The Seaside Chapel earns acceptance into the Library of Congress by Lynn Kurtz
The Seaside Interfaith Chapel is a stunningly beautiful house of worship that welcomes believers of all faiths. Designed by renowned architect Scott Merrill, its iconic design is breathtaking in its simplicity, light-filled in design and a style that is colloquially known as Carpenter Gothic, demonstrating its connection to earlier American vernacular styles of wooden chapels.
Opened and dedicated in October 2001, its 68-foot bell tower marks the highest point in Seaside and is a beacon for guests, visitors and homeowners along the 30A corridor for Sunday and holiday non-denominational services, as well as a popular beach side destination for weddings.
Gerald Meinecke, current president of the board of directors, added, “This is a wonderful building, under the spiritual leadership of Pastor Gary Wingo, which has grown into a church home for roughly 225 attendees on any given Sunday. We have experienced 2,200 people for Easter services and 1,300 for Christmas services. What a blessing to Seaside and the 30A community!”
The chapel enriches the quality of lives of those who visit Seaside. Accordingly, the chapel board members and pastor were seeking a way to create greater awareness of this iconic house of worship with communities beyond the Florida panhandle. Research ensued to identify whether the chapel merited recognition by any programs or institutions. We learned that in 1933 (during the Great Depression) the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was established as a national repository for drawings and photographs of early American architecture. Measured drawings, black and white photography, color transparencies, photo captions and written history pages serve to document a range of building types, engineering technologies and landscapes which chronicle some of the historic structures in the U.S. The HABS reports are housed in the Library of Congress and are intended to be a snapshot of a structure as built and as existing at the time of its recording characterizing the building in both architectural and building technology terms, as well as the significance of a building within a national context.
Chapel board members sought to achieve the Historical American Buildings Survey Heritage Designation knowing that the documentation standards for quality, content, format and durability could assure that future generations would be able to consult federal preservation records. The lengthy and tedious work to develop the documentation took two years to complete and was conducted by students in the Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program of The College of Charleston under the direction of R. Grant Gilmore III, Ph.D., RPA.
We are pleased to share that our submission was accepted and is now part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress. We believe the chapel is among the youngest buildings accepted into the Library of Congress repository, which suggests that a building does not need to be old to be worthy of the heritage designation. A plaque on the chapel reflects the heritage designation and the pride we have within our community for achieving such. In addition, the chapel received the national design award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2004 and the architect received the Honor Award of Excellence from the Florida Association of the AIA in 2003.
Our thanks to Scott Merrill, Robert and Daryl Davis (who donated land for the chapel), the Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program of The College of Charleston, and to the founding members of the chapel, which includes Pat Roberts (president), Sarah Modica (vice president), Holly Speight (secretary), Sarah Mowell (treasurer), Robert Davis, Sam Yarborough and Pam Roberts. Their contributions to the civic and spiritual life of our Seaside community are valued and appreciated by many and now documented in the Library of Congress in perpetuity.