By Chris Grooms
The condition of our Old Chapel is finally receiving much needed attention. The Landmark Society of Western New York recently announced the inclusion of this iconic structure on their Five to Revive 2022-2023. Every year the Landmark society publishes a list of five significant historic properties whose rehabilitations can become catalytic projects for the neighborhoods and communities that surround them. The goal is to return these important historic resources to a prominent role in their respective communities as economic and social assets.
A look at the exterior of the Old Chapel yields no great concern of its soundness, even though it has been boarded up for the past 47 years. The interior, however, is a different story. Lack of maintenance to the interior drainage/downspouts has resulted in significant water damage, leaving a mere thirty percent of the original architectural structures and features still intact. Water infiltration continues to be the demise of the building.
The Old Chapel was designed by architects Henry Searle and Son and built in 1862 with a 1912 crematory addition designed by J. Foster Warner. The crematory was decommissioned in 1974 and the building was boarded up two years later. Since that time, neglect and lack of maintenance have taken their toll.
The Old Chapel is an excellent candidate for renovation and repurposing, offering myriad opportunities for community use/engagement. It has been noted that, when the interior space was intact, its acoustics were exceptional. Potential reuse of the chapel space includes a venue for local musicians, or for music school students’ recitals. A gallery/exhibition space for local artists seems another worthwhile possibility. The chapel space might well serve as a distinctive interpretive center for both Mount Hope Cemetery and Rochester history. Such a space might play host to presentations and seminars that emphasize the historical significance of the cemetery. Any number of imaginative and creative reuses might yield positive community impact and economic benefit, as well.
Our great hope is that a dedicated and working partnership with the City of Rochester might breathe new life into the Old Chapel. Such a partnership has proven successful in the past, bringing several major cemetery projects to fruitful completion. But time is of the essence. If we are to save this significant structure for future generations, we must act now.
Stay tuned…and please visit our Gallery page for photos of the Old Chapel.