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Amherst, Massachusetts

Stearns Steeple

The monumental steeple on Amherst College's campus has no church attached to it. 

At Amherst College you will find a beautiful 19-century steeple, but no church.

In 1864 William F. Stearns, the son of college President William A. Stearns, presented the institution with $30,000 to build a full-sized church for the campus. Though various post-Civil War factors delayed the construction, the church was eventually constructed between 1870 and 1873. The Gothic Revival-style church in between James and Stearns Halls was made of a local stone (Pelham gneiss), redstone, red granite, and limestone. It was never given a denominational name, but it came to be known as College Church (or Stearns Church). The steeple functioned as its original entrance, and was the most prominent feature of the building itself, at over 150 feet tall. The towering structure could be seen from miles around.

Over the next several decades, as the college gradually became more secular and the newly renovated Johnson Chapel became the favored space for services, Stearns Church became under-utilized. In 1949 the church was dismantled, to make way for a new art museum building, but the steeple remained as a monument. It now marks the entrance to the Mead Art Museum.

After the demolition of the church, the steeple was reinforced on two sides to make it a freestanding structure. Its nine bells still remain, according to the college, “to chime on all suitable occasions.”