“The cemetery is certainly a precious jewel and the chapel is the crown centerpiece of it all,” said Rick Meade, Calvary’s executive director.
The memorial chapel is shrouded in scaffolding for the $800,000 project. The only unobstructed view is at the front where an inscription carved above the door reads, “Dedicated to the unclaimed dead of St. Henry’s Cemetery, 1902.”
From 1847 to 1887, Dayton had two Catholic cemeteries, Calvary Cemetery and St. Henry’s Cemetery, according Calvary’s historic narrative.
St. Henry’s Cemetery was located in the Rubicon District, south of where Miami Valley Hospital sits today along Main Street.
It ran short of funding for upkeep and eventually the trustees deemed the property “wholly unfit for cemetery purposes.” A plan was devised to consolidate their grounds with Calvary Cemetery.
More than 6,000 people were buried at St. Henry’s Cemetery and 2,000 were claimed by surviving families and moved to new plots at Calvary Cemetery. The majority of the dead — 4,000 bodies — were unclaimed.
“We do not know precisely where those bodies are located,” said Meade. “All we know is that they are buried on the chapel site.”
St. Henry’s trustees turned their remaining $35,000 treasury over to Calvary Cemetery with the stipulation it help fund a memorial chapel to St. Henry’s Cemetery.
Frank Mills Andrews, a prolific early 20th century architect, was hired to design the memorial.
Andrews had designed buildings for the World’s Columbian Exposition, the first world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893.
His European designs caught the eye of John Patterson, founder of the National Cash Register Company, who brought him to Dayton to design NCR buildings.
The architect also designed the Arcade, the Reibold Building and the Conover Building in Dayton as well as hotels and structures around the world.
Andrews designed the limestone chapel in the Victorian Gothic style. The ornate façade is created from ornamental cut and carved limestone windows, dormers and cornice and gable sections. The chapel is topped by a steeply pitched slate roof with 11 dormers and a chimney.
Much of the material used in construction came from Dayton suppliers.
An unmarked box was recently found in the cemetery office stuffed with original construction receipts. Many were for carpentry from the F.A. Requarth Company, a downtown institution still in business today.
Inside the chapel, 11 stained glass windows made by the Dayton Art Glass Co. shine in amber and blue patterns. The walls are made of brick and stone. A high altar with a crucifix made of granite and marble is framed by a stone arch.
More than 11,000 turned out for the dedication of St. Henry’s Memorial Chapel on All Souls’ Day in 1903. A story in the Dayton Daily News described St. Henry’s as “one of the handsomest chapels in the state.”
“It was built to memorialize those folks so that they weren’t just forgotten,” Meade said. “They were memorialized and treated like God’s creation.”
Today, the chapel is used frequently for funeral masses and final committal services, Meade said. It’s also used for special dedication and All Souls’ Day services.
In 2004, the chapel underwent a smaller restoration update. The windows and altar were cleaned and repaired and the hammerbeam ceiling was re-stained.
The current restoration is a “needs project,” said Meade. “It needs total maintenance from the top all the way to the bottom.”
The stone building will have a complete cleaning and restoration of the tuckpointing. The Tradesman Group, Inc., a restoration company headquartered in Plain City, Ohio, is doing the work.
Roof repair and drainage repair are also part of the project. The numerous peaks and valleys create passage ways for water to seep between the interior and exterior walls.
The bell and bell tower on top of the chapel, used to alert cemetery workers of an approaching funeral procession, will also be refurbished.
The Calvary Cemetery Association is committed to the stewardship of the cemetery and the historic chapel “to pass forward the gift as founded by our forefathers,” Meade said.
The chapel restoration is part of a multi-year $8 million capital project that will be completed later this year in time for the cemetery’s 150th celebration in 2022.
Among the project phases are the installation of Sister Dorothy Stang Way, a half mile road extension within the cemetery, as well as preservation of historic cemetery monuments and construction of the St. Mark’s Mausoleum and Garden of Peace Columbarium.