A symbol of love, faith & community for 100 years
It stands between the cottages of a Dr. Bacon and a Mr. Rihbany, constructed of rock from the area of East Boothbay known as Ocean Point, and local and regional fields. The Janet M. Wilson Memorial Chapel was founded by Unitarian Minister Lewis G. Wilson in memory of his beloved wife on Aug. 4, 1917. The Wilsons first trip to the Ocean Point area of East Boothbay was in 1895 or 1896.
By 1898 they had built their first summer cottage – and would build two others. Before the chapel was built, “Ocean Pointers” still gathered together on Sunday mornings for services, often led by Rev. Wilson. And according to family history, Mrs. Wilson was as instrumental as her husband in “the fostering of Sunday religious services first at the home of friends and later at the Casino.”
Wrote Rev. Wilson on Sept. 18, 1916 of the land on which the Chapel stands, “I have been promised a perfectly satisfactory lot [given by Dr. John and Ruby Bacon) for the little church and have it staked out, between Dr. Bacon’s and Mr. Rihbany’s.”
Rev. Wilson raised the money for the Chapel on that site almost single-handedly with help from Ocean Pointers and friends including, The Rev. and Mrs. John H. Wilson, George Yerrall and William Yerrall, The Rev. and Mrs. Arthur Pettengill, and Mrs. Samuel F. Emerson. Among the contributions was a generous donation from the American Unitarian Association. The architect for the Chapel was Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. The Reverend’s influence in the design – flying buttresses and stone composition – may have had something to do with the two stone churches in his life; the first in Hopedale, Massachusetts and the second somewhere in Scotland (during a 1907 trip). In fact, amber glass for the windows was specified by Wilson (and recorded in his writings) to be “like the small ones at Hopedale,” where he was minister.
When the Chapel was dedicated in 1917, Dr. Samuel A. Eliot had this to say about Mrs. Janet Maria Cook Wilson: “This house is especially dedicated to the memory of a bright spirit that ministered to us of the joy and bounty of life … We are associating this place with a certain clearness of spirit to perceive the best in things and people …”
Year round and summer residents would gather together in faith and fellowship, singing such hymns as “Faith of Our Fathers” and “The God of Sea and Shore.” Imagine the magical services held in the glow of candlelight until it was wired for electricity in 1922. In addition to worship, many couples have pledged their love and troth at the Wilson Chapel, beginning with the wedding of Warren Tyler Bartlett and Elida Richmond Thompson of Brookfield, Massachusetts on Sept. 6, 1918.
The first Board of Managers of the Ocean Point Chapel Association was comprised of (as recorded in excerpts from letters written by Rev. Lewis Wilson) Rev. I. C. Smart, Mr. Fitch Winchester, Mr. William Yerrall, Miss Anne Carter, Miss Margaret L. Emerson, Mrs. Marian Wilcox, Miss Anna Norton, and Rev. Lewis Wilson. Others, on one of the three committees, were Rev. John Wilson (Lewis and Janet’s son) and Mrs. A. G. Pettengill.
Rev. Wilson died April 24, 1928, eight months after the 10th anniversary of the chapel. An excerpt from “My Last Words,” written in January of that year, about his beloved chapel, “It is open to the world. … It should never be allowed to become a center for denominational propaganda … It has a wonderful individuality and casts a spell of spiritual uplifting upon all who enter it ...More and more, as time goes on, it will become a place of spiritual peace and beauty.”
Rev. Wilson would no doubt be pleased to know that his monument of love and faith remains nondenominational and that as of 1985, a group of Ocean Point residents established a charitable corporation to hold ownership of the Chapel and then raised the necessary funds to buy the Chapel from the American Unitarian Association, which held the title to it for since John L. and Ruby B. Bacon deeded the land to the Association Sept. 28, 1916.
He would also be pleased to know that after 100 years the Chapel remains nondenominational and its services are attended by a loyal following of Ocean Pointers and residents around the Boothbay region in the summer months. The visiting clergy leading Sunday services (in recent history) include the Reverends Tom Lenhart, Peter Panagore, Charles Carrick, Nanci W. Adair, and the late Mary Jo Zimmerli.
Raising voices in song and celebration is a natural element of religious services everywhere. For 33 years, the organist for the Chapel was Danny Beal. Stan Martin, current president of the Wilson Memorial Chapel group, wrote this in the Chapel’s March newsletter: “Danny, the Chapel’s long-time organist, a well-known and universally liked musician died this January. Danny brought lots of joy, laughter and music wherever he went. We will miss him.”
Danny Beal had this to say about the Chapel shortly before his passing, “People worship there because they live nearby, or they are following a favorite preacher. The natural beauty of this church made of stone, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is reason enough for people to want to marry there, have their children baptized there, and finally be memorialized by their friends and neighbors. I am humbled and honored to have played a small role in a third of this wonderful chapel's years of existence.”
The Wilson Memorial Chapel’s 100th anniversary celebration will be held on Sunday, Aug. 6 at 1:30 p.m. to be followed by a reception at 2:30 for “Ocean Pointers,” their friends and guests with food and drink “for all corners.” Stan says the service will include a retrospective of the Chapel and honor “the many who have served faithfully in the Chapel’s mission.”
Descendents of Rev. Lewis Wilson, still in East Boothbay, include his great-grandchildren, Nathaniel (Nat) Wilson and Janet Wilson Wright.
“We so appreciate the care the Chapel has been given and the love that’s been put into it,” said Janet. “It’s such a peaceful place, a symbol of peace and goodwill. Based on what we have learned about him, our great grandfather would pleased to know that people still care for and still use the Chapel.”