The New England landscape features more Ralph Adams Cram buildings than six churches. Once the most famous architects of his day, Cram designed many churches (mostly Episcopal), schools and libraries in New England, along with much of Princeton University, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the great cathedral St. John the Divine in New York City.
We chose churches, though, because Cram created the Gothic Revival look of stone Episcopal churches so prevalent throughout the region. The Phillips Church at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire is quintessential Cram -- and quintessential Gothic Revival.
Cram was born Dec. 16, 1863, in Hampton Falls, N.H., to an old New England family, and named for Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Adams. He graduated from Yale and became not only a prominent architect but an Anglo-Catholic, or High Episcopalian, who founded the Catholic magazine Commonweal. He headed MIT’s architecture department for seven years. In 1926, he made the cover of Time magazine.
Though an ardent advocate of Gothic Revival, he designed buildings in the Colonial Revival and Art Deco styles.
Cram died Sept. 22, 1942. Unlike his contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, he has been pretty much forgotten – except by the Episcopal Church. His birthday is celebrated as a feast day.
Seymour St. John Chapel
In 1924, The Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., had 339 male students and a pressing need for a chapel. (John F. Kennedy would later attend Choate.) Then-headmaster George St. John wrote in his autobiography, "To run a school without a chapel seemed like running a line for light and power without a powerhouse." The $100,000 to pay for the chapel was raised by alumni, parents, friends and students who sold bricks for $5.
Cram designed the chapel in the Colonial Revival style. Ground was broken in May 1924 and it was dedicated in 1925. Choate merged with a girl's prep school in 1971 and became Choate Rosemary Hall. In 1998, the chapel was rededicated and renamed after the Rev. Seymour St. John, headmaster from 1947 to 1973.
All Souls Congregational Church
In 1911, a great fire destroyed much of Bangor, Maine, including the First Congregational church, which overlooked the central business district. The Third Congregational Church also burned in the fire, so the two parishes joined together to build a new church on the site of the First's old one.
They commissioned Ralph Adams Cram, who designed an exceptionally creative (some say odd) Gothic Revival church. He incorporated flying buttresses, a rose window, a slender copper-clad spire, a small bell tower and stone from the Third's building. The church, which occupies a city block, once faced a row of stately homes. Today it looks across at offices, gas stations and retail stores.
All Saints Church, Ashmont
One stormy Sunday, Mary Lothrop Peabody and her husband Oliver were stranded by a snow squall near the small wooden chapel of All Saints in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston They were on their way from their estate in Milton to church. They had just lost a young child. So had the rector of the All Saints chapel. It was Dec. 28, 1879, the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
The Peabodys stopped in the chapel instead of forging on to church in Boston. They were profoundly moved by the sermon. The minister preached, “Rachel, weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
Oliver was a founder of the investment bank Kidder, Peabody. He and Mary decided to build a new All Saints church. They, like Cram, were children of Unitarian ministers who became Anglo-Catholics, aka High Episcopalians.
They hired young architects, Ralph Adams Cram and his partner Bertram Goodhue. They persuaded the Peabodys (or perhaps they needed little persuading) to revive the Gothic style in the design of All Saints. It was Cram’s first church. Cram biographer Douglas Shand-Tucci said of it, “A significant landmark in American architectural history, All Saints' is, of its type, Cram and Goodhue's masterpiece, and a model for American parish church architecture for the first half of the 20th century."
All Saints Church
The Episcopal All Saints Church, Peterborough, is one of Cram’s small masterpieces, considered by some to be the most beautiful church in America. It’s set back from the road on four acres in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. Cram modeled it after St. Mary the Virgin Church in Iffley, Oxfordshire, England.
Cram stressed local workmen and local materials – hence, the building is made of granite. It was beautifully decorated by some of the finest Arts and Crafts artisans in the region: woodcarver Johannes Kirchmayer, ironworker Frank Koralewski and stained glass artisan Charles Connick.
Mary Lyon Cheney Schofield commissioned the building in 1913 to honor her family. Her first husband, Charles Cheney, was the son of the founder of American Express. He died in 1897, shortly before their third child was born. Her second husband, Harvard professor William Schofield, died in 1920. One of her sons was killed in World War I. Mary lived until 1947. She, her husbands and her son are interred in the chapel.
In the early 19th century, many residents of South Newport, R.I., couldn't afford to attend church because they were required to buy pew seats. In 1841, three women from Trinity Church held religious meetings in their homes. Eight years later they had 88 members and bought an empty Baptist church. They were admitted to the Rhode Island Episcopal diocese in 1852, and in 1855 a wooden Tudor church was built. Half a century later that building fell into disrepair.
Emmanual Church in Newport was the first building Cram designed for his princely patrons, the Brown family. It was built between 1900 and 1902, commissioned by Natalie Bayard Brown in memory of her husband, John Nicholas Brown I. The rich ornamentation, which went wildly over budget, was designed by Cram’s partner, Bertram Goodhue. In the early 1930s, concert organist E. Power Biggs served at the church.
Today, Emmanuel still prides itself on welcoming anyone who wishes to worship.
St. James Episcopal Church
The parish of St. James was organized in the summer of 1826, when Woodstock, Vt., was a prosperous mill town that produced scythes, carding machines, woolens, carriages and tack.
It was built in time for Christmas Eve service in 1827 and consecrated the next year. The founders of the parish bought stone for the church, but discovered quicksand under the land donated for the site. They built a wooden frame church instead, and put a Paul Revere bell in the tower.
In 1907, St. James got the stone church its founders wanted. Ralph Adams Cram designed the building, considered one of his most distinguished smaller churches. He incorporated the brass pulpit and lectern, the marble font and three stained glass windows, one of which came from Tiffany studios.
Photos: St. James Episcopal Church, AlexiusHoratius~commonswiki; Emmanual Church By Swampyank at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20434397; All Saints Church, By John Phelan - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19104034; All Saints, Ashmont By Jim Roberts - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51960817; Seymour St. John Chapel, Wallingford, Conn. By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons