SUGAR HILL — The historic St. Matthew’s Chapel has a new lease on life since its foundation was stabilized in what church officials are calling a community effort.
The Episcopal summer chapel was designed in the Gothic Revival style by architect Frederick C. Withers and opened in 1894.
The wooden chapel was originally built on a stone foundation, and later placed onto footings, but the footings didn’t extend below the frost line, according to Betsy Holcombe, a member of the St. Matthew’s Chapel Committee.
As a result, the chapel floor eventually became uneven, with a height difference of between 7 inches and 9 inches from the front to the rear of the structure, Holcombe said.
In 2019, a structural assessment was done and it was determined that the chapel’s foundation needed to be stabilized and drainage installed.
Funded by a $50,000 New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program grant; a matching anonymous donation; and a capital campaign, the work began last September under the auspices of Arnold M. Graton Associates, Inc. It is now nearing completion, said Holcombe.
Before Graton got there, the chapel “was sliding down the hill to Franconia,” Holcombe said during a July 18 interview.
She said Graton stabilized and leveled the chapel; temporarily moved it 32 feet to the north; and then excavated and installed a new foundation as well as the drainage system.
Graton and company, renowned for building and rehabbing covered wooden bridges, then slid the chapel back onto its original footprint.
The result, said Holcombe, is outstanding.
“We’re very happy,” she said, calling Graton “a master craftsman.”
Holcombe said she and the Chapel Committee are “a little disappointed” that because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chapel will not be able to hold services until next year.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot to celebrate now, she said.
Preserving the St. Matthew’s Chapel has been “a community effort,” Holcombe said, and was made possible by LCHIP; the NH Preservation Alliance, which provided guidance, and financial contributions from many people.
“The Chapel Committee offered time, energy, and oversight,” she said, while “Arnold M. Graton, his wife Meg and the crew were the expert restoration conservationists who accompanied the stabilization on permanent footings. The Chapel will continue to be an historic and beloved part of the Sugar Hill community.”
“Hopefully, it’ll be around for more than another 127-plus years,” she said.