Since its dedication in 1885 Rollins Chapel has served as the College's spiritual center, its physical arrangement being changed or modified as times warranted. Prior to its construction, services were held in a large room in Dartmouth Hall which was also used for classes lectures and special events.

Origins of the Chapel

In June, 1883, the Honorable Edward Ashton Rollins offered to give the College $30,000 for the erection of chapel on the condition that $60,000 would be raised for a library in Wilson Hall. Work began on the new chapel in June 1884. The building, which President Lord described as "Romanesque in general style with entrances under heavy round arches," was constructed of pink granite with red sandstone trimming. Its floor plan was in the form of a Greek cross, and it had a seating capacity of about 600. The architect was John L. Faxon of Boston.

Early Expansions

The continuous growth of the college soon necessitated an expanded seating capacity in the Chapel, and in 1908 the building was changed radically by moving the apse forty feet to the east. Four years later, in 1912, the College again expanded Rollins Chapel by extending the transepts twenty feet and increasing the seating capacity to 1179.

Steeple, Bells, and Organ

In 1903 the steeple of Rollins Chapel was dedicated. Its peal of three bells bearing the following mottos: the largest Vox clamantis in deserto; middle Laus Deo; smallest, Gloria on excelsis, was a gift of the Honorable William E. Barrett '80 of Boston, in memory of Chalmers Williams Stevens, BS '77, Thayer School '80.

An organ was installed in the Chapel in 1887 as a gift from Harold C. Bullard '84; it was subsequently enlarged by him, and in 1918 parts of that organ were incorporated into a new instrument donated by Frank E. Streeter, LLD '74, a Dartmouth Trustee. In 1963 the Streeter organ was replaced by the present Austin organ given by Basil F. Austin '31, a life long devotee of the design and construction of high-grade-pipe-organs.

Later Renovations

In 1965 Rollins Chapel was renovated. The interior was white washed from top to bottom in order to make the chapel feel more open and illuminated. The side arches were plastered in to form a sacristy and a choir robing room; a large metallic sculpture, The Ark by Judith Brown, was added to the chapel; and the floors were covered with rich blue carpeting. The seats were controversially turned around toward the rear apse of the chapel, which is now the front. According to the Reverend Richard Unsworth, then the Dean of the Tucker Foundation, the purpose of the renovation was to achieve a vibrant, stimulating place to be in: "to excite a relationship to the world rather than a retreat from it."

Due to erosion between the stone face and the structure behind it, the west wall was rebuilt in 1985. Each stone was taken down, numbered, and replaced in the same position after the structure was made sound.

As part of its hundredth year anniversary and in order to return it to a Romanesque style, the Chapel was again renovated in the winter of 1986. The interior was repainted in the original colors as were the ceiling beams. The blue carpeting was removed and hardwood floors put in, with patterned carpet runners in the aisles. The eastern-most arches on either side of the west end were opened to provide a better view of the round apse from the transepts. The Austin organ was also refurbished and given a thorough cleaning.

2022 Renovations

When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, the College was forced to close all spaces that posed a risk of COVID transmission.  Rollins Chapel was one of those spaces since it lacked a mechanical ventilation system or windows that open to provide outdoor air into the space.  This unfortunately meant that individual or group events could not safely take place in Rollins until now.  

In addition to addressing the ventilation issue in Rollins, the College also upgraded the heating system from steam to hot water to be much more energy efficient (and quiet).

During renovations to Rollins, the Hindu Temple was temporarily moved from Rollins to a beautiful space in Sudikoff Hall (Room 004) which allowed the whole Hindu community access to worship. 

Now that the work is completed, Rollins Chapel is once again a safe and quiet venue for individual and group devotional use as well as other appropriate College events.