King Chapel, Cornell College

My daughter Sarah decided at the eleventh hour to “try out” for the Marion High School tennis team (I use the term “try out” loosely–anybody who shows up gets to play!).  Her first match was against Mt. Vernon High School’s team, which hosts its matches at the courts in lovely Cornell College.

If you’ve never been to Mt. Vernon, Iowa, and toured the sacred grounds of Cornell College, you’re missing something special.  Cornell is one of just two colleges in the country whose entire campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Eight of its buildings originated in the 1800’s.  Of all these treasures, King Chapel towers above the rest.  It is built with locally-quarried dolomitic limestone.  It’s clock tower rises 130 feet high and can be seen from miles away.

Michele and I sat in our car and waited for Sarah’s tennis match to begin.  We had never been to a tennis match, so we had no idea when she would play.  Sarah said to be there at 4 o’clock, so there we were.  As it turns out, she didn’t actually play until about 6:30.  In the meantime, I grabbed my pad of paper and pencil and sketched King Chapel from the driver’s seat of our 4Runner.

When I started sketching, I didn’t know much about the chapel–not even what it was called.  I just knew it looked majestic and beautiful.  A quick google search uncovered some pretty interesting facts.

Construction on King Chapel began in 1876, but after one month, the contractor went bankrupt and skipped town, leaving the college high and dry.  The college had to be mortgaged to pay off the bills.  The faculty and citizens of the town gave out of their own salaries to help out and by 1882, the college was free of debt and ready to finish the building.

The same year, the main auditorium was first used.  It seats up to 800 people.  It features a Moller organ with 3,800 pipes.  Daily bells chime throughout the week.  In 1940, the chapel was named after William Fletcher King, Cornell’s president from 1863-1908.  For more information, see

If you’re in eastern Iowa, be sure to take an afternoon and visit Mt. Vernon and Cornell College.  It’s amazing.  Cap it off by enjoying the eating establishments in the downtown area.






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