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Restoration of Dahlgren Chapel

In 1922 Mrs. Pierce (Ulrica Mary Dahlgren), now a widow, deeded the chapel to St. Mary's Academy, St. Joseph's County, IN, for their use as a summer retreat.  From the archives of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, St. Mary's Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana we learn  "The Chapel built for all time of stone and marble is worth at least $50,000.00"
In additional correspondence written by Mrs. Pierce, we also learn that chapel appointments included “alabaster vases, alabaster candle sticks, large silver candelabra, 1 pair of blue and white vases, marble altar, 1 silver and gold crucifix, engraving of way of the cross.”   and

“Dahlen [sic] contained also a beautiful stone chapel, marble altar, stained glass windows, gold chalice, vestments, silver candelabra, silver candlesticks, built by my mother as a memorial chapel and in the crypt of which lie the beloved remains of my mother, my two brothers, my youngest son, my husband – with receptacles for twelve more members of the immediate family…”


In 1925, the property was returned to Mrs. Pierce who sold most of the estate, retaining the chapel and the parcel upon which it sat in trust for the family.  Upon her death later that year, the property passed to her son Josiah Pierce III who resided in New York City.

Over the next 30 years vandals took their toll on Dahlgren Chapel culminating in an ultimate tragedy when in 1959 the crypt was breached and the graves of the Dahlgren family were desecrated. The remains were promptly re-interred at
St. Michaels Church, Poplar Springs, MD. Mr. Pierce sold the chapel out of family hands in 1960 to Mr. Richard Griffin, who expressed his interest and intent to stabilize and begin the restoration of the chapel. 

 

Mr. Griffin had quite a daunting task at hand.  Most all of the windows had been shot out or smashed. The marble altar was in pieces.  The interior had been taken over by honeysuckle, poison ivy and hornets. The marble floor and walls had crystallized from seeping water.

 

Through Mr. Griffin’s Herculean efforts, Dahlgren Chapel began to gradually reclaim its former dignity.  The marble altar was largely restored with the missing pieces of being found nearby. The windows were secured and at least partially restored.  The floors and walls were cleared of vines, cleaned and repaired.  Mr. Pierce, who had retained the original bell, offered it back to Mr. Griffin; and the bell was reinstalled.

 

Mr. Griffin had a great deal of help in his restoration effort.  A local Braddock Heights Boy Scout troop came across pieces of the damaged windows while camping in Washington Monument State Park. They collected and returned the pieces to enhance the window restoration effort being spearheaded by Jim Russell of Russell Glass Studio in Frederick.  .

 

In 1962, the Boonsboro Centennial Committee in conjunction with the Antietam Belles, Chapter 31, took on the project of opening and staffing Dahlgren Chapel for tours during their celebrations.  The chapel was opened for the first time in decades to the public and drew over 500 visitors the first day.  The chapel was opened periodically during the next few years as Mr. Griffin continued his preservation efforts. 

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