From the onset of construction in 1881, Madeleine Dahlgren’s private family chapel atop South Mountain would take nearly three years to complete. The stone would be quarried behind South Mountain House, and the walnut timber cut from stands on the estate. Records show that work progressed over the next year with the bell being ordered from McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, MD on January 17th and delivered at a cost of $28.25 on June 23, 1882. The bell, cast in manure and mud, reputedly weighed 400 lbs. All extant accounts concerning the altar refer to the marble as being imported from Italy.
Upon its completion, the English Gothic Revival style St. Joseph’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus would boast 18” thick stone walls and buttresses, slate roof, hand-painted and stained glass windows in the nave, as well as a large rose window in the gallery accessed through the bell tower. It would measure approximately 68’ x 24’ with the attached bell tower approximately 40’ high. Above the marble floors and wainscoting, the interior walls and ceiling were sheathed in native walnut paneling culminating in bracketed and trussed walnut arches supporting the roof.
The chapel was consecrated by Archbishop Gibbons on July 29, 1884 with six additional priests assisting. The chapel, referred to by Mrs. Dahlgren as “the South Mountain Mission”, was presided over by clergy from St. Augustine Church, Williamsport and St. Mary Church, Hagerstown, MD with regular services being held from May to October. Her reference to the private chapel as a mission is interesting as local remembrance holds that Mrs. Dahlgren actively invited and encouraged local citizens to attend mass at the chapel.
After Mrs. Dahlgren’s death in 1898 her real estate was passed to her daughter Ulrica Mary Dahlgren (Pierce).
The architect for Dahlgren Chapel has been determined to be John L. Smithmeyer. Born in Vienna, Austria, Mr. Smithmeyer immigrated to the US in 1848 to study architecture in Chicago. After the Civil War, Mr. Smithmeyer moved to Washington, DC to serve as the Supervisor of the Construction of Federal Buildings in the South (reconstruction). He remained in that position until around 1872 whereupon he established his own architectural practice with a fellow Austrian, Paul Pelz. The firm of Smithmeyer and Pelz are most famous for winning the competition for the new Library of Congress in 1873, although construction was not begun for nearly 15 years afterward. Ground breaking for Dahlgren Chapel occurred in 1881 and the building was consecrated in 1884.
A high style ceremony in an intimate setting... As Mrs. Dahlgren so eloquently described in her book, South Mountain Magic, the location of Dahlgren Chapel, atop South Mountain between Middletown and Boonsboro, is exquisite!
Mrs. Dahlgren was an accomplished author, Washington D.C. socialite and the wife of Rear Admiral Dahlgren, inventor of the Dahlgren gun during the Civil War and confidant to President Abraham Lincoln. The first wedding held at Dahlgren Chapel was that of Ulrica Dahlgren and Major Josiah Pierce. Upholding this tradition, the Central Maryland Heritage League is proud to make the chapel available to private services, events, and weddings recognized by the State of Maryland and approved by the CMHL Board of Directors.
The chapel seats 80 people and with its beautiful marble altar, stained glass windows, and aisle nearly 40 feet long, it has provided a perfect location romantic and intimate ceremonies since CMHL acquired the property. For a rental fee of $700.00 and a refundable security deposit of $150.00, you can use Dahlgren Chapel for your special day or event. All proceeds from these ceremonies are used to further the restoration of the chapel and insure that its future use is available for generations to come.
To schedule a tour of Dahlgren Chapel or to inquire about availability, call the CMHL office at (301) 371-7090 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is a link to a Frederick News-Post newspaper article about a wedding at Dahlgren Chapel: