Tougaloo College
Woodworth Chapel

The Woodworth Chapel stands at the center of the historic Tougaloo College campus located on the northern edge of Jackson, Mississippi. The Chapel holds important architectural and historical significance not only for the college but for the state of Mississippi as well. Architecturally, the Chapel is an excellent example of a Queen Anne style religious building, one  of few such buildings in the state. Its steeply pitched roofs, asymmetrically placed tower, patterned wood wall shingles, and rough brick create a lively massing with variations in material and texture. Its dark interior, detailed entirely in wood, creates an intimate and impressive space. Since its construction in 1901, the Chapel’s beauty has been widely recognized by visitors and local residents.

More important, however, than its architectural beauty, is the role the Chapel has played in the life of the college, community and state. Constructed in 1901 facing the antebellum John W. Boddie House across the open lawn of the campus core, Woodworth Chapel marked the physical center of the Tougaloo campus and established what has remained the strongest formal relationship evident among the campus buildings. The Chapel also formed the spiritual center of the college and the surrounding community. For thousands of Tougaloo students who attended Wednesday and Sunday services, the Chapel became an important part of their weekly pattern of life. For many members of the Tougaloo community living around the college, the Chapel served as a church home.

The Chapel has also played an important part in events that influenced the state and nation. Many prominent state and national leaders such as Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from the Chapel’s pulpit. Especially during the Civil Rights struggle, when Tougaloo College served as a refuge and an organizational focus for the movement, the Chapel came to be recognized as the central gathering place in Mississippi for those working to secure equal rights for African Americans.


Over the years, soil movement, structural inadequacies and deferred maintenance led to the Chapel’s extreme deterioration. In the late 1970’s brick falling from the two gable end walls led to another structural analysis and a declaration that the building was unsafe for use. Two steel towers were constructed to support the gable end walls and the building continued in use until the mid 1980’s when it was closed. The building’s complex roof form led to many leaks, which became worse while the Chapel sat unused. Around this time the top of the tower was destroyed during a wind storm.
The rehabilitation of the Woodworth Chapel was several years in coming to fruition. Throughout the 1990’s Tougaloo College worked with the National Park Service to list the campus core as a historic district and to begin planning for the rehabilitation of its historic buildings. In 1998 funding was earmarked for the Chapel through the National Park Service’s Historically Black College and University Initiative.

The rehabilitation of the Woodworth Chapel was several years in coming to fruition. Throughout the 1990’s Tougaloo College worked with the National Park Service to list the campus core as a historic district and to begin planning for the rehabilitation of its historic buildings. In 1998 funding was earmarked for the Chapel through the National Park Service’s Historically Black College and University Initiative.


While the contractor began stabilization and selective demolition work, the architects documented the building through measured drawings and extensive photography while researching its history in the College’s archives. Throughout the course of the work, the architectural team stayed just ahead of the contractor, providing the drawings and specifications required to guide the work. Most importantly, all parties met frequently on site, often four or five times a week, to observe field conditions and discuss alternative construction methods.


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