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A Little Local History

St. Mary's School for Girls

An Architectural Treasure With So Much Local History...

       Built in 1881 and completed in 1888, St. Mary's Chapel was built to accompany St. Mary's School, traditional all-girls charm school where they centered triangular teachings around Education, Church, and Home. Often attended by wealthier Chicagoan daughters "for higher learning," its most local historical highlight is that it is said to be the charm school of American President Gerald Ford's late mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner Ford.

     This Nineteenth Century structure is a vertical Gothic style in design and is reminiscent of 13th Century Eastern Europe churches. These features are highlighted in its bold and romantic features such as original imported 10 foot hand painted glass widows and brilliant leaded stained glass windows, genuine over-head Tiffany Opalescent Chandelier Lamps, hand carved stone cloister pillars as well as an imported Marble, Alabaster & Caen Stone Altar. The architectural ceiling centerpiece was designed, engineered and assembled in Chicago, Illinois. It was then dissembled and brought to Knoxville to be installed into the Chapel as the masterpiece that we see today in its original grandeur.

      After a very colorful history, St. Mary's Chapel opened its doors for the last time in the late 1990's and has stayed vacant and fading for years... until now. St. Mary's Chapel & Events is proud to present the 133 year old Chapel is Newly Restored & Reopened for Event Rental!

Click Here for details on the history & meaning of each of the historic windows.

St. Mary's Charm School History

      "St. Mary's School, Knoxville was opened in April, 1868, in the building of the Ewing Female University, erected about ten years before. For lack of endowment, that institution had been compelled to discontinue its work, and the property was transferred to the Episcopal diocese of Illinois. Of the fifteen trustees, ten are appointed to represents the diocese of Illinois and five to represent Knox County. The Rev. Charles Leffingwell became the founder and rector of St. Mary's, Mrs. Leffingwell was matron for forty years; Miss Hitchcock was vice-principal for over twenty-five years. The school soon outgrew its limited accommodations, and at a cost of about $25,000 it was greatly improved and enlarged. The Hon. James Knox contributed nearly one-half the required amount.

     On January 4th, 1883, the building and contents were destroyed by fire. Within a month the school was reopened in the building of Ansgari College, in Knoxville, the few college students finding homes in private houses and reciting in the rooms of the old court house."


     "A history of this school should be prefaced by a sketch of another institution of learning, which stood on the same ground and of which St. Mary's was the outgrowth. In February, 1859, a charter was procured from the Legislature for the establishment of an institution of learning called the Ewing Female University of Knoxville. It was named in honor of an old resident of the city. A good, substantial building was erected, and the school was opened and was continued until 1867, when it was closed and the scheme abandoned. It had not seemed to meet the wants of the people, nor to fulfill the expectations that were warranted from the tone of its first introduction to the public. The stockholders of this institution, feeling the importance of having a suitable school for the education of young ladies, tendered this building to the Protestant Episcopal church of Illinois. their offer was accepted and preparations were immediately begun for the opening of a female school under new management.

     Dr. Charles W. Leffingwell was called to take charge of the new institution as Rector, and it may be truly said became the founder of St. Mary's School. It was opened April 12, 1868, after improving, rearranging and refitting the building. The property was then valued at $20, 000. Dr. Leffingwell began with three boarding and a few day pupils; the building was unattractive, and the institution in a degree unknown. it had yet to make a name and to this end it supporters labored bravely till it stood high among the people, distinguishing itself as a place of ,.earning education, but where their characters would be properly formed, their moral and religious training made a strong point, and where they would be as secure as under the parental roof. All this has been accomplished through the indefatigable zeal and energy of Dr. Leffingwell and his most estimable goodwife, and St. Mary's School, for the educating, refining, and thorough culture of young ladies, has no superior in the West."

"Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for they shall see God."

     "Within four years the school outgrew its accommodations, and received from the late James Knox $10,000 for the purpose of enlargement. In addition to this about $50,000 was expended in building and equipping the school. At the time of the destruction of the school-house with its contents by fire, Jan. 4, 1883, there were 90 boarders and 30 day pupils. The fire broke out about 2 o'clock in the morning, and people rushed to the building, but were too late to save anything or do more than assist in getting the pupils safely out and beyond the reach of danger. All escaped and only two of the pupils were injured, the latter by the giving way of the ladder down which they were descending. The loss by this fire was estimated at $100,000.

     St. Mary's School is an incorporated institution, under the control of a board of fifteen Trustees, representing the three Dioceses of Illinois and the city of Knoxville. The buildings and grounds of the school are valued at $100,000 and a large amount is invested for furniture, school apparatus and machinery for domestic purposes.

     Ascending the broad steps which lead to the grand entrance of the building, the visitor finds himself in a spacious porch. On entering, he is met by a spacious halls, broad staircases and lofty apartments. On the left are the library and reception room, on the right the office, and beyond that the Rector's study, and these are all so arranged, by means of large sliding doors, as to form one suite of apartments 112 feet long affording a grand opportunity for receptions and other gatherings? All the rooms are, without exception, airy, well-lighted, well-ventilated and exactly adapted to their respective uses. Handsome fresco work adorns the walls and ceilings of the halls, and of the public as well as some of the private rooms. 

     Returning to the entrance hall, the visitor ascends the broad steps of the grand staircase, which is built in a tower outside the main lines of the building. On the first landing he passes by painted windows, resplendent with roses and morning glories, and at the top of the second short flight finds himself opposite the "Bower," being a deep bay, forming a cozy boudoir, bright with plants and flowers."

      "The recreation hall is a large, cheerful and airy room, 75 feet long, adapted for roller skating and dancing, which, it is hardly necessary to say, are much in vogue after tea. The inevitable piano is there also, to add its ringing tones to the merry sounds of talk and song and laughter. On the same floor, and occupying the northeast angle, is the studio. In proximity to the studio is the magnificent study hall, 40x80 feet and 18 feet high. Adjoining the study hall, on the same floor are recitation rooms, toilet and laboratory.

     In the basement are located the dining room, kitchen, laundry, etc. some idea of the heating apparatus may be conveyed by the statement that there are four large boilers at work, night and day, sending steam through more than five miles of radiating pipes. Nearly 600 tons of coal are consumed during the year, and the entire building is kept at a pleasant temperature in the coldest weather.

     The aim of the Rector has been to provide the best advantages for intellectual training, combined with social culture and Christian influences. The exercises of the school are conducive to habits of order, promptness and self-reliance. The pupils are under the direction of the teachers in dress, habits, manners and conversation, as well as in their studies, Also to the health of the pupils the most careful attention is given. All are required to exercise in the open air and within doors. A skillful physician visits the school each day, and with experienced matrons, has constant care for the health of the household."

     "The household arrangements are homelike and pleasant. Pupils are received into the family and cared for as children, with kind attention to their comfort and happiness. Besides the daily association of pupils and teachers, there are special meetings on Friday and Saturday evenings for sewing, reading, conversation, music and other recreations.

     The grounds, which are located only a few hundred yards from the depot, embrace four acres. They are beautifully located, ample, artistically laid out, and adorned with flowers and shrubbery, giving the whole quite a luxurious and homelike aspect. In the center of these grounds the school building up rears its stately head. It is an imposing structure of gothic style of architecture, and was designed by Dr. Leffingwell, which accounts for its complete construction."


St. Mary's School​ for Girls


School Motto:

"Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for they shall see God."

School Colors:

Blue & White

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