Willard Memorial Chapel and the adjoining Welch Memorial Building are the only remaining buildings which were once part of the Auburn Theological Seminary, an educational facility which prepared thousands of pastors and missionaries to travel near and far to spread the word of God.
The seminary had its origin in the great revivals of religion that swept through the new settlements early in the 19th century and the resulting demand for ministers of the gospel. A proposal to establish a seminary in Auburn was made in January, 1818 by Rev. Dirck Cornelius Lansing, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Auburn. The seminary was founded later that year, chartered in 1820 and then admitted its first students in 1821.
The original seminary building was erected in 1820–21 and demolished in 1892—the same year in which the cornerstone of the Willard Chapel was laid. In 1872, the Dodge-Morgan Library building was erected and followed by a 76-room dormitory, Morgan Hall, which was completed in 1875. Both of these buildings were demolished by 1959.
In 1892–1894, the Willard Chapel was built and furnished in memory of Dr. Sylvester Willard and his wife, Mrs. Jane Frances Case Willard, by their daughters Miss Georgiana and Miss Caroline Willard. The interior of the Chapel was designed and handcrafted entirely by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York City. It is the only complete and unaltered totally Tiffany designed religious interior known to exist in the world.
The buildings of the seminary were in continuous use from 1821 until 1939 (except for 1854–55 when the seminary was closed.) The Summer School of Theology was introduced in 1911 and the School of Religious Education was organized in May of 1921 and closed in 1925.
The Auburn Collegiate Center was established in 1933; it was first located in the Auburn Senior High School Building then moved to the Auburn Theological Seminary in 1935 and used the campus facilities until 1937. In 1939, it was with deep regret that the commissioners and trustees of the Auburn Theological Seminary found it necessary to relocate to Manhattan, New York, due to low enrollment and difficulty in funding. They are still located in New York City, at the Interchurch Center.
During WWII the campus buildings in Auburn were used by the U.S. Navy for training and recruiting officers. After the war, Morgan Hall and the Welch Building were turned into apartments which housed veterans and their families. In 1957, The Seventh Day Adventist Church purchased the Chapel complex where they conducted services and activities and carefully maintained the building until 1988. In January of 1989, when the interior of the building was threatened with dismantlement of the Tiffany treasures within, a fundraising campaign to purchase the Willard Chapel was launched by the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). In March of 1990, CPC purchased Willard Chapel. Currently, the building is on the State and National Registry of Historic Places and functions as a community center of social and cultural activity.
The Tiffany treasure has become a tourist destination, a wedding venue, a concert hall, a lecture hall and an office complex.
The Willard Memorial Chapel and adjoining Welch building received National Historic Landmark designation in April 2005.
For more information on the Community Preservation Committee, call
(315)252-0339 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.