Old Chapel as a library

Title

Old Chapel as a library

Subject

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Description

Few knowledge seekers could visit the DuBois Library without also observing the picturesque Old Chapel, which once functioned as the university’s library, quietly situated below the looming tower’s rise. Disproportionately large, the DuBois library is perhaps the most visible landmark around; and its size reflects the multiplicity of studies offered at the university. In the days of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, the Old Chapel was a modern library and seemed as central to the scenery and student life as DuBois library is today. Similarly, Old Chapel’s smaller size and varied uses also reflect the simpler needs of the time. The Old Chapel’s diminished stature in comparison to the exclamatory DuBois skyscraper emphasizes a reversal from religious to academic priorities in the everyday lives of Umass Amherst students.

It was apparently requisite during those early days that a student should be a Christian first and a student second. Student handbooks, which the YMCA published and distributed at M.A.C. (later Massachusetts State College) from 1890 to 1923, affirm the importance of Christianity in student life. The 1890 student handbook certainly affirms a heavy Christian influence over student life especially if one should join with the YMCA.

‘Our course of study, corps of thorough instructors…offers you great advantages for mental improvement.’ “But do not allow this to be the chief aim of your ambition, thinking it is sufficient to fit you for life’s battles. We beseech you to look after your spiritual training as well… The spiritual culture you may thus gain, together with the intellectual power acquired here will be conducive to the up-building of a strong Christian character…”

The YMCA was allowed to give the first introduction a student officially received from the MAC, which reflects the administration’s general endorsement of the YMCA message.

Whether or not one joined the YMCA, the worship that took place in the Chapel played a central role in the lives of M.A.C’s students. Again, this is plainly stated in the 1890 handbook: “All the students unless excused by the president, are expected to attend church in the ‘stone chapel’, on Sunday, at 10:30 AM where a preaching service is held." The building currently known as the Old Chapel was intended to alleviate crowding in the original ‘Old Chapel’ (Chemical laboratory building), and that fact has been well documented. It is perhaps less widely known that although the Chapel held Sunday services in 1890, weekday prayer services (at 8:15 AM) continued to be held at the ‘Old Chapel’ for some time thereafter. The YMCA also held Bible classes and prayer meetings after Sunday services and on Thursday evening. Many hours each day could therefore be consumed primarily in religious activities.

The dominant location of the Chapel also reflects the importance of religion in student life. The Chapel’s prominence above the early campus landscape was again described in the 1890 student handbook: “As we walk up to college from town, we pass almost under the New Stone Chapel where Sunday services and Commencement exercises are held.” As the college librarian, President Goodell’s office was also located at the Chapel, according to the faculty roster. The handbook also boasted over 10,000 books in the New Chapel’s library. Interestingly, the library’s hours of operation were limited to only afternoons and evenings, perhaps leaving plenty of time for religious devotions.

Today, Old Chapel is only vicariously remembered as a former library of the campus. Mandatory attendance at Sunday services is no longer enforced, and often not remembered. Once, spiritual training was considered superior to academic prerogatives. Now, research and academic study are the lifeblood of the campus. Since the school is no longer affiliated with a particular faith, the university’s connection with religion has long since faded. It probably wasn’t coincidental that the president of the M.A.C. chose to locate his office at the ‘New Chapel’ if he truly was endorsing Christianity. Indeed, if Goodell had chosen to locate his office elsewhere, his decision may well have raised some righteous eyebrows. Religious services are no longer held at the Old Chapel. Currently, the fate of Old Chapel is undecided. The Old Chapel has been fittingly described as “the heart and soul” of campus, and at one time, it truthfully was. Though the Chapel’s grand architecture may move the heart in a way once routine, the skyward specter of the DuBois library calls to mind the shift from religious values to intellectual or academic ones. A remnant of times gone by, the Chapel’s silent stones truly intimate a forgotten story of Lost Umass’ value system.

Creator

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Source

UMass Special Collections and University Archives

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Date

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Contributor

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Rights

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Type

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Identifier

RG150-0004921, RG150-0005002, RG150-0005004

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Files

RG150-0004921.png
RG150-0005002.png
RG150-0005004.png
Date Added
November 17, 2012
Collection
Central Campus
Item Type
Still Image
Citation
“Old Chapel as a library,” Lost UMass, accessed April 24, 2017, http://lostumass.omeka.net/items/show/61.