Seney-Stovall Chapel History
In 1880, shortly after Mildred Rutherford became principal of the Lucy Cobb Institute (a college for girls founded in 1858), she recognized the need for a chapel for the religious services of the school. She initiated a fund-raising campaign by having students contact prominent philanthropists. Nellie Stovall wrote to George I. Seney, who had given to both Emory University and Wesleyan College. Seney contributed a significant amount, under the condition that the citizens of Athens contribute the remaining sum needed. This was quickly done. Construction was begun and the cornerstone of the Seney-Stovall Chapel was laid in May l882. The chapel was used for graduation exercises, as a recital hall, for lectures, plays, pageants, concerts and cultural events of all sorts.
This community facility served the Lucy Cobb Institute and the Athens community for more than 60 years as a popular place to hold academic and cultural events. After the school closed in 1931, the chapel was used as a theater by the Thalian Blackfriars Dramatic Club of the university. However, when the Fine Arts Building was completed on the university campus shortly after World War II, the chapel was abandoned.
By 1961 the Seney-Stovall Chapel was in such deteriorated condition that demolition was considered. Through the efforts of Dean William Tate of the University of Georgia, however, the building was reroofed, the bell tower cupola removed, and the windows boarded up in an effort to preserve the building until funds for restoration were available. As a result of matching grants, a partial restoration was completed in 1982. This restoration consisted of exterior repairs and modifications to the interior to accommodate a heating/cooling system, restrooms, and additional meeting space. Restoration of the Chapel which has been referred to as the "crown jewel" of the Lucy Cobb complex was completed in 1997 due in great measure to a campaign for private donations spearheaded by The Friends of Lucy Cobb and Seney-Stovall, a group of determined alumnae combined with neighborhood leaders and historic preservationists interested in the restoration. It has been restored in a way that allows for its use by a wide variety of university and community groups for plays, concerts, lectures, weddings, meetings and other special events.
Sitting at the edge of the Lucy Cobb grounds on North Milledge Avenue, the Seney-Stovall Chapel is an unusual octagonal building with an exquisite Victorian interior.
It features two stories over a raised basement and is crowned with a wooden cornice and a steeply pitched roof of asphalt shingles and dormer vents. The front side of the Chapel features a gabled pavilion decorated with a wooden cornice. Twin sets of stairs lead visitors to a landing and twin entry doors beneath a shed porch. The remaining sides of the main portion of the chapel each feature a row of three, triple-hung, four-light sash windows, with decorative wood panels.
The interior, which can accommodate 240 people, features a "raked" or slanted stage designed for maximum viewing by those seated on the main floor. One edge of the small octagon forms the skirt of the stage, projecting into the orchestra to provide an almost modern appearance. There is also a gracefully curved balcony which is marked by distinctive wooden railing. The basement, previously dirt, now includes restroom facilities, storage and state-of-the-art meeting space.