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Eagle Archive: Big Baker Chapel hangs as an ornament of Westminster history

Recently the General Federation of Women's Clubs' Woman's Club of Westminster unveiled Big Baker Chapel as its ninth holiday ornament for the Christmas season.

The ornament sale is a fundraiser for the club, which for the last 101 years has provided community service and support. According to the club, "The sales from these ornaments enable our Club to help serve the needs in our community including the arts, conservation, education, home life, international outreach and public issues."

In past years, the Woman's Club has paid tribute to McDaniel College's (Little) Baker Chapel and Ward Memorial Arch, Westminster City Hall and the Carroll County Courthouse.

Other buildings recognized by the club include the Westminster Armory, the bell and clock tower that sits atop the old Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1 fire hall, the Old Stone Building on Liberty Street and the Shellman house on the campus of the Historical Society of Carroll County.

Although Big Baker Chapel "had been in the plans for three decades and partial funding in the amount of $200,000 had been promised by the Baker family," according to McDaniel historian Dr. Jim Lightner in his history of the college, "Fearless and Bold," the chapel was not dedicated until April 20, 1958.

The dedication was "attended by a capacity crowd that included at least two alumnae who had attended the dedication of the first Baker Chapel in May 1895, 63 years earlier — Corinne Ford, '95, and Emeritus Professor Nannie Lease," wrote Lightner.

The 1950s was a decade of great changes on the campus of then-Western Maryland College. It all took place in an intricately choreographed construction ballet.

"After a major adjustment to the 1950 campus plan was presented and approved in 1955, the new (Big Baker) chapel was sited on top of the hill, replacing Yingling Gymnasium, and detailed plans to raze the Old Main complex (and build a new student center and library) were made, at a cost of $600,000. ... In order to provide for the chapel's construction, McKinstry dormitory and Yingling Gym would have to be removed, and that was accomplished as soon as the new MacLea dormitory was opened."

It was an understatement by Lightner when he wrote, "The top of the Hill was beginning to change for the first time in 60 years."

Students and the Westminster community (including this writer during the summer of 1958,) watched the changes with rapt attention and curiosity.

Big Baker was built within feet behind the "Old Main" academic building, and many scratched their heads at this arrangement — until it became clear that Old Main was going to be razed.

According to Lightner, the 149-foot long by 60-foot wide chapel was completed at a cost of $588,000. Of particular interest was the chapel organ, "valued at the time at about $45,000," wrote Lightner. The organ "was designed by Joseph S. Whiteford '43 and constructed by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. of Boston, of which he was president."

…The exterior case of the console came from the historic Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Va."

"A major event one day during the summer of 1957 was watching the largest crane ever put together in Carroll County raising the steeple to its place 113 feet above the porch… The (stainless steel) metal cross on the top of the steeple was 6 feet high and 3.5 feet wide," according to Lightner.

The cross was visible for miles. A series of events initiated by American Civil Liberties Union in May 1972, led to it being removed from the steeple in July 1975. The ACLU filed suit against Maryland aid to church-affiliated colleges. McDaniel had been affiliated with the Methodist Church since 1868, just shortly after the college was founded.

The suit, Roemer et al, continued for a number of years. "At a special meeting of the full board of trustees on March 11, 1975, the college formally severed its ties with the church."

"Stipulations by the ACLU in dismissing the college from the suit included… (removing) the crosses from (Big) Baker Memorial Chapel and Baker Chapel. … It was the last activity that caused any overt reaction, and for a few months after the crosses were removed in July, some alumni and mass media… called attention to the symbolic nature of the event."

The Woman's Club's ornaments are available for $21 and can be found at the Book Store at McDaniel College, the Historical Society of Carroll County, the Westminster Antique Mall, the Carroll County Arts Council, Benn's Menswear & Formal Wear, Harvestin' Natural Foods, or the Shop on the Square at Carroll Lutheran Village.

Last year's ornament, featuring the historic Shellman House on Main Street, is also available.

You can also contact Sandy Ferguson at 410-848-3032 or slferguson@verizon.net.

When he is not sitting in the back pew of Big Baker Chapel, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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