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Dahlgren Chapel, est. 1881

Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren (1825-1898)


 On July 15th, 1881, a mere 13 days after the assassination attempt on President James A. Garfield, Madeleine Dahlgren wrote the following letter to The Archbishop of Baltimore, (later Cardinal) James Gibbons. 


                                                            South Mountain House


                                                                                                                July 15th 1881

                                                Near Boonsboro,

                                                                                Washington County



Most Revd ArchBishop


Visiting a few days since to Mrs. Garfield, a note of sympathy, I enclosed the published

Letter of Your Grace, and called her attention to its contents.


The reply of Mrs. Garfield, which has been instantly sent is in her own handwriting, with

which I am familiar.  I have thought it might gratify Your Grace to see that your beautiful

and patriotic act was appreciated.


Will Your Grace kindly return me the letter of Mrs. Garfield.


St. Joseph’s Chapel is being commenced, but many an unforseen (sic) 
                an obstacle have
tried me –


However, the foundations is now being built, under (Wm.?) Smith(Meyer?) OR 
                (Mr.) Smith
(Meyer) as architect.


I beg your pious prayers for success.


                Love yr Child in (JC)


                Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren             
(Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore – 76A5)


From the onset of construction, 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.


In a subsequent letter to Archbishop Gibbons dated May 3rd, 1884, Mrs. Dahlgren wrote that -


        “St. Joseph’s Chapel, will soon be quite ready to be consecrated as a Temple 
        of God.
additionally she relates that “Wallace of Baltimore is now making the 
        marble altar – which will be in its place next month.”


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). 
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