If These Walls Could Talk...

View of the Chapel and Ohio Historical Marker ca. 2020 (courtesy of Kayla Metzger)

According to Garfield's diary, he was scheduled to speak at the Congregational “Brick” Church, previously across the street from Union Chapel, in December of 1857. The invitation was rescinded due to the controversial nature of his speech, the topic of which is not known today. The Chapel was erected as a community response, with its deed stating, "To be used for literary, scientific, moral and religious purposes, and free for lectures upon all useful subjects, open and free for all denominations, but to be monopolized by no one or to the exclusion of anyone."

The Chapel would be a platform for numerous social reform movements, and is regarded as the “Cradle of Equal Suffrage” as it was used by politically active women’s groups, including nine women who cast their ballots illegally in an 1871 local election and became the first women to vote in the state of Ohio. Though these ballots were lost en route to the Board of Elections, the group of women remained dedicated to the cause. It hosted public lectures by prominent women suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony in 1879 and Harriet Taylor Upton in 1919.

Plaque on-site from the DAR-Lakewood Chapter and Newbury Memorial Association, ca. 1931 (courtesy of SNUC Trustees)

Today, the South Newbury Union Chapel Trustees carry on the legacy of the women and men who gathered, spoke, marched, and voted on the property for issues they believed in whole-heartedly through tours, programs, and community collaborations.

South Newbury Union Chapel was built in 1858 on land donated by Anson Mathews in South Newbury, Ohio. It was erected as a result of controversy regarding free speech with James A. Garfield, Principal of the Western Reserve Electric Institute (now Hiram College), who would later serve as the twentieth President of the United States.

James A. Garfield, Ca. 1870 (courtesy of Library of Congress)

It was also the meeting place of the Newbury Woman’s Suffrage and Political Club, founded January 4, 1874; the second such organization in Ohio and one of the earliest in the US. The Suffrage and Political Club planted the Centennial Oak on July 4, 1876 in commemoration of the U.S. Centennial, symbolizing the roots for change and the growth of equality.

Dr. Julia Porter Green, Harriet Taylor Upton, Frances Jennings Casement, and other guests and members of the Newbury Memorial Association march from the Chapel to the Centennial Oak down the street, ca. 1919 (courtesy of Ohio History Connection and Ohioana Library)

On August 23-24, 1919, at the Newbury Memorial Association commemoration of the Newbury Woman's Suffrage and Political Club, attendees marched from the Chapel to the historic Centennial Oak. Dr. Julia Porter Green was the only surviving charter member of the Suffrage and Political Club to attend the procession.

Dr. Julia Porter Green hangs a commemorative wreath on the Centennial Oak, ca. 1919 (courtesy of Ohio History Connection and Ohioana Library)

About the Organization

Our Mission

To preserve the South Newbury Union Chapel, and through educational programming, awaken public awareness about the nationally important events which occurred within its walls.

Our Vision

To inspire appreciation of the individual and collective strength of common women and men, and the deeds accomplished in the quest for freedom, education, and equality.


Preserve the South Newbury Union Chapel and enhance its appeal to visitors;

tell the story of how the Chapel's existence facilitated discussion on national topics, particularly women's rights;

and seek funding to maintain the Chapel and keep its legacy alive.

The Trustees

Left to right:

Carole Drabek

Bill Ward

Sandy Childs Woolf

South Newbury Union Chapel Trustees collaborated with Geauga Park District and Ohio History Connection (formerly Ohio Historical Society) to erect an Ohio Historical Marker on the property in 2010. The Chapel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Click here to read the South Newbury Union Chapel Ohio Historical Marker text in full