I saw it standing forlorn and lost, in disrepair, high on its rock overlooking our beloved Hudson and I nearly wept at the sight. Helen Hayes, 1971
Like most American stories, ours begins with immigration. Of the multitudes who came to our shores between 1820 and1860, a third were from Ireland. For those who gained employment at the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, a chapel was established to serve them and their families. Foundry owner Gouverneur Kemble donated land and funds for what would be the first Catholic church north of Manhattan.
Its designer was another immigrant, a 19-year-old from England, Thomas Kelah Wharton. Built in 1833 of locally made red brick covered with stucco, the chapel was in the Greek Revival style, then in vogue. Its columns were of the Tuscan order, a simple, unfluted version of the Doric, whose supreme expression is the Parthenon in Athens..
Contemporary press describes a festive dedication, September 21, 1834, with people arriving by boat. A large choir performed, along with a band from West Point, “whose notes might be heard in the recesses of the mountains,” for dignitaries of church and state.
The foundry went on to become a major producer of Civil War armaments. Test firing greatly damaged chapel walls, and Captain Robert P. Parrott, then in charge, paid for repairs. Victorian additions altered the building’s integrity, and the coming of the railroad cut it off from the life of the town. Abandoned in 1906, it fell victim to the forces of nature and time. Ravaged by fire in 1927, it was a ruin until 1971, when, in the words of The New York Sunday News, “A Methodist, a Lutheran, a Jew, a Presbyterian or two, a scattering of Episcopalians and a handful of Catholics,” including actress Helen Hayes, came together, to buy it from the Archdiocese and undertake its restoration.
The work was overseen by architect Walter Knight Sturges, and the chapel was dedicated as an ecumenical site in 1977.