In 2002, Westminster Park Residents Randy and Mary Hannah Arnot envisioned a chapel for Westminster Park and the greater River community. They commissioned neighbor and architect Rick Tague to draw up designs for this dream.
The Arnot’s hoped the Chapel would become a non-denominational place for visitors to pause, pray, meet, meditate, and celebrate our River lives. The Chapel’s mission was to welcome all the greater River community, and indeed that vision has come true. Daughter Genie once wrote: “The Chapel was designed to be a simple gift, calling up the verse from the Shaker Song: T’is the gift to be loved, and that love to return.”
Construction: The Chapel was constructed by Garlock & Sons. Many local artisans contributed their talents to the effort. The foundation is cobblestone mined from our local quarry. The caned benches were crafted by Westminster Park Resident Thom Inglehart. Caning was done by artisan Francis Wagner.
Gardens: The grounds were designed by Robin Hoffman, a local Landscape Architect and Associate Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She envisioned a natural woodland setting featuring native plants. Robin has continued to oversee the plantings and the stone work on the property.
Shortly after the Chapel was built, Jennifer Wardell planted 200 ferns on the property. Work is continuing on developing paths to view the artwork around the property. Signage may come in the future.
The Native American statue standing at the front of the Chapel was carved by Carmen D’Avino from a red oak found on his property. I remember at the Chapel dedication service, Randy explained his wish for this to be a place of reverence for all . . . each worshiping in his own way. Therefore, choosing a specific religious symbol might favor one religion over another. A friend of his suggested considering a Native American to represent those who inhabited these islands before our present development. Randy was quoted as saying, “The subtle idea here is to worship your god.”
The Last Embrace: a bronze casting by Carmen D’Avino, in remembrance of his wife, Helena.
The Baptismal Font was created by son John Arnot, a potter, and seated in an antique washstand.
Windows: The Window Panes are etched memorials to deceased loved ones in the River community. Window designs are available through the Chapel board for a donation of $50. Panes are engraved by Patsy Sweet of Patsy’s Custom Glass Engraving.
Log: Guests are welcome to sign the Log in the Chapel. We cherish the messages and remembrances of visits there.
Library: A collection of books line the Chapel walls. The vision is to house books on River Art, River lore, and Religious topics.
Dedication services for the Westminster Park Chapel were held on June 16, 2002. The Chapel was dedicated to the Honor of Helena and Carmen D’Avino. The D’Avino’s, who had retired to Hammond, NY, were introduced to the Arnot’s by River Artist Edie Small. Carmen D’Avino had a distinguished career in painting and sculpture. He was a pioneer in animated short films, being nominated for two Academy Awards. D’Avino contributed pieces to Sesame Street and Electric Company television shows. He carved the Native American in the Chapel, as well as the statues on the Chapel grounds. Helena D’Avino served as a psychiatric social worker in Manhattan for thirty years.
The Statues on the Chapel Property: The Caretakers mark the far corner of the Chapel property. Carved by Carmen D’Avino to commemorate the love he shared with his wife. Note D’Avino’s artistic trademark: one shoe on; one shoe off.
Saint Francis and his animals by Carmen D’Avino. Carved from Vermont marble. The Prayer of Saint Francis is etched into a Chapel window facing the statue. A second pane explains the work.
The Mermaid graces the yard of the Rectory across the street.
Events: The Chapel is available for small gatherings to celebrate weddings, funerals, or baptisms. It is used for small group meetings, such as the Westminster Park Book Club. The local Plein Air Painters of the Thousand islands visited in 2019. Occasionally, there is a lecture of local interest held in the Chapel. The Chapel has been featured in an Art and Architecture Tour in Westminster Park. In the past, people gathered for a Christmas Eve Hymn Sing.
Many visitors seek The Chapel as a refuge for quiet meditation. Notable to me, are the gatherings when people need to find solace in times of disaster. One such event was held in September 2005, when the Arnot’s invited Park residents to attend a brief service offering prayers for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Extra chairs were set up, but it was standing room only crowd. A good will offering was taken for the American Red Cross.
Mailing list/Postcards: We maintain lists of Friends of the Chapel and we welcome you to join our group. There is usually one mailing per year in the month of December in the form of a postcard featuring the work of a local artist.
Donations are accepted, appreciated, and tax deductible.
The Chapel is open day and night, year round. All are welcome.
Westminster Park Chapel
P O Box 614
New York 13640
The author wishes to thank Mary Hannah and Genie Arnot for their contributions to the article.
© 2021, Linda Twichell, All rights reserved
Linda Lewis Twichell, a fifty-eight-year resident of Westminster Park, has collected historical information on the Westminster community since the 1970’s. Presently, her research focuses on the lives of the people who settled on this section of Wellesley Island in the last quarter of the 19th century, and the cottages that they built. A book of Westminster Park, its people, and their stories is in the works. Be sure to check out Linda’s other historical research published in previous issues of TI Life.
Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 7, July 2021, History, People, Places, Artists
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