Historic Structures

St. Katherine's Episcopal Chapel, Williamston Township Michigan

Date added: May 2, 2011 Categories: Michigan Church Gothic Revival

John Harris Forster was a pioneer, explorer, miner, and engineer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Early in his career he was employed by the government as a surveyor on the Great Lakes and the Mexican borders. In 1860 he became superintendent of the important Pewabic and Franklin copper mines in Houghton County. Forster, in 1864-65, represented the entire Upper Peninsula in the Michigan Senate. He returned to the Upper Peninsula to become an agent for the Sheldon and Columbian Copper Company and represented the Douglas Mine, About 1870 he was appointed chief engineer for the Portage Lake-Lake Superior Ship Canal then being built to bisect to Keweenaw Peninsula. In 1874 Forster retired to his dairy farm christened "Springbrook" near Williamston. In 1891-92 he was president of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Forster died in 1894. A photographic copy of the following letter from Forster to the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Michigan hangs in St. Katherine's Chapel.

John H. Forster
Spring - Brook Farm
Jersey Cattle and Dairy
Williamston, Mich., April 3 1888

Whereas I, John Harris Forster, acting in the fear and under the protection of Almighty God, have erected a House of Worship at Spring-brook Farm, in the Township of Williamston [sic], in the County of Ingham, and State of Michigan, and whereas it is my wish and purpose to devote the same to the service of religion, according to the rites and usages of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United State of America, & in the Diocese of Michigan: now therefore, I do humbly request the Right Reverend Samuel S. Harris, D.D.L.L.D. Bishop of Michigan, to take the said House of Workshop under his Spiritual Jurisdiction ss Bishop aforesaid, and that of his Successors in office, and to consecrate it to the Service of Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, under the name of St. Katherine's Chapel, and thereby to separate it from all unhallowed, worldly & common uses, and dedicate it to the holy purposes above mentioned, according to the form and manner provided by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. In testimony whereof I have herewith set my hand this third day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty eight.
[signed] John Harris Forster

Overall dimensions, layout, and shape: Wood frame, one story, rectangular plan with vestibule projecting from the south west end and a sacristy attached to east end. 21' - 3 1/2" x 36' - 2 1/2", with a vestibule 8' - 4" by 7' - 9", and a sacristy addition 8' - 1" X 12' - 2". The orientation is traditional the altar being at the east end. Three bays by one bay.

Walls are covered on the exterior with 1" X 12" vertical boards, joints being covered by 2 l/4"-wide moulded battens. These extend into the east gables. South and west gables are faced with wood shingles, exposed 6"; the butts are shaped polygonally (3 straight edges) to give virtually an imbricated pattern. Walls and trim are painted white.

On the south elevation, at the west end, is a projecting gabled vestibule with the entrance door centered on its south side.

Over the doorway is a hood consisting of an open gable supported on triangular brackets-one at each side. In the gable, a tie connects the ends of the brackets, supporting a Latin Cross at the center.

The door is double, each leaf being 2' 0" X 9' - 0" X 2". In the lower part are twin vertical panels, above which, opposite the knob, is a single horizontal panel; above this is a single tall panel with trefoil-arched head, on the exterior (rectangular on the interior face). Exterior panels are plain, except for chamfering; on the inside they are moulded and have raised fields. At the head of the door is a glazed triangular panel which fills the gable of the hood.

Interior: The main portion of the building forms the chapel proper; it is rectangular, with pews on either side of a central aisle. At the east end the floor is elevated two steps; there is a chancel rail. A modern altar is placed against the east wall, A door at the south end of the east wall leads into the sacristy. A double doorway at the west end of the south wall leads into the vestibule.

Pews are made of yellow pine. The ends are shaped in silhouette, the backs are of vertical matched and beaded boards, and the seats of similar boards. The top of the backrest and the arms at the ends are coped with rounded oak members.

The chancel rail is divided; each half is supported on four "balusters" shaped by sawing a 2" plank. The top (and only) rail resembles a coping; it has a cavetto at the bottom, a fascia with a wash, and a torus on the top at the center of the rail. The steps at the railing have no nosing.

About 1945 a reredos with three oak arches was placed at the center of the east wall, and an oak altar with three quatrefoil panels on the fact set against it. A lectern also appears to date from the same time as these additions. These elements, although readily distinguished from the original work in the chapel, are of compatible design, only more pretentious.

This site originally formed a part of farm land owned by the Mullett and Forster families for whom the chapel was built. The ground is nearly level. The chapel is located on the east side of Meridian Road (which divides the State of Michigan into east and west halves) and is near the road. There is a small family cemetery just south of the chapel.

Northeast of the chapel is a modern parish building. Southeast of the chapel is a church built in 1962; there is a driveway, with turn-around circle, between them. The church (St. Katherine's Episcopal Church) occupies the site of the John H. Forster House, which was demolished to make way for it.