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Sayles Memorial Chapel

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1873, Clark Sayles. Original spire, 1876–1877. 185 Chapel St.

This rugged chapel in Westerly granite gives the street its name. It may seem unprepossessing on the exterior, a verdict which the cumbersome twentieth-century addition intensifies. Originally, it made a much more forceful appearance. Then, what is now a one-story gabled entrance off one corner of the church was topped by the equivalent of three more stories with pointed arches, from which rose a tall steeple in polychromed slate. Despite some crudity in the rigorous detailing, this was once among the grand Victorian steeples in the state, partly because of the height of the nearly freestanding tower, mostly because of the shaping of the tower in accord with its diagonal placement. Cornered buttress slopes rose to chamfered corners which were, finally, crimped into the polygonal spire. Damage from the 1938 hurricane, then the discovery of defective foundations forced the progressive diminution of this fiercely conspicuous tower to its present stunted mildness. Inside, however, much of the original fabric remains: some woodwork (but not that at the altar end, unfortunately), stone memorial tablets, stained glass, and polished marble colonnettes rising to bracketed roof supports with metal tie rods. Returning its walls to a more somber tonality with the stenciled ornamentation evident in old photographs could restore the solemn splendor which the brothers William F. and Frederic C. Sayles intended for this memorial to their children—a son and a daughter lost to illness in William's family, a son in Frederic's. Shortly thereafter, in 1878, William again memorialized his son, who died while a student at Brown University, with Sayles Hall ( PR114.9). Whereas he turned to a Providence professional for the Brown commission, the brothers here employed their builder father, Clark, who, among many other buildings in an itinerant career, built country churches in the Federal and Greek Revival styles for Protestant congregations in Rhode Island. Beginning his career with the Federal style, he took on High Victorian before its end.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Sayles Memorial Chapel", [Lincoln, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 194-194.

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