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Evans Chapel: A building with heart

Constructed in 1878 and moved to campus in 1959, the Evans Chapel remains a favorite campus location. Photo: DU Archives

Many visitors to the DU campus are drawn to the elegant little stone chapel nestled amongst fountains and flower beds in the Harper Humanities Garden. Thousands of students, faculty and staff have gathered at Evans Chapel over the years to worship, to be wed or to mourn those who have passed.

“Ever since I first laid eyes on the chapel during my campus tour, I dreamed of getting married there,” says Heather (Donnelly) Ruddy, BA ’00, whose husband Matthew Ruddy, BSBA ’00, proposed to her in front of the chapel. “I’m happy to say that dream came true.”

Evans Chapel, the oldest Protestant church in Denver, was built by University of Denver founder John Evans in honor of his daughter Josephine, who died of consumption in 1868. The Evans Memorial Chapel of Grace Methodist Church was originally located at 13th and Bannock streets in downtown Denver. Construction began in 1873, and the chapel was dedicated in 1878.

The High Victorian Gothic chapel has interior seating for 65 and a choir of 12. Built of Colorado sandstone, the chapel measures 40 feet wide by 50 feet long and weighs 47 tons.

You may wonder how we know its weight. The answer lies in the fact that the chapel was dismantled stone by stone and moved to the University Park campus in 1959. The move saved the chapel from demolition; DU had planned to use its location as a parking lot for the University’s law center.

Originally, the chapel was to be moved whole to the University Park campus through the streets of Denver. But, the Logan Street Bridge over Cherry Creek would have required special reinforcement, and traffic signal lights would have had to be moved, all at DU’s expense. So, each stone was photographed and numbered, and the building was carefully taken apart and moved to campus in pieces. The Evans family donated the $80,000 needed for the move.

That move generated a bit of folklore about the Evans Chapel that needs to be cleared up. Legend has it that when the building was reassembled there were a number of stones left over, and these became part of the Humanities Garden landscaping. Simply not true.

The chapel’s location on campus was no accident, either. It rests on the axis between the Mary Reed Building’s tower to the east and the peak of Mount Evans to the west.

The first service was held in the newly relocated chapel on April 22, 1960. In 1965, an organ costing $10,000 was installed in the chapel with funds from the Thomas Dines family. The chapel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and given landmark status in 1988. Evans Chapel is a popular spot for weddings, and it is quite common to see brides in full wedding regalia hurrying through the Humanities Garden in the summer months. It also is used for memorial services for deceased DU faculty and staff, and several religious denominations hold services in it.

“Evans Chapel has always been a place of solitude for me and my husband,” Heather Ruddy says. “During our junior year, we found comfort in its pews after my husband’s mother died. We sat in the chapel for what seemed like hours, reflecting on her life and our love for her while staring at the beautiful stained glass.

“Evans Chapel has been the centerpiece of both our relationship that began at DU, and now the life we share together.”

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