Chapel Car "Grace" | Accidentally Wes Anderson

Chapel Car “Grace”

Accidentally Wes Anderson - Chapel Car Enlarge

Green Lake, Wisconsin | C.1915

Photo Credit: Ryan Schulz

For the faithful in the late 19th-century American West, church services were sometimes found on wheels. Fueled by the promise of economic opportunity, settlers took to the West and Christian denominations saw a new way to spread their message – by Rail. Baptist, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic organizations used custom-made railroad cars to provide religious services for railroad travelers. Chapel Car Grace was one of seven cars that operated for the American Baptist Publication Society, and the last Baptist chapel car built in 1915.

Inspired by chapel cars seen on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Episcopal Bishop William David Walker of North Dakota sought to create a car that he could use to conduct his services on the railway. After raising $3,000 – and receiving a large donation from New York Central Railroad President Cornelius Vanderbilt – the first chapel car was built in 1890. Designed to provide space for both religious services and living quarters for missionaries, these cars were fitted out as actual churches complete with altars, pews, and even stained glass windows.

Donated by the Conaway family in memory of their daughter Grace, the Chapel Car Grace possessed a unique design. Built by the Barney & Smith Car Company, the Chapel Car was constructed of steel and had uniquely designed Gothic arches on the interior to provide a more church-like setting.

Upon its completion, Chapel Car Grace was displayed at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Fransisco. Soon after, it embarked on routes through California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. After 33 years in service, the Chapel Car took its final journey in 1948, and was placed on permanent display at the American Baptist Assembly in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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