Constructing a Unique Wooden Chapel on a Connecticut Farm
By Olivia Eaker, Wood-Mizer
“I've been a builder for 40 years and have built a lot of different things over the years. But I think this chapel is the best thing I've ever done,” says Bill Finnegan, a farm owner in Connecticut and one of those involved in creating the unique Trinity Knot Chapel.
About ten years ago, Bill Finnegan and his wife Amy Finnegan purchased an 18-acre (7-hectare) farm in New Milford, Connecticut. “The original Finnegan's Farm belongs to Amy's family in Ireland. So, we call ours Finnegan’s Farm, West,” Bill laughs.
The area used to be completely forested, so over time, Bill cleared it and turned it into an organic farm. At the same time, he built up a certain amount of logs. “I don’t like to throw away good wood,” Bill admits.
Inspiration struck Bill and Amy while they were traveling in Iceland. Being farmers themselves, they are interested in everything related to farm life in other places.
Curious, they began asking locals about this tradition and learned that since the island's rural population is widely spread and neighboring farmsteads are located at a considerable distance, it is practical for farmers to build a place of worship right there on each farm.
“This inspired us incredibly!” says Bill. “We decided to build a small chapel on our farm as a place to thank God for our blessings!”
Returning to Connecticut, they shared the idea with their friend Jon Scott, who lives about an hour's drive from their farm. Jon was immediately involved and soon arrived at the farm with his Wood-Mizer LT40WIDE portable sawmill to begin the project!
In just three days, they milled a small log pile into the required sizes of lumber, including Northern white ash, black cherry, and hemlock.
“Of course, we had to tinker with the cherry wood,” Bill admits.
Several years ago, while clearing out a riding arena, Bill and Jon cut down several dozen cherry trees on the property. “The fact is that cherry leaves contain chemicals that can poison horses and cows,” explains Bill.
Anyone who has ever milled cherry trees knows how difficult it is. Cherry trunks are dense and incredibly curved. To mill such a tree, you must have excellent skills and a high-quality sawmill. Luckily, Jon had both! Their reward was exceptionally durable and beautifully textured cherry wood intended for the structural elements of the chapel.
“The cherry was particularly challenging, as the trees are notoriously twisted, and we needed 4" x 6" (100 x 150 mm) and 4" x 4" (100 x 100 mm) beams, along with 2" x 4"s (50 x 100 mm) for the plates. Some beams featuring wains are incorporated into the structure as they don’t affect the strength. Moreover, they add to the rustic appearance Bill was hoping for,” Jon explains.
“I admit, we wouldn't have been able to complete the chapel project if it weren't for my Wood-Mizer,” Jon says.
They neatly stacked lumber and left it outdoors to air dry for about a year. Two experienced carpenters, Scott Keller and Kevin Parsons, joined Bill in constructing the chapel, which took them about four months to complete. They also decided to use a thatched roof for the chapel as a nod to Amy and Bill's Irish heritage.
“We once figured that the three of us had a combined 135 years of carpentry experience,” Bill laughs.
Now we can see the Trinity Knot Chapel's open structure, in which the primary posts and beams, the steeple, and the wall supports are all milled from cherry, the horizontal supports and siding are white ash, and the flooring is hickory.
“The only material that I didn't mill on the Wood-Mizer was the hemlock tongue and groove boards we used for the ceiling,” says Jon. “I didn’t have a Wood-Mizer four-sided planer/moulder to create the tongue and grooves. I do now!”
The chapel's antique glass windows were reclaimed from the Tiffany Estate in Greenwich, CT, and they obtained a brass bell, cast in 1820 in Troy, NY, from a bell restorer in Michigan.
Overall, the farm chapel looks terrific. “Unusual and unique” is the most common response from those who visit the farm, amazed by the design and skills of the builders. The Trinity Knot Chapel is a great place to pray and meditate, to slow down and rest, or to think about an exciting new project.
“We already have a wedding planned for the Trinity Knot Chapel,” Bill says proudly. “I think that will be the first of many.”
Amy and Bill's vow renewal was the first ceremony at the chapel. BIll's father, who is a 93 year old pastor, consecrated the chapel and presided over their vow renewal.