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Monday, April 8, 2013

History Hinges on Chapel Doors

Grace Memorial Chapel, E. Falmouth
This beautiful little chapel sits quietly on the corner of Central Ave. and Bayberry Rd. in East Falmouth, just steps from the white sands of the Menauhant area beaches. I passed by it during a rain shower and turned the car around to photograph the front doors.  The Gothic-style wrought-iron hinges on the simple, white doors really caught my eye and reminded me of many a church in Maine, built in the 1800’s.  I immediately wondered about the age of this chapel.

Simple doors, gothic hinges
The small, round stained glass window above the doors glows with a white and then red light - as a lighthouse beacon - and more obvious on the dark, rainy day, surrounded by the darkened wood shingles.  The chapel holds close to its flat, grassy grounds, and the entire image gives off a plain yet arresting - and ageless - aura.

Of course, research was in order to solve the mystery of the chapel’s history. 

I consulted “The Book of Falmouth”* and found that after the demise by storm, or renovation to homes, of several other chapels, “James C. Elms gave the Grace Memorial Chapel to the (Menauhant) community.”  The year was 1931.

So, no.  Not an aged 1800’s church at all!

Then, I became curious about Mr. James C. Elms.  Again a little quick (very quick) research revealed that he was born in Boston, October 1888 and was the son of James Cornelius Elms Sr. and Grace Elms.  James Sr. was a cotton merchant, in 1910. The family of four (a daughter Grace, was younger than James Jr.) had three servants and appeared comfortable, living in E. Orange, NJ.

In 1930, son James Jr. was a banker at Elms & Sollon, in Manhattan.  He had served in WWI, and lived with his family and one servant, in E. Orange, New Jersey, and summered in Falmouth. He was a great contributor to the community.  He facilitated the building, in 1914, of the Menauhant Boat Club by taking over the mortgage and then becoming the club’s first president.*  And in 1931, he donated the Grace Memorial Chapel.  "Grace Chapel" is a common name for a church – it also serves nicely to honor his own mother, named Grace Elms.

All of this - discovered by catching sight of a pair of plain, white New England doors clasped by elaborate wrought iron hinges, on a simple seaside chapel - under a rainy sky...just passing by.

* The Book of Falmouth; A Tricentennial Celebration 1686 – 1986; Edited by Mary Lou Smith; Publisher: Falmouth Historical Commission, Falmouth, MA, 1986; pp. 275-6.

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