Constructed with funds from a gift by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Danforth of the Danforth Foundation of St. Louis, the nondenominational chapel occupies a picturesque site on the east bank of the Iowa River. The compact brick and wood-trim building was designed by University architect George Horner to recall St. John’s Methodist Episcopal Church (known as the Old Zimmermann Church), an 1874 pioneer church on Morse Road in northeast Johnson County. Diagonally oriented and set against a backdrop of sycamore and pine trees, Danforth Chapel’s site also conjures up the bucolic setting of St. John’s in the middle of campus.
Danforth Chapel has load-bearing masonry walls and simple brick detailing, most notably on the east façade. Inside, a plaque reads: “To aspire nobly, to live daringly, to serve humbly.” The dilapidated original had been spotted in the early 1930s by Rufus Fitzgerald, director of the School of Fine Arts at the time. Together with Grant Wood, who was then on the faculty, Fitzgerald studied the possibility of moving the church to campus, but that proved too costly. Funding to build a replica of the structure was also delayed, and Wood died long before construction could begin. The painter was to have provided murals for the interior, with the idea that all would be finished in time for the University’s centennial in 1947. Had the project been realized according to plan, it would have been a noteworthy testament to Wood’s Regionalist vision for contemporary American art.
The buildiing is accessible to persons with disabilities.