Straining her eyes, Lieutenant Commander Alexa Forsyth Jenkins ’04, USN, sought a glint of gold.

As the Yard Patrol craft pulled closer to Annapolis, Jenkins was eager to embrace the new responsibilities, challenges and leadership opportunities afforded to her as a third-class midshipman.

“It all started with one very important tradition, the sight of the Naval Academy Chapel upon return from summer cruise,” Jenkins said. “Once a midshipman sees the golden cupola atop the dome, he or she is officially a youngster.”

Although there was no formal recognition of this tradition, Jenkins said she felt “joy in her heart” as the green-domed Naval Academy Chapel came into view. “I smiled from ear to ear,” she said. “Seeing the cupola solidified that despite my hardships, I would be able to start my youngster year at the school I adored.”

The Chapel dome has long been a navigation aid to mariners, and Blue Angels pilots who regularly perform during Commissioning Week.

Spotting a green-patinaed Naval Academy Chapel dome will no longer signal the end of youngster year at the Naval Academy—at least not for many years. This year, the symbolic end to the plebe experience will occur when a new copper dome comes into sight. A replacement for the 90-year-old copper dome is scheduled to be completed by late June just a few months before the Academy’s 175th anniversary.

The newly crafted copper panels for the Chapel dome will initially shine like a freshly minted penny. However, they will turn brown in a matter of weeks after being exposed to the elements. Copper begins the patina process when oxygen in the air interacts with metal atoms with water present. It will take up to 30 years before the replacement dome will regain its iconic green hue.

The dome replacement project was prompted by persistent leaks necessitating frequent repairs to the chapel’s roof. An $8.9 million repair project began on the dome in November 2018. In April 2019, the Academy announced the deterioration was significant enough that the entire dome would be replaced.

The Naval Academy Chapel was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. It serves the Brigade and alumni throughout their lives. The Chapel hosts worship services, performances and between 120-150 weddings per year. It also holds funeral services for alumni, with recent examples including Senator John S. McCain ’58, on 2 September 2018, and 20th Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James L. Holloway III ’43, USN (Ret.), on 18 December 2019.


Copper will be removed over a six- to eight-month period. Eight major “spines” formed the original dome, with six ribs between them. The current dome was installed in 1929.

Repurposing the Chapel dome’s copper began with removing one of the “spines” on 6 January. That copper strip was shipped to Northern Virginia, where forms were created to produce new replacement ribs. The salvaged copper was weighed and shipped to Warwick, RI, for storage and product production.

Although scaffolding remains around the Chapel dome and work will continue for a few more months, the Chapel remains open for weddings, visitors, performances and funerals.

Annapolis’ skyline will be altered for at least the next two decades as the iconic Chapel dome slowly regains its patina green complexion. Members of the Class of 2023 will be the first to usher in the tradition of looking for a brown dome upon their return to the Yard from their youngster cruise.

Although this is major aesthetic change to the Academy, it’s just the latest for the Chapel. The first Chapel opened in 1854. That structure cost $3,000 to build and was located near where the Tecumseh statue stands now. That Chapel held its first graduation on 10 June 1854.

By 1868, another Chapel was constructed at the site where Buchanan House, the Superintendent’s quarters, are today. The current Chapel was dedicated on 28 May 1908. It cost about $400,000 and was designed by Ernest Flagg, who also designed the core of today’s Naval Academy Yard. The Naval Academy Chapel’s dome was inspired by the Beaux-Arts architecture featured at the Hotel des Invalides, home to Napoleon’s crypt in Paris.

Flagg initially envisioned gilt copper covering the dome, but that proved too costly. Terra cotta was substituted with baroque ornaments. Flagg also planned for the Chapel to be built with granite. Instead, concrete reinforced with steel and infilled with brick was used.

From the beginning, the dome was prone to leaking. The terra cotta absorbed moisture, and in 1928, it was removed after a 15-pound chunk fell inside the sanctuary. In 1929, copper was installed on the dome. Repairs and renovations continued throughout the next century, including a $3 million restoration of the Chapel’s stained glass windows in the late 1990s.

While the Yard’s skyline is changing, the symbolism of spotting the dome and gold cupola—which will remain after the new copper is installed—will endure, said Lieutenant Commander Jenkins. Opportunities for continued growth and leadership await youngsters returning from their first summer cruise.

“[It is] a beacon reminder that they survived their first year and have the privilege to return and lead,” Jenkins said. “I hope the plebes searching for the gold on the horizon start their own new chapters.”


As the Naval Academy Chapel undergoes a transformative renovation, alumni will have a chance to obtain their own piece of the historic structure’s copper dome while simultaneously supporting the Academy.

The Chapel’s iconic green copper dome started being removed on 6 January. Replacement sheets of copper are scheduled to be installed by the end of June. In the meantime, Herff Jones, a 100-year-old firm specializing in class rings and academic keepsakes, was chosen through a competitive bidding process by the Alumni Association to create heirlooms forged from the salvaged copper.

The keepsakes—designed and manufactured in the United States—will be available for purchase online and through phone orders in the coming weeks. The items will also be sold on-site at select special events. Proceeds will be donated to the Academy as margin of excellence funding.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to not only obtain heirlooms that can be handed down over the generations but also advance our mission to help sustain the margin of excellence for future generations of midshipmen,” said Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation President and CEO Byron Marchant ’78.

The project is designed to give alumni opportunities to retain a piece of the historic dome while spreading the story of the Chapel’s history. Heirlooms will come with educational literature about the Chapel’s history.

“By repurposing the original copper and incorporating it into unique keepsakes that can be handed down from one generation to the next, we are preserving an important part of our rich Naval Academy history,” said Admiral Samuel J. Locklear ’77, USN (Ret.), chair of the Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Board of Trustees. “This initiative aligns perfectly with the Alumni Association’s mission to perpetuate the Academy’s history, traditions and memories.”

Each item crafted by Herff Jones with the original copper will come with a certificate of authenticity. Herff Jones will donate 55 percent of proceeds to the Naval Academy Foundation, which in turn, will transfer those funds to the Superintendent’s discretionary fund. The discretionary fund is used to cover the cost of emerging needs in advance of or in excess of government appropriations.

Source: March 2020 Shipmate