Saturday, January 04, 2014

Soldiers Home Protestant Chapel, Dayton, Ohio

Protestant chapel Dayton

I haven’t seen this lovely church in Dayton, Ohio, but I think I’ll put it on my List of Places to See in Ohio (LOPTSIO).  The above photo is scanned from my grandparents’ Souvenir of Soldiers Home. There is no date on the booklet, but I assume it is late 1800s since they were married in 1901. They had a number of relatives in the Dayton area, so perhaps they took in the tourists sites while visiting.

cover soldiers home       soldiers home Dayton

“Contrary to the prevailing notion that the hospital chaplaincy is a program of the past few years. the Dayton institution has had a chaplain since the opening of the home September 9, 1867.

On that date, Chaplain William Earnshaw began his work at the Central Branch of the Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers of the United States. It is significant that when there were only five employees, one of them should be a chaplain, a religious leader. IN providing the original quarters for officers, a house was built before 1870 for the chaplain. It has housed succeeding chaplains and their families form that day to this, except for two brief periods.

Chaplain Earnshaw was a very energetic man. It was under his direction that the old Civil War soldiers helped quarry the stone from the rugged easter edge of the grounds to build the chapel. The corner stone was laid on November 21, 1868 and the building dedicated October 26, 1870, making it one of the oldest church buildings in this area. At the time of the dedication, Chaplain Earnshaw declared that it was “the first church ever built by the government for the benefit of soldiers”. Certainly, it was the first chapel built for veterans and so is now the oldest in government service.

Captain T. B. Van Horn, a chaplain in the regular army, was commissioned by Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, to lay out the grounds of the new institution. It was no accident that the chapel was built on the highest point of ground of the then reservation. Previous to 1870, Chaplain Earnshaw had used a frame building just to the west as his chapel.

The chapel is a gothic structure, built of several different kinds of stone with a steep slate roof. The orignial pattern of the roof included 14 stars of David, the Jewish symbol now so generally recognized, surrounding a large cross. A cross surmounted each front entrance and another was cut in stone over the rear entrance. This was in the day when few Protestant churches used crosses. Before the steeple was added, the tower was adorned with a large clock. The bell which struck the hours and was tolled for services was made especially for the chapel by the Troy (N.Y.) Foundrys from melted-down Confederate cannon. Later the pointed steeple was built and crowned with an American eagle perched on its nest and holding the tip of the lightning rod in its beak. The outside walls of the chapel were once covered with Virginia Creeper vines, but most of these had to be pulled down for pointing up the stonework in 1947. In 1933, the front wall started to bulge and was taken down, stone by stone and laid up again the same way. Likewise, the large stained-glass window was taken down, section by section, and again placed in the rebuiltwall. The original name of the institution, National Asylum for Disable Volunteer Soldiers, is still engraved in stone above this window, although the name was changed to Home in 1872, just 2 years after the chapel was completed.

The inside of the chapel was unchanged from the original construction, except for installation of an organ, until 1947. At that time, new flooring, new linoleum and new carpeting changed the base, while redecorating, the new electric lights and the new chancel greatly modfied and beautified the the interior. The front platform has been enlarged, the console of the organ moved across the front to the opposite side of the organ and the original pulpit and high-backed chairs sold. An entire new front has been built in, consisting of altar and reredos against the background of rich red velour drapes, gothic-designed oak pulpit and chancel rail, also lectern and its rail, two communion rails and kneeling bench, one on each side of the broad steps to the altar, and an baptismal font of similar design and material. The Pileher organ, installed in 1900, was the first electric organ in the whole Miami Valley.

All this has made the interior as beautiful and worshipful as any church and matching the extraordinary charm and architectural appeal of the exterior.” . . .

“As the official librarian of the post, he solicited books for what he called the General George H. Thomas Library. This was in honor of his old war chief. The next year, 1868, Chaplain Earnshaw was notified of the gift of several hundred books and a hundred rare paintings by Mrs. Mary Lowell Putnam of Massachusetts, sister of the famous poet James Russell Lowell. This donation became the William Lowell Putnam Memorial Library in honor of her son who was killed in his first battle of the war. The Chaplain arranged and catalogued both libraries and made them available for use in the second and third floors of the old Administration Building, at present housing the Supply, domiciliary and Engineering offices of the Center. In 1880 the present library was built, but the two libraries were not merged until 1921 under the present librarian, Miss Helen Carson. Mrs. Putnam and her daughter continued to contribute to the library until 1913. Today [1950], a well-balanced library of old and modern books, totaling some 40,000, is maintained at the center.”

According to the National Park Service, 28 pre-1930 buildings survive including the Putnam Library (Building 120) and the Home Chapel (Building 118).

“Dedicated in 1870, the Soldiers Home Chapel (Building 118) is the oldest building at the Central Branch and the first National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers stand alone chapel. The Gothic Revival chapel features a bell tower that holds the 1876 “Centennial Bell,” which was made in New York from cannons captured from Confederate forces during the Civil War. Both Catholic and Protestant services were held in the chapel until the construction of the Catholic Chapel (Building 119) in 1898. The Catholic Chapel, also built in the Gothic Revival style, is made of yellow brick with buttresses supporting it. The small bell tower has an octagonal spire rising from a square tower. The altar’s centerpiece is by Heinrich Schroeder, a widely known altar/pulpit builder for Catholic Churches.”


According to this article in the New York Times in 1885, Rev. Earnshaw had an accident and died.

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