History

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The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Chappaqua, New York was built as a private chapel in memory of Muriel Gwendolen Clendenin, daughter of the Reverend Dr. Frank Montrose and Mrs. Gabrelle Greeley Clendenin. Muriel was the fourth child of Father and Mrs. Clendenin and a granddaughter of Horace Greeley. She was born on October 9, 1898 and died on October 23, 1903 of poliomylelitis. All are buried in the private cemetery at the rear of the church. The chapel was built by Father Clendenin at his own expense on four acres of land which Mrs. Clendenin had inherited from Horace Greeley and which she donated for the purpose. Ground breaking was on July 4, 1904 and the chapel was consecrated on June 21, 1906.

The chapel was designed from photographs and descriptions of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Monken Hadley, Middlesex, England. The English church s charter dates back to 1162 and it was rebuilt in its present form in about 1494. An ancient window from the original English church was given to the Chappaqua church in 1906. It is now incorporated with the stained glass window in the north transept of the Chappaqua church.

The chapel became a mission under the direction of the Diocese of New York in 1913 and on March 22, 1916 title to the church and land was transferred to the Diocese of New York by Father and Mrs. Clendenin. The deed included several stipulations including: the church would forever remain a free church, its name would remain Saint Mary the Virgin, no mortgage or encumbrance would ever be placed on the land or church, and the right to use as a private family burial plot a twenty by twelve foot area at the rear easterly end of the church. Breach of any stipulation would result in reversion of the land and premises to the heirs of Father Clendenin. (The principal heir is currently Frank Canning Greeley Stahl. He is the son of Gabrielle Clendenin Stahl and Edward Canning Stahl and the grandson of Horace Greeley and has lived in Germany for many years).

The church was incorporated as a parish in 1943 and was admitted into union with the Diocesan Convention on May 9, 1944. Title to the church and property was transferred to the parish on May 12, 1949 and the deed incorporated all of the stipulations of the earlier deed of the Clendenins. Buried in the reserved area enclosed by a stone wall at the rear of the church are Father and Mrs. Clendenin and their four children, Muriel, Gabriel and Miriam, who died in infancy, and Gabrielle Clendenin Stahl, who had married Edward Canning Stahl and died during August 1920.

In 1919 the interior of the church, particularly the transepts, chancel and altar, was gutted by a fire which originated in an overheated furnace in the basement. Before the fire the transepts had been closed off with paneled screens and a baldachin which was suspended over the altar by ten-foot-high pillars within the sanctuary. After the fire all of this was removed and replaced with a large pulpit at the opening to the north transept, and an altar rail and prayer stalls on each side of the entrance to the sanctuary. The pulpit was removed in the late 1930 s but the altar rail and prayer stalls remained until the sanctuary was again redesigned in 1982. At that time the large masonry altar and altar stone were removed and replaced with a free-standing altar. The altar stone was moved to the outdoor altar on the hillside at the rear of the church.

The Strawberry Festival was started by the Women's Guild and Auxiliary in 1938 and has continued as an annual fund-raising event without interruption to the current year. In 1939 the Women's Guild originated an annual social affair which came to be known as the Black Tie Dance. Later, in 1953, a men's society was formed which held monthly meetings with featured speakers. This group sponsored an annual Barber Shop Harmony Night as a fund-raising project.

The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin has been the beneficiary of many special gifts as Thank Offerings and Memorials. First, of course, was the gift of the church and grounds by the Clendenins in memory of their daughter, Muriel. Other gifts include the bells, the baptistry, and several stained glass windows including the Norseen window set in the east wall of the sanctuary, the Heilman window in the north transept, the Saint Peter and Saint Paul windows in the sanctuary, the small windows at the entrance to the church, and the windows in the baptistry.

 

Ken White