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Sub-series D: Johnson Chapel (built 1826-1827), 1849 - 2015


Scope and Contents

This sub-series demonstrates the centrality of Johnson Chapel to Amherst College, both as a physical space and as a symbolic one. It contains 19th and 20th century renovation records, early 20th century maintenance and repair records, fundraising correspondence and project records for chapel organs, and schedules and student petitions concerning the tower clock and bells. Photographs document the building exterior from about 1860 through 2005. Interior views show late 19th century classrooms, 19th-21st century views of the chapel, as well as the President's office (1934-circa 1960). In addition, the chapel building is depicted in a wide variety of personal and professional artwork, including paintings, prints, and drawings.


  • Creation: 1849 - 2015

Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the collection for research use. Particularly fragile originals may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Biographical / Historical

Johnson Chapel was the first of the College's buildings to be named for a donor, and the bequest from the estate of Adam Johnson of Pelham was bitterly contested in court by Johnson's siblings. This controversy, centered around the Johnson family's accusation that representatives of the College had coerced Adam Johnson into changing his will in the College's favor, was used against the College during its struggle to obtain a corporate charter from the state legislature. Construction began in 1826, and the chapel was dedicated on February 27, 1827 by President Heman Humphrey.

As the first non-residential building on campus, Johnson Chapel was designed to serve a number of needs. The primary purpose of the building was the chapel itself, but the teaching and administrative spaces it offered were just as necessary for the new college. Johnson Chapel became home to the library, laboratories and classrooms. By 1845, both the scientific and library collections had outgrown their rooms. The Octagon, the College Library, and Appleton Cabinet were built to accommodate many of these growing collections. Additional classrooms replaced the collections. The first major renovation of the building took place from 1863-1864, and included structural additions to support the clock tower, along with general repairs and interior alterations.

About 1925, substantial renovation plans were drawn up by the firm McKim, Mead, and White. Other pressing building needs, like centralizing campus heating and electrical infrastructure, took precedence. The planned renovations did not occur until 1933-1934, soon after Stanley King (AC 1903), Trustee, was chosen as the 11th president of Amherst College in 1932. The renovations added gallery space to the chapel to accommodate a larger student body, and changed a number of classrooms into administrative offices. King moved the President's office to the 2nd floor of Johnson Chapel, where it remained until 1965, when Converse Hall became the administrative hub of the College. The English department transferred from scattered offices across campus to the newly available office space in Johnson Chapel. As of 2019, Johnson Chapel is home to two departments: English, and Film and Media Studies, along with classrooms. The chapel space remains a central gathering place the community, used for lectures, academic ceremonies, and large meetings.


2 Linear feet (5 (4 x 5 in.) negative envelopes; 2 legal document boxes; 1.5 (12 x 15 in.) flat boxes, 2 (17 x 20 in.) folders, 1 (20 x 25 in.) folder; 3 (46 x 38 in.) map case folders; )

Language of Materials



Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299