Amasa Stone Chapel: a tribute to a 19th Century Cleveland legend

Case Western Reserve University’s 1911 Amasa Stone Chapel, on Euclid Avenue near Adelbert Road, is an example of Gothic Revival design—a style known for its vertical themes, large windows, arches, and intrinsic details—and one of the first collegiate chapels in the United States.

In 1907 sisters Clara Stone Hay and Flora Stone Mather decided to pay tribute to their late father, railroad magnate and philanthropist Amasa Stone, who committed suicide in May 1883 after several of the steel mills he controlled financially collapsed and he was blamed for numerous deaths involved in the 1876 Ashtabula train disaster.

Interior of Amasa Stone ChapelInterior of Amasa Stone ChapelThe sisters hired New England architect Henry Vaughan, known for bringing a modern early 20th Century take to his 14th Century Gothic Revival designs for Episcopal churches. Vaughan, a native of Cheshire, England who settled in Boston, was known for his American work on churches such as St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts; Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.; and parts of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.

Amasa Stone Chapel follows English church designs, both inside and out. It was built using Indiana limestone and has a 121-foot tower with pinnacles on each of the four corners—reportedly designed to be “representative of the aspirations of the university.”

On the north, south, and east sides of the tower are stone smiling angels, while the west side hosts a stone gargoyle—a regular feature in English medieval church designs, where a gargoyle was placed on the “dark” side of the building.

However, long-lived CWRU legend shares that, before Western Reserve University and Case School of Applied Science merged into CWRU in 1967, the Western Reserve trustee had the gargoyle put on the chapel—facing the Case School. Legend says the trustees believed that Case founder Leonard Case, Jr. was an atheist. Another legend says the gargoyle is sticking its tongue out at Western Reserve rival Case.

The chapel features 12 arched clerestory windows on the east and west sides of the building that provide natural light, while the large stained-glass window at the north end of the building was a gift from Clara Stone Hay in memory of her younger sister, Flora, who died in 1909 at the age of 57. The chapel windows have been noted as beautiful specimens of ecclesiastical glass.

Also dedicated in Flora’s name was a statue named “Philanthropy” that sits at the rear of the chapel.

Over the east entrance, there is a keystone of Amasa Stone’s head, which had previously adorned the 1886 Union Depot, designed and constructed by Stone on the Lake Erie Shore.

The chapel’s interior features a simple layout, with a nave and side aisles that seat 545 guests, and a choir.

The chapel today is used by CWRU alumni, students, and faculty for events, ceremonies, and weddings. Amasa Stone Chapel continues to be one of the many architectural gems in University Circle.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.