As much as he was committed to improving the minds and bodies of the youths entrusted to his care, James McCosh was foremost a religious man: a minister of the Gospel who viewed the world as a struggle between the forces of religion and immorality. And although today he is remembered primarily for reforming the College's academic program, he had an equally profound impact on the spiritual life of the campus.
During his tenure at Princeton, McCosh helped spark a religious revival among the students unlike any other in the College's long history. He invited revivalist speakers such as Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey to speak at Princeton, supported the growth of student religious organizations (notably the Philadelphian Society), and vigorously rooted out the underground "secret societies" that he believed promoted atheism and alcohol. To accommodate this upsurge in religious activity, McCosh built two new buildings.
When McCosh assumed office in 1868, however, the great wave of revivals was
still a few years off. Instead, his first order of business on this front was
to extend the nave of the Chapel.
This structure, which had been designed by John Notman and built in 1846, was barely large enough to hold the student body during the daily required chapel services. McCosh was thinking ahead of higher enrollments, and in 1870 he added three bays to the nave as a stopgap measure.
By the mid-1870s, however, the evangelical movement was in full force and the
Philadelphian Society had passed even Whig and Clio in campus prestige.
Additional new structures were needed to accommodate. With the help of a
$20,000 bequest from the estate of Hamilton Murray, a member of the class of
1872 who had perished at sea in 1873, the Philadelphian Society constructed its
own facility -- Murray Hall
Although commissioned and paid for by the Society, Murray Hall could not have
gone forward without McCosh's backing. It was begun in 1878 and dedicated the
following June. Located west of Whig, Murray's brownstone complemented the
cluster of High Victorian Gothic academic buildings to its north.
Until supplemented by the construction of the adjoining Dodge Hall in 1900, Murray's large auditorium (now Theatre Intime) and its handsome reading room served as the focus of campus evangelism.
McCosh's opportunity to erect a new chapel came in 1881, when the New York financier Henry G. Marquand (father of Allen Marquand, Class of 1874) agreed to underwrite the project. The College had long outgrown the old Chapel and needed a new space in keeping with its reputation as an evangelical stronghold. (This was not popular with everyone -- the Columbia student newspaper derided Princeton as being dedicated to "muscular Christianity," and a significant proportion of the Princeton student body was Episcopalian.)
Fittingly, Marquand Chapel
was the architectural summit of McCosh's career. Designed by the prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, Marquand Chapel represented a scholarly and historic blend of Byzantine and Romanesque motifs. It featured a soaring tower that was visible form every point on the campus, a distinctive triple-arched entrance, and magnificent rose windows (designed by L.C. Tiffany) in both transepts.
Marquand Chapel was located at the western end of the long path that stretched
from Witherspoon past Whig, Clio, and Murray.
This placement at the end of this axis assured that religious images would never be far from the minds of the students.
Marquand Chapel burned to the ground in 1920 when sparks from the fire that destroyed Dickinson Hall ignited the Chapel's wooden beams. Although students applauded the loss of Dickinson, they mourned the loss of Marquand Chapel. As the New York Sun editorialized, "Though somewhat out of keeping with its surroundings, [Marquand Chapel] was itself in good taste and its loss will occasion unalloyed regret."