UMass’ Old Chapel nominated for listing on National Register of Historic Places

By Catherine Ferris

The Old Chapel at UMass, which was recently nominated as a Historic Place for the National Register. (Justin Surgent/Collegian File Photo)
The Old Chapel at UMass, which was recently nominated as a Historic Place for the National Register. (Justin Surgent/Collegian File Photo)

The iconic Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts is not only on the brink of a major renovation, but the building was also recently nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination proposal was written by private advocacy group Preserve UMass, according to a University press release. On its Facebook page, the group describes itself as “a private group of alumni, active and retired faculty and staff of UMass Amherst and friends on campus that promotes the appreciation, preservation and professional management of the historic assets of the Amherst campus.”

The Massachusetts Historical Commission will edit the nomination proposal to meet National Register standards, according to the release. It will then be returned to Preserve UMass for review. Once complete, the proposal will be voted on by MHC’s State Review Board. If approved at the state level, it will be sent to the National Park Service for final approval, according to the release.

Currently, the building does not meet proper building codes, but there is hope that a listing on the National Register would help support the funding of the restoration, which is estimated to cost between $18 million and $20 million.

While many details of the restoration are still being sorted out, some plans have been made.

Joseph Larson, professor emeritus and member of Preserve UMass, said the upper level, which has a large auditorium containing historical material, would be restored as closely to the original as possible. The lower level will be open to the public with flexible use, and the kitchen area will contain a small kitchen.

Although Preserve UMass was formed in 2007, restorations to the Old Chapel began when the inside of the building began to fail in the 1990s. According to the release, the unstable clock tower was rebuilt, with the original stones anchored to a new concrete frame.

In 2009, there was an examination of all buildings on campus to see which were historically significant, and the nomination process began not long after Chancellor Subbaswamy came to UMass in 2013.

“It was Subbawamy who began initiating the renovation when he first came to campus,” Larson said.

Material for the nomination process was put together about a year ago, and the state will hold a review meeting this fall. Not long after that, the decision of whether or not to include the chapel on the National Register will be made.

The chapel was built in 1885, and served as a classroom building, library, auditorium, museum and chapel, according to the release. The building was also home to the UMass Minuteman Marching Band until 1996, when it was deemed unsafe. It has been unused as of recently, though it houses the University’s 42-bell carillon.

Donations to support the renovations can be made through the UMass Rising campaign.

Catherine Ferris can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Ca_Ferris2.