The Chapel in the Pines is treasured by many as a beautiful “Carpenter Gothic” style Victorian church.
The building had its origins in the growing desire by many late-19th century New Englanders to move away from the strictures of fundamentalist religion. Universalist Societies were providing a liberal alternative to rigidly conservative denominations. The Eastham Universalist Society was formed in August of 1889 and drew into its membership such prominent local citizens as Sea Captain Edward Penniman and the Knowles and Nickerson families. Stories about its founding include nightmares experienced by Captain Penniman’s daughter following fire-and-brimstone sermons at the Methodist church and the arrest of local fishermen for the “sin” of fishing on the Sabbath. The movement to establish a proper home for the new Society was on!
One of the Nickersons donated a plot of land, and Captain Penniman chaired the building committee. Under the direction of Elkany Hopkins many Society members contributed long hours to the construction of the small, graceful building with its gothic-style stained-glass windows, steeply pitched roof and steeple, and welcoming entry porch. Decorative features included Victorian cresting along the roof ridges outside and lace curtains and floral wallpaper inside. Completed in just five months, it was dedicated in January 1890 and originally called the Eastham Universalist Society. At the time of its construction, early photographs show both the Chapel and the adjacent town library standing on barren land.
Originally heavily forested, most of the area had been cleared for farming and to obtain wood for construction and fuel. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that enough reforestation had occurred for locals to refer to the Chapel as being “in the Pines” — the name by which it has been known ever since.
Whether by design or accident, the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary provides superb acoustics, praised by musicians as well as speakers. Since 1974, it has been the home of the First Encounter Coffeehouse hosting a wide variety of folk musicians and is known far and wide as one of the best spaces in which to perform. From time to time various other community groups make use of this welcoming space, and it has always been a popular site for weddings and memorial services.
At its May 2016 town meeting, the residents of Eastham awarded Nauset Fellowship Community Preservation funds for a major restoration of the Chapel. Construction will begin in September 2017.