A picture of the interior of the Mary Harkness Chapel, looking toward the alter. Wainscoting lines the first floor level on the walls, above which sit arches windows and plastered walls. Behind the alter there is a clergy area, which is placed in front of the organ, which is decorated with intricate carved woodwork around the pipes. Between the pipes is an ornate carved panel that sites between fluted pilasters topped by a broken pediment. Above the pediment are statues of angels with trumpets. The vaulted ceiling above contains shallow coffers throughout. A stained glass oculus provided an ethereal light through the rear elevation.
BCV Principal Hans Baldauf on his encounters with Rogers’ work in Connecticut
I have long been familiar with the work of James Gamble Rogers. While at Yale as an undergraduate and graduate student, I listened to the renowned architecture historian Vincent Scully, Jr. as he spoke of Rogers’ ability to create powerful buildings that celebrated a sense of place. Rogers was also a Yale graduate and the preferred architect of Edward Harkness, one of Yale’s most generous donors in the 1920’s and 30’s. Harkness was John D. Rockefeller’s colleague in the creation of Standard Oil but is perhaps best known for his educational philanthropy. He helped fund the creation of residential colleges at both Yale and Harvard. Harkness was interested in how students learned and championed the seminar format – the oval shaped “Harkness” seminar table is a reminder of these efforts.
I had the good fortune to be asked to renovate the Yale Boathouse in Gales Ferry, Connecticut when I was in architecture school in the mid 1980’s. The Boathouse was designed by Rogers – or probably more appropriately by his office. The Yale camp at Gales Ferry, like the Harvard camp “Red BP” a mile downriver, is used for three to four weeks each spring in preparation for the Yale-Harvard crew race, the oldest collegiate athletic competition in America.
The complex of buildings at Gales Ferry includes the main building with its gambrel roof, which houses the oarsmen, living room, kitchen and dining room. The Manager’s House frames the bluff-top green on the south. The Boathouse is below on the river’s edge. Originally the Coaches House occupied the point on the northeast – this magnificent house sadly burned down before my time. The Boathouse originally provided the quarters for the freshman crew but had ceased to function in this capacity for a variety of code-related reasons.
Tony Johnson, who was the coach at the time, asked if I would be interested in taking on the project. I ended up taking a semester off from architecture school to work on the renovation with the help of Robert Orr. Robert continues to practice architecture in New Haven through his firm, Robert Orr and Associates.
The scheme for the renovation provided new access from the bank side and a new stair and central hall. A new cupola was ultimately unrealized, but I am grateful to have been part of a project that has now seen generations of oarsmen enjoy this space.
An exterior picture of a chapel designed by Rogers on the Connecticut college campus. There are a series of stone steps leading up to a large wooden double door entrance. The chapel is constructed form a light, sandy colored stone. The roof of the steeple is green and stands out against the light-colored building below it.
A picture of the interior of the chapel with brown stained wainscoting blow the stone walls which follow through from the exterior. There are two tall arched windows with small stained-glass sections centered within them. Between the two windows hangs a chandelier.
There is a more magnificent James Gamble Rogers building nearby that has now become part of my life: the Mary Harkness Chapel at Connecticut College. My son Fritz recently began his freshman year at Conn and it was fascinating to learn more about Rogers’ work here.
Mary Harkness was the wife of William Harkness. The Harkness family had a country home on the Long Island Sound, south of New London, and she took a particularly strong interest in the recently founded Connecticut College (1911). It was natural that she would turn to Rogers to create a grand chapel for the college. The stone building is a synthesis of colonial forms, dramatically reinvented.
The Main Building, like the Boathouse, is a simple gable structure. The spire anchors the building to the site – but it is the giant iconic columns framing the portal that creates its drama – here rendered in stone is the successor to so many wood colonial churches. The interior is a masterpiece in woodcarving – more European than New England meeting house. These include dramatic sculptures that flank the choir.
I like that he is the beneficiary of both this spectacular environment of the Connecticut coastline and the architecture of James Gamble Rogers.