Boynton Chapel - A Norwegian Stave Church in Wisconsin


Initially constructed in 1934 and filled in with painted and carved details into the next decade, Boynton Chapel was the passion project of a wealthy Chicago couple on the grounds of Björklunden, a 325-acre forest plot of birch trees in which they owned a getaway home on the Lake Michigan side of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula.


Winifred Boynton bought the land with her first husband, Carleton Vail, in the mid-1920s. When Carleton died in a car crash, she inherited the forest home and returned to it frequently following a year spent in Europe. Remarried to Donald Boynton and inspired by traditional Norwegian stave churches, Winifred (a former professional singer who was by then going deaf) was the force behind the chapel project. When its basic structure was completed, she and Donald used it as a canvas for newfound artistic passions of painting and woodcarving, and the chapel's interior shows a clear progression in the skill of both over the seven years that the couple labored inside it.


The finished product includes, among recreations of religious scenes, depictions of the family's dogs, woodworking tools they used, and more. Upon completion, a bell was purchased for the structure's little tower (previously used in the Chicago World's Fair) and a small pump organ brought inside. Their lakefront forest property, bequeathed to Lawrence University, is now used for education and the chapel is open for docent-led tours on a donation basis during summertime.