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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark KING'S CHAPEL
(part of Freedom Trail, Boston National Historical Park)

Location: School and Tremont Streets, Boston.

Ownership and Administration (1961). King's Chapel Society, Boston.

Significance. King's Chapel is an outstanding specimen of the work of Peter Harrison of Newport. It was the first important building in British America to be built of cut stone, providing the first recorded use of Quincy granite in its construction, 1749-54. Harrison took his design details for the most part from the Book of Architecture by James Gibbs, English master of the mid-Georgian style. The interior has been called by one authority "without question the finest of Georgian church architecture in the Colonies." [23] The architect intended that a tower with a lofty spire should surpass those on London churches of the period, but it was never built.

The massive stone walls of King's Chapel form a rectangle about 65 by 100 feet. The chapel was built around an earlier wooden structure that was the first Anglican church permanently established in New England. When the stone church was completed in 1754, the earlier wooden building was taken apart and its pieces removed through the arched windows of the new church.

King's Chapel
King's Chapel in Boston, built in 1749-54, is a superb example of the work of Peter Harrison. (National Park Service)

Harrison's plan for King's Chapel included a front porch with stone Ionic columns, 25 feet high, to be crowned by an elaborate balustrade. These details were not added until 1785-87 and were done in wood rather than stone. The most striking feature of the interior is the series of Corinthian columns projecting in pairs to divide the elaborately paneled gallery fronts.

After the evacuation of Boston by the British in 1776, King's Chapel was finally separated from the Church of England and for a time was called simply the "Stone Chapel." The society that owns it now is an independent one, but it is regarded as the first church in the United States avowedly of the Unitarian fellowship.

Present Appearance (1961). King's Chapel has undergone little modification or alteration. The stone floor was laid over the original wooden one in the present century, and a sprinkler system has been installed in the attic and basement. An iron catwalk provides access to the copper roof at the eaves to facilitate removal of ice, which was formerly a serious winter hazard on the School Street side of the building. The ice problem has now been overcome by the use of steam conductors at the edge of the roof. The interior contains a number of relics dating from the chapel's affiliation with the Anglican Church. These include the communion table and the chancel tablets given to the original church in 1696 by King William and Queen Mary. The raised pulpit also came from the earlier building, where it had been placed in 1718. The interior painting reflects a period later than that of its original construction. The building is well preserved and in good condition. [24]

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Last Updated: 09-Jan-2005