In the mid 1920s, William Jewell College announced that a chapel was needed on campus. Mrs. Elizabeth Price Johnson, a Kansas City resident, heard about the construction plans and offered the college funds. Part of the agreement included naming the new chapel after her great grandfather, Rev. John Gano, and permanently displaying a painting of him baptizing George Washington in the chapel.
Construction on the classical building was completed in 1926. Built on a solid foundation of blue limestone, there is a basement and two floors. In 1999, an assembly room and the Walter Pope & Blanche Binns steeple were added on the east side. The original stained glass windows in the Thomas and Virginia Fields Convocation Center were designed by long time professor J.E. Davis. Bearing the college seal and motto, Deo Fisus Labora, they depict the life of Christ.
The namesake of the chapel, Rev. John Gano, was born in New Jersey in 1727. He served as a Baptist minister in New Jersey and New York and worked his way down the east coast as an evangelist. He was George Washington’s chaplain during the Revolutionary War when he earned the title “the Fighting Chaplain”. It was during this time with Washington that some believe John Gano baptized George Washington by immersion. There are an equal number of historians who do not believe it happened, but this issue sparked a national debate in the 1930s after an article appeared in TIME Magazine discussing this question. The painting depicting the baptism still brings visitors to the campus from around the country.
In 1996, another descendant of Gano donated a sword to the college that had been passed down through the family. The sword had been given to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington in return gave it to Gano. Both the painting and the sword are on display in the chapel.
Major renovations were completed in November 2000. This included the addition of the Assembly Room and the Steeple, which holds the Carolyne Hester Carillons. The Carillons chime every quarter hour for the campus and Liberty community in memory of Mrs. Carolyne Hester, who served as a resident director in Melrose Hall and whose husband taught religion at Jewell from 1926 to 1957. The auditorium seats more than 800 persons.
Quimby Pipe Organ Opus 55
A long held dream of William Jewell College was realized in 2002 with the installation of a new pipe organ in John Gano Memorial Chapel. The organ is a 55 rank, three-manual-and-pedal pipe organ. It was constructed by the Quimby Pipe Organ Company, Warrensburg, Mo. The pipe organ was made possible through the generosity of many donors, including a major gift from the Pillsbury Foundation. A memorial gift from the Quimby Pipe Organ Company honoring longtime Quimby employee, Stanley Sparrowhawk, allowed for expansion of the organ from 49 to 55 ranks