Steeple collapses due to winds following fire St. Lawrence University's Gunnison Chapel in Canton
Monday, October 7, 2013 - 10:41 am

CANTON – A portion of a prominent steeple and bell tower at St. Lawrence University – already damaged from a Sunday fire – fell to the ground early this morning due to windy conditions.

Members of the campus Safety and Security staff were on site throughout the night monitoring Gunnison Memorial Chapel when it came down, campus officials report.

There were no injuries and the exterior of the chapel sustained minimal additional damage this morning, officials said.

Safety and security staff and members of the facilities staff remain on site.

Investigation revealed the fire stemmed from an electrical malfunction in the bell tower, college officials said

Canton, Morley, Rensselaer Falls, Potsdam, Gouverneur, West Potsdam, West Stockholm and Huevelton fire departments responded to the blaze shortly after 5 a.m.

Fire crews from Canton, Potsdam and Gouverneur were called specifically due to the need for ladder trucks due to the steeple’s height.

Roxanne Cliff, assistant director of Safety and Security, said she was making rounds a little after 5 a.m., when she and her associate noticed smoke coming from the steeple.

“We went in to investigate at 5:10 a.m. and noticed that the floor in the steeple was on fire,” she said. “That’s when I said ‘get out’ and we called the fire department.”

Gagnon said there had been concern about the bells in the Chapel’s steeple. The bells are held in place by a wooden beam, which he said had burned through. However, fire crews confirmed that the bells were safely resting on a concrete floor just below. Firefighters said the bells appeared to have escape any major damage.

A crane is expected to be used to inspect damage to the Chapel steeple. Classes, meanwhile, are scheduled to take place as normal, college officials said.

The south entrance to Richardson Hall will be closed but all other entrances will remain open.

Several services were scheduled Sunday in the Chapel, including a religious service, a regular Sunday service, and a gospel service as part of St. Lawrence’s Family Weekend activities. All services scheduled in the Chapel were canceled, said Joseph Tolliver, vice president and dean of student life.

TAUNY’s recognition of St. Lawrence University’s chapel bell ringers will take place in spite of the fire, but not at the chapel.

TAUNY will present the North Country Heritage Award to the bell ringers, along with the Wadhams Strawberry Festival and traditional dance fiddler Leon Boyea, at the Salute to North Country Legends Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Laurentian Room of Canton’s Best Western University Inn.

There will also be an informal presentation, “Chapel Bells: A Rich Tradition at St. Lawrence” by Christopher Kenney at 4:30 p.m. in Atwood Hall’s Hale Memorial Chapel on the St. Lawrence University campus. For more information visit

The Chapel was first opened in 1926. The bells range in diameter from 18 inches to four feet, the largest of which weighs a ton.