Next to John C. Green, Henry Gurdon Marquand was the College's most generous benefactor during the McCosh period. Henry Marquand had helped to underwrite the first building of McCosh's administration, the Bonner-Marquand Gymnasium , and McCosh sought the assistance of this New York financier when it came time to erect a new chapel that befitted Princeton's emergence as an institution of national stature.
John Notman's 1846 chapel
had served the College well, but this building could hold only 325 people. Even with a three-bay extension of the nave, this structure was too small as the College expanded during the 1870s. By 1880, planning for a new chapel was well underway.
There can be no doubt that McCosh and Marquand saw the new chapel as an
opportunity to make both a religious and institutional statement. According to
a letter written to his father by Allan Marquand, Class of 1877, McCosh boasted
that the tower on the new chapel should "be as high as the Tower of Babel, so
as to be seen from the railroad." In the end, the tower measured only 104 feet
-- not as tall as the clock tower on the John C. Green School of Science but
Richard Morris Hunt, one of the best known architects of the day, was
selected to design the new chapel. Working in the Romanesque Revival style,
Hunt created what was perhaps the most architecturally interesting and complex
building of the McCosh era. One contemporary observer even described it as a
"transitional" building that mixed Gothic, Norman, Italian, and even Turkish
elements -- the minaret to the left of the main western entrance.
Shaped like a Greek cross, Marquand Chapel was a substantial brownstone
building of some 5000 square feet, with four transepts meeting to create a
large wooden-vaulted space. Large Tiffany rose windows illuminated the northern
and southern transepts.
The apse faced east, a change from the old Chapel, which had the pulpit at the western end of the structure.
Inside, Marquand Chapel was a wonder. It seated 1000 and was intricately
decorated following the donations of memorial windows by such Princeton
worthies as the Dodge, Marquand, Garrett, Murray, Taylor, and Hodge families.
Other notable details included a large pipe organ and the central chandelier with electric lights.
The cornerstone of the Marquand Chapel was laid in June 1881, on a site just east of Murray Hall, in between where the University Chapel and McCosh Hall stand today. It was dedicated on June 18, 1882 -- ironically, the same year that McCosh took the radical step of abolishing mandatory student attendance at daily vespers. (Morning prayer was still required.)
Marquand Chapel burned to the ground, with the loss of most of its precious stained glass, in the same May 1920 fire that destroyed Dickinson Hall. At first, firefighters had not been too concerned about the Chapel, which had a slate roof, but apparently sparks from the blazing Dickinson managed to drift under the roof and ignite the wooden timbers of the Chapel's ceiling. Once the fire caught hold there, the building could not be saved.