In New York’s Finger Lakes, an overlooked old church

The Garrett Memorial Chapel overlooks Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
The Garrett Memorial Chapel overlooks Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. | Dennis Lennox

Most of the visitors to New York’s Finger Lakes come for world-class lakes and spectacular wines.

Many undoubtedly overlook a historic church tucked away among farmhouses, vineyards and cottages on Bluff Point, which divides Keuka Lake — the third-largest of the 11 glacial lakes that make up the Finger Lakes region — into two branches and gives the lake its distinctive Y-shape.

Designed by architect Mortimer Freehof and built between 1930 and 1931, the Garrett Memorial Chapel was commissioned by Paul and Evelyn Garrett in memory of their fourth son, Charles, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 26.

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Paul Garrett, an Episcopalian by confession who claimed to be descended from Jamestown colonists, ran Garrett and Co., a wine company that had its roots in North Carolina but operated vineyards in and around the Finger Lakes before, during and after Prohibition. Garrett and Co.’s marquee brand carried the name of Virginia Dare, the first English birth in the New World.

Freehof’s design is simple but striking, not least because of its setting above the east branch of Keuka Lake.

The granite walls add a rustic flare to what has been called Norman architecture even though the windows feature a pointed arch, the telltale sign of Gothic. Thus, it’s a rather late example of Gothic revival. Meanwhile, the interior is renowned for its 10 stained-glass windows depicting the life and ministry of Christ by Frederick Wilson, the one-time head of ecclesiastical art at Tiffany Studios.

Describing the chapel, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001, Paul Garrett wrote shortly after its construction: “Built of rugged Pennsylvania seam-faced granite, on the solid rock foundations of Bluff Point, it should stand to see another 2,000 years, or even until the era of Christianity has reached its five thousandth year.”

With a couple exceptions — namely the cast stone decorative details and steel-encased concrete beams — the chapel could be mistaken for a medieval church that one might find on travels somewhere on the backroads of France or England.

The chapel hosts a seasonal worshiping community that is nondenominational mainline Protestant in matters of doctrine and practice but is otherwise under the care of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, a see based about 60 miles away in its namesake city.

Scheduled preachers during the Sunday services this summer are the Rev. Anne Waasdorp (July 3), the Rev. Joy Bergfalk (July 10), the Rev. Eric Detar (July 17), the Rev. Peter Peters (July 31), the Rev. Kit Tobin (Aug. 7), the Rev. Michael Hartney (Aug. 14), the Rev. James Gerling (Aug. 21), the Very Rev. Troy Preston (Aug. 28) and the Right Rev. Stephen Lane, the Episcopal provisional bishop of Rochester and formerly bishop of Maine (Sept. 4). All services begin at 9 a.m.

If you go

While the grounds of Garrett Memorial Chapel are open daily, the interior can only be accessed outside Sunday services on Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For navigation devices, use the address 5251 Skyline Dr., Penn Yann, N.Y. 14527.

Stay at either the Best Western Plus in Hammondsport or the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel overlooking Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen.

Besides Rochester, the closest major cities are Syracuse (83 miles), Buffalo (122 miles) and Ithaca (60 miles).

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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