denominations usually known as 'Orthodox' with due regard to the members holding like denominational views.”
Signing the articles were Crocker, William C. Schermerhorn, William W. Parkin, Edward S. Hall, Samual W. Patchen, and Ernest G. Stedman. Most of these men were summer residents, with cottages in the Pequot Colony.
At an organizational meeting, Parkin was the unanimous choice for presiding officer. Schermerhorn was elected secretary and Crocker became the first treasurer. The board set $20 as compensation for officiating clergy. Because the chapel was seasonal, the board thought it best to invite outside clergy to officiate at services rather than appoint one person for the summer. This procedure continues today. Over the years, dozens of clergy representing nearly all religious faiths have conducted the services.
The following year, Crocker turned over the chapel deed to the trustees, and the little house of worship began formal operations. In 1878, the board expanded by two with the election of Gordon Norrie and Charles Ogden.
Crocker died in 1881, probably never realizing that he left a legacy that would endure for 150+ years.
From Pequot Chapel, "A History", James S. Reyburn, Editor
The Pequot House
The Pequot House, opened in 1853, was popular with wealthy vacationers from New York and Washington, D.C. As more and more visitors came to New London and Pequot House was continuously at capacity, cottages were built to accommodate the overflow. In 1870, churchgoing guests of the Pequot House were able to explore a new option on Sundays. They could stroll to a newly built nearby chapel to worship rather than endure a tedious 45-minute horse and buggy ride to downtown churches three miles away.
The chapel proved so popular with hotel guests and with residents of the surrounding area that two years later it was incorporated. In 1873, the deed was turned over to a Board of Trustees. Over 140 years later, Pequot Chapel stands as a symbol of a cultural heritage in the best New England tradition.