Gunnison Memorial Chapel Fire Updates

Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 - 4:30 p.m.

Steeple Removed From Gunnison Chapel

St. Lawrence University workers and private contractors were finally able to remove the remaining burned and charred copper from atop the steeple of the Gunnison Memorial Chapel.

Work crews used a large crane to remove several tons of debris left from the Oct. 6 fire, which caused severe damage to the steeple and caused the top portion of the copper spire to fall from the building the following day.

The University's main priority now is to place a temporary roof over the bell tower and the steeple where the copper was removed, said Daniel Seaman, St. Lawrence's chief facilities officer.

View a photo gallery of the removal.

Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 — 4:30 p.m.

Candlelight Service to be Held in Leithead Field House

The 92nd Candlelight Service, normally held in the Gunnison Memorial Chapel, will be held this year in the Leithead Field House on Dec. 11. The service has been relocated this year due to the fire in the chapel on Oct. 6.

For more than 90 years, the Candlelight Service has been a milestone of the St. Lawrence experience. The service features traditional Christmas carols and special music by the Laurentian Singers, the University Chorus, and a Community Children's Chorus. This year's readings will focus on the theme of journeying.

More information on the service will be made available in coming weeks.

For more information, contact the Chaplain's office at 315-229-5256.

Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 — 4:30 p.m.

Chaplain’s Offices Temporarily Relocated

Due to the Oct. 6 fire in the Gunnison Memorial Chapel, the Chaplain’s Office has been temporarily relocated.

The following staff members may be found in these offices:

  • Kathleen Buckley, chaplain, Richardson Hall 3
  • Shawn Whitehead, associate chaplain, Richardson Hall 10
  • Marcia Bradley, senior secretary, Sullivan Student Center 326
  • Sondra Goldsmith Proctor, musician-in-residence, can be reached at 202-841-8712 or at

Unless otherwise noted, contact information remains the same.

Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 — 12:45 p.m.

Fund for Gunnison Chapel Restoration Established

Almost immediately following an early morning fire that destroyed the Gunnison Memorial Chapel spire and badly damaged the bell tower, students, alumni and friends asked how they could give to restoring the chapel. To help direct these efforts, the University has established the Gunnison Memorial Chapel Restoration Fund for gifts that will contribute to the cleanup and restoration of the chapel as quickly but as carefully as possible.

While St. Lawrence's insurance will cover the majority of the restoration, gifts from alumni, parents and friends will help to cover the deductible on the University's insurance claim ($50,000) and may also be used for associated work that needs to be completed outside of the fire and water damage, including future chapel maintenance and associated capital projects.

“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of interest and offers of support to restore the chapel from Laurentians and friends around the country and the world,” said President William L. Fox ’75. Former President Lawry Gulick, a former bell ringer himself while president, was one of the first to contact President Fox to offer his and his wife, Win’s, support.

To make a gift to the Gunnison Memorial Chapel Restoration Fund, call 888-758-4438 or make your gift online at and select the Restoration Fund in the list of gift designations. Because this fund will be restricted to a capital project and the University continues to have other needs, donors are encouraged to also consider supporting the St. Lawrence Fund with a continued or new donation.

Visit for updates on the chapel.

Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 — 4:30 p.m.

Chapel to Remain Closed for Fall Semester

CANTON — St. Lawrence University officials said Thursday that the Gunnison Memorial Chapel will remain closed through the fall semester and probably part of the spring semester. The University is working to find another site to host December’s annual candlelight service.

An early morning fire on Oct. 6 caused the chapel spire to collapse and badly damaged the bell tower. Other parts of the chapel had smoke and water damage.

“We’re really in cleanup and assessment mode right now,” said Daniel Seaman, St. Lawrence’s chief facilities officer. “We want to take the rest of the fall semester, winter break and the first part of the spring semester to clean up everything and repair anything that was damaged. There’s a lot of work to be done before we can open up the chapel again.”

Seaman said removal of the remaining portion of the copper steeple was delayed while insurance adjusters were on campus assessing the damage. However, he anticipated a crane would arrive on campus early next week to remove the remaining pieces.

Seaman remained hopeful that much of the copper pieces, including the rooster weathervane, could either be repaired or reused. “We’re looking at a couple of companies now that might be able to restore the copper steeple and spire,” he said.

Specialists have also been contacted to carefully inspect the Bacheller Memorial Chimes as well as the Estey Organ. The University is also hiring companies that specialize in fire cleanups. Robes and hymnals from inside the chapel are being removed for proper cleaning.

A crucial step in the repair work, Seaman said, is to install a permanent roof on the bell tower and temporarily cap the steeple until a replacement can be installed.

Seaman said that while the steeple most likely would not be repaired until late in the spring 2014 semester, it is possible the chapel could open sooner.

Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 - 11:40 a.m.

The Gunnison Memorial Chapel parking lot and the "High Road" adjacent the Quad will be closed for parking until further notice.

Facilities personnel and construction crews continue to work on the fire damage at the Chapel. Please make alternative parking arrangements for any events with plans to use this parking area.
Pedestrian traffic will be permitted on the High Road. However, pedestrians should exercise extreme caution while walking in this area. Only authorized personnel will be permitted inside the fenced in area around Gunnison Chapel.

Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 - 10:25 a.m.


'The Bells Will Ring Again'

St. Lawrence University President William L. Fox '75 will speak today during a gathering being called "The Bells Will Ring Again" in recognition of a fire that struck the Gunnison Memorial Chapel on Sunday and lead to the collapse of the chapel's steeple.


The Laurentian Singers will sing "Chapel Bells" during the event, and other campus choirs will perform as well.

The event will take place at 5 p.m. today, Oct. 8, on the Creasy Commencement Commons, situated between the Owen D. Young Library and the Gunnison Memorial Chapel.

Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 - 8:45 a.m.

Canton Fire Department Chief Robert M. Crowe released a statement this morning, regarding the cause of Sunday's Gunnison Memorial Chapel fire.

According to Chief Crowe, the official cause was determined to be a problem with electrical wiring located in the roof area of the bell tower.

Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 1:55 p.m.


A message from St. Lawrence President William L. Fox '75


To the St. Lawrence Community:

My personal exercise habits often include a morning run along a route that takes me down the Avenue of the Elms.  At the end of that glorious arcade, when I turn around to look back upon the campus, there stands against the western sky a view that is incomparable to any other American campus.  It is Gunnison Memorial Chapel, alone, at the vanishing point of a long row of hardwoods in fall splendor.  And it stood there vividly this morning, as it has for about 85 years.  Even with the spire fallen, it stood like a North Country boulder.

Before dawn on Sunday, from our bedroom window, Lynn and I saw the smoke and flames of a fire that could easily have taken all of the chapel, as other fires, at other times in our campus history, had once done.  We heard cracking timbers as we raced out the back door and headed for the Quad, already sensing how much was at stake in those early moments.  To our great relief, the Canton Fire Department, which had sounded the alarm only 20 minutes before we arrived, was already fully staged to fight the fire.  The men and women of the volunteer fire department were completely absorbed and focused on a job that they had each trained hundreds of hours to do.  Firefighters from Potsdam, Gouverneur, Rensselaer Falls, and Morley had joined the ranks in a totally integrated crisis operation.  Among this corps, there were St. Lawrence students and the parents of current students engaged in this intense effort to win the day.  Their total success speaks for itself, but we must all, nevertheless, speak our own deeply felt gratitude.

Fire Chief Bob Crowe and the company of men and women in the Canton FD and the cooperating departments of neighboring communities deserve our high admiration and heartfelt appreciation.  The response time from notification to staging the battle was four minutes.  This is a critical fact in the outcome of the day.  For now, the summary of all that I wish to say is in these words: I’m so very thankful that St. Lawrence University lives in a town called Canton.

Moreover, let me also thank our campus Safety and Security office led by Pat Gagnon. Our 24-hour patrols give us all peace of mind, never better demonstrated than the alert response of four staff members: Jason Coleman, Tom Stafford, Sean LaSala, and Bryan Zimmer.  Our emergency response and communication protocols all were in place working like a finely crafted timepiece. The campus facilities staff were all on hand, even the Dana kitchen gave extra effort to support all the crisis responders.  On Sunday morning, there were over 50 members of the St. Lawrence staff on hand to deal with many of the unplanned and very necessary details of the moment.  St. Lawrence is lucky to have such competency and loyalty. Our students and their families have added reason to feel they are in good hands when they join this campus.

Laurentians far and near have expressed their love and support, for which we feel abiding gratitude.  We will, of course, rebuild and repair.  We will be considering the best way for our beloved community to be joined in that effort.  The chapel spire, the tallest object on the landscape of the St. Lawrence Valley, will again stand over all the hopes and memories that develop each year on our campus.  The resounding chapel bells will play again before long. Today and in the days to come, however, the tradition of chapel bells at five o’clock will continue, owing to staff creativity and a digital recording of our best-loved songs heard from the tower.  The familiar change ringing and school songs will sound from the chapel area for all to hear at the calm end of the day.

Bill Fox

Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 11:15 a.m.

CANTON, N.Y. — Strong winds overnight caused the top portion of St. Lawrence University’s Gunnison Memorial Chapel steeple to fall around 5:25 a.m. Monday morning, ending a dramatic 24 hours on campus that resulted in no injuries.

Read the full article.

Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 – 8:10 a.m.

At approximately 5:25 a.m., a portion of the Gunnison Memorial Chapel steeple fell due to windy conditions in the area. Members of our Safety and Security staff were on site throughout the night monitoring the structure and reported when it came down. There were no injuries and the exterior of the chapel sustained minimal additional damage this morning.

Safety and Security staff and members of our Facilities staff remain on site this morning. We will continue to update this site with additional information as it becomes available.

Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 - 2:45 p.m.

An early morning fire Sunday destroyed a portion of the steeple of St. Lawrence University's Gunnison Memorial Chapel and badly damaged the bell tower and parts of the chapel below.

The fire was discovered by University Safety and Security just after 5 a.m. The Canton Fire Department responded immediately along with several other area departments, containing the fire around 8 a.m.
The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation, and the University is working with inspectors to determine the safety of the building and plans for repairs.
Please note the following updates:
·      Classes will take place as normal on Monday, Oct. 7.

·      Gunnison Memorial Chapel is closed, and all scheduled chapel events have been canceled until further notice. The University is working with inspectors to determine if a portion of the Chapel can be reopened following initial repairs. University staff will work to determine alternative plans or venues for Chapel events.

·      Pedestrian traffic will be restricted for safety in some places surrounding the Chapel, where orange fencing has been installed.

·      The “High Road” between the Chapel and the Quad will remain open to pedestrian traffic and emergency vehicles, if needed.

·      The South entrance of Richardson Hall will be closed. All other entrances will remain open, and classes in Richardson will continue.

·      The University was working Sunday to bring in a crane to begin inspecting the Chapel and the steeple for structural damage. Engineers from Syracuse-based Beardsley Design Associates will assist in the inspection.

·      The bells within the Chapel remain intact and appear to be undamaged but will need to be inspected for safety before being used. The fire was mostly above the bells.

·      No damage was caused to the windows in the Chapel.

·      The campus has reached out to its property insurer and will be filing a claim.

·      According to fire officials on the scene, the fire may have been have been electrical in origin, but the exact cause has yet to be determined.

Please continue to monitor for more information on developments regarding the Gunnison Memorial Chapel fire.

Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 - 12:11 p.m.

Daniel Seaman, chief facilities officer for St. Lawrence University, said there was still some smoke coming from the Chapel steeple, which meant there was still concern that the fire could re-ignite.

"Right now, fire crews are thinking of bringing in a ladder truck and using a dry chemical to make sure the fire is completely out," he said. "We've already cleaned up a lot of the water, and we don't want to pour any more water onto the structure."

Seaman also said the bells were, in fact, still intact and had not fallen to the concrete platform.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 - 9:58 a.m.

CANTON — A fire that broke out in the Gunnison Memorial Chapel early Sunday morning severely damaged the steeple. The area has been closed off for safety reasons.

Pat Gagnon, St. Lawrence’s director of Safety and Security, said fire crews continued to monitor the steeple Sunday morning, as smoke continued to appear. No injuries were reported, Gagnon said.

Roxanne Cliff, assistant director of Safety and Security, said she was making rounds a little after 5 a.m., when she and her associate noticed smoke coming from the steeple.

“We went in to investigate at 5:10 a.m. and noticed that the floor in the steeple was on fire,” she said. “That’s when I said ‘get out’ and we called the fire department.”

Gagnon said there had been concern about the bells in the Chapel’s steeple. Firefighters said the bells appeared to have escaped any major damage.

The steeple is held up by a large wooden beam that holds part of the top portion of the spire. Gagnon said that beam appears to be intact. However, the integrity of the steeple is unknown, and it may need to be removed once it is safe to do so and until repairs can be made.

Fire crews from Canton, Potsdam and Gouverneur were on the scene. Gagnon said those crews were called specifically due to the need for ladder trucks due to the steeple’s height.

Several services were scheduled today in the Chapel, including a religious service, a regular Sunday service and a gospel service as part of St. Lawrence’s Family Weekend activities. All services scheduled in the Chapel have been canceled, said Joseph Tolliver, vice president and dean of student life.

A 5K run/walk that was scheduled for Sunday morning and had been scheduled to go down Romoda Drive, was being rerouted.

The Chapel was first opened in 1926. The bells range in diameter from 18 inches to four feet, the largest of which weighs a ton.

More information will be posted here as it becomes available.

Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 - 8:18 a.m.

The fire in Gunnison Chapel Bell Tower has been contained. Fire department personnel remain on scene to assure that the fire remains contained, to determine damage, and to begin investigation. Please refrain from approaching the building.
All chapel services are canceled until further notice; alternative service sites will be announced as they are determined. The Remington Festival 5K Run and Walk will take place and organizers are re-routing the event for safety.
We extend thanks to Canton Fire Department staff and to St. Lawrence Security staff for their prompt and professional responses.

Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 6:42 a.m.

At 5:10 a.m. Sunday, October 6, a serious fire was reported in Gunnison Chapel by St. Lawrence Security staff on patrol. Canton Fire Department staff responded immediately and continue to work to extinguish the fire, which appears to be limited to the bell tower. We have no reports of injuries, and will assess damage and keep the campus community apprised. Please refrain from approaching the building until further notice.

We will update this site as more information becomes available.