Since it came down in May, it’s been analyzed, disassembled, repaired, and/or rebuilt. Finally, most of the scaffolding is now removed, and the refurbished steeple atop the iconic College Chapel is positioned to beckon Hamiltonians for another couple of centuries.
Observant admirers will notice that the formerly all-white steeple now has accents of gray and green, and the dome and the quill weathervane have gone from a bright new-penny copper to a shade of gold.
The new colors reflect a meticulous effort to preserve as much of the steeple’s history as possible and practical.
The Chapel, which opened in 1827, was one of the first buildings constructed on campus. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Chapel is thought to be the last remaining three-story church of its era in the United States. The steeple, in particular the interior timber-frame structure, was in dire need of repair, and removing the topmost 35 feet proved to be the best way to accomplish that.
The steeple’s wooden, exterior skin, protected by dozens and dozens of layers of paint, turned out to be in much better shape than the interior frame. The firm Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects, which specializes in historic preservation, handled the project and determined that the color of the steeple had been changed over the centuries.
“We didn’t really know how extensively or what the colors were, and it wasn’t until we got into this elaborate demolition and research mode that the team was able to figure all this out,” said William Huggins, Hamilton’s director of building systems management.
From tracking down old images and accounts of the building, including in The Spectator, and by analyzing the paint, architects were able to determine that when it first went up, the steeple most likely had four colors, said Laurence Wilson, principal at the architectural firm.
Originally, the backdrop behind the freestanding columns was painted gray; and the shutters that form the openings at the bell level were painted dark green; those colors have been restored. Also, the clock face has gone from black to the original white.
View a historical timeline, construction photos and learn more about the architectural details of one of the first buildings constructed on campus.
The original metal of the dome had been painted with gold leaf, so the dome and quill weathervane were painted a gold tone to reflect that.
Before the $3.1 million steeple renovation, the Chapel looked tired and was held together with paint and patchwork repairs, Huggins said. “Now you can step back and look at the design and the timbers and everything that was used in repairing this building, and you feel like this place isn’t going anywhere,” he said.