A HISTORY OF SEARLES SCHOOL & CHAPEL
Constructed between 1907-1909, Searles School and Chapel was donated to the town of Windham by the philanthropist and Methuen native Edward Francis Searles (1841-1920).
Searles was assembling what was to be a 1200 acre estate that surrounded the existing school house #1 of six in those days.
He proposed to the town that he would donate a new structure in exchange for the old. The offer was accepted in November 1906 and the building (According to Searles , it cost over $40,000.00.) was completed in early 1909.
Designed in the Gothic Revival style by the preeminent English expatriate architect Henry Vaughan, it served as a schoolhouse until the early 1970's. When it no longer served its intended purpose it was threatened with demolition. It averted that fate when its restoration was named by the Windham Bicentennial Commission as it's primary project. After the bicentennial, the Windham Historic Commission was created to continue the process. In 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
It serves a great example of repurposing of a landmark municipal building, while retaining it's integrity and generating revenue through it's use as an events venue.
ABOUT HENRY VAUGHAN
Born in England, Henry Vaughan (1845-1917) immigrated to the United States in 1881. His first commission in that year was the Chapel for the Episcopal Sisters of Saint Margaret on Louisburg Square in Boston. The chapel is now part of the home of Teresa Heinz and Secretary of State John Kerry. Even though he practiced in the United States until his death in 1917, Vaughan's style remained very English. He did not adapt to other architectural styles of the time. "He was, in short an English architect who happened to work in America."
In addition to Searles School and Chapel, Vaughan's other commissions for Searles included the Methuen Organ Hall, the Methuen town offices, originally Searles High School and the Mary Frances Searles building at Bowdoin College. Some of his great commissions we not for Searles. They include the chapels at Groton and St. Paul's Schools, three chapels for the Cathedral of St. John the Devine in New York and early designs for Washington DC's National Cathedral.
For more information on Vaughan's commussions as well as his relationship with Searles please reference the Almighty Wall, The Architecture of Henry Vaughan published by MIT Press.