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Chapel Steeple Undergoes Renovation


For a brief moment in its nearly 200-year history, Hamilton’s Chapel will resemble a wedding cake with the top layers sliced off. Will Hamilton still look like Hamilton without the iconic steeple and quill? Whatever the answer, it won’t be that way for long.

Hamilton is undertaking a major renovation of the steeple of the historic building, and the most efficient approach is to remove the top 35 feet to do the work on the ground, explains William Huggins, director of building systems management. Preparations for construction began this month, and the project will conclude by late fall. 

The College hired a contractor with expertise in heavy timber construction to oversee the project, and the first step will be to erect scaffolding around the masonry tower that supports the steeple. Workers will use a crane to painstakingly remove the top and safely position it near the building. Most of the reconstruction work won’t begin until after Commencement in May. The goal is to have the steeple on the ground in early June and be returned to its permanent home by mid August.

The Chapel, completed in 1827 and one of the first buildings constructed on campus, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of a rare, three-story church. As part of the $3.1 million steeple restoration, the Chapel will get a new slate roof, and the masonry tower will be repaired, as will the clock and bell. The dome and quill weather vane will be refurbished as well.

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The Chapel has gone through several major renovations over the decades (see timeline), but this is by far the most work that’s ever been done on the steeple. The first sign that it needed repair was rotting wood that was visible on the exterior. Huggins took a close inside look, venturing all the way up the steeple.

“It’s incredibly cramped and incredibly difficult to get up there. You’re literally crawling up through it,” he says. “At one point you have to crawl under the bell, and there’s a foot and a half where you’ve got to snake your way around the bell to get up to continue to go any higher.”

From there, to fully assess the condition, the College hired Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects to survey the steeple and document its condition, prompting the renovation.

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