GEORGE P. DION – Many monuments to the artistic and architectural skill of George P. Dion engage the eye in Chicopee and vicinity. He has been closely identified with the various phases of building operations, inclusive of architecture, in his native city and elsewhere for more than forty years, and he takes rank as the oldest architect in point of, number of years of practice in Chicopee. He has attained not a little renown as the designer of many important structures in this section, chief among them, perhaps, in point of beauty, type and usefulness, being the new Church of the Assumption (Catholic), built at a cost of $250,000, and which was opened to the members of the parish on Easter morning, 1925. This edifice, situated on one of the most commanding sites in Chicopee, is declared by contemporaries of Mr. Dion to be the crowning achievement of his career as an architect. That this testimonial is correct may be gathered from a description given herewith of the church edifice itself.
Born in Chicopee, Massachusetts, January 1, 1871, George P. Dion is the son of Isadore and Delia (Dubour) Dion His father a carriage maker and wheelwright, now deceased, was of French descent and born in St Pie, Canada. His mother, now also deceased, was born in St. Hyacinthe, Canada. The son, George P. attended public and private schools of his native city and supplemented his studies there with a course in the International Correspondence School. Upon leaving school he learned the trade of carpentry and the building construction business which he followed in Chicopee until 1905, when he began to engage in business on his own account In 1910 he added the practice of the profession of architecture. Aside from the Church of the Assumption, notable examples of Mr. Dion’s skill are the public school, Chicopee Falls; the Belcher School, $115,000; the Polish National Association club house, $115,000, which was completed in four months; also parochial school for St. Stanislaus Catholic Association (Polish), of Chicopee, at a cost of $185,000; and a large number of important business buildings, ranging in cost from $15,000 to $100,000 each and dwelling houses of excellent design and finish.
The new Church of the Assumption, said to be one of the most beautiful edifices of worship in New England, replaces the old wooden church that stood on Front Street, and which was destroyed by fire in 1912. The present edifice stands on the brow of the Springfield Street hill, on land which once belonged to the estate of the late Governor George D. Robinson. It is of the Italian Renaissance style. A professional interpretation of the most striking features and engaging details of the structure follows: A campanile towering eighty-five feet above the terraced porticos that lead to the interior, and which is dedicated to the soldier dead of the parish, is imposing in itself. But the true charm of the church is its interior. And of the interior, the altar, reaching from the floor of the sanctuary to the high-beamed ceiling is the work of master craftsmen. At its base it is Ionic in motif and fashioned from travatine, like the wainscoting in the sanctuary and the nave. The mensa tables and the portions on this level, made of Botochino marble, is a composite design of the Ionic and Corinthian of the upper, or clear, story of the altar. In a great panel above the tabernacle set above the mensa table is carved in beautiful relief the figure of Mary surrounded by Cherubim, depicting the “Assumption of the Virgin.” An intimate and familiar touch is found in this relief, from the design of the architect, George P. Dion, of Chicopee, in that the face of his granddaughter has been reproduced on one of the cherubim. Two columns and six pilasters capped with Corinthian capitals support the upper structure. Set in deep niches and shown in their full relief by hidden lights are two statues of Pietra Chiara marble flanking the columns. The panel of the “Assumption of the Virgin” is done in three-quarter relief on the same marble. Hidden lights in the ceiling of the sanctuary reveal the altar in its full glory. Unlike the customary design, it is built as an integral part of the rear wall of the church. It was constructed in Italy, and a year and a half was consumed in its building and in the carving of its panels. Besides the panel of the “Assumption of the Virgin” in the upper portions, the altar is surmounted by a second panel of the “Coronation of the Virgin.” Beneath the mensa table is the relief of the Agnus Dei. The reliefs of the two panels in the altar are copies of the paintings by Murillo. The fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, which are located about the peristyle formed in the nave by supporting columns which reach from the floor to the ceiling, are also reliefs of painting by Murillo. The reliefs of Stations of the Cross are also copies of his works. These reliefs are given an ivory finish and flooded with light from hidden sources, as are the carvings of the stations. In the sanctuary, the portions of the wall above the wainscoting of travatine, is a panel of gold-leaf design, mosaic-like in its treatment, which reaches about the semicircular walls. Back of these walls, on either side of the altar are the sacristies, one for the acolytes and their robes and the other for the priests, their robes and the altar decorations. The whole treatment of decorative nature in the nave is of blends of varying shades of cream. Overhead, the ceiling is beamed and its simplicity provides a harmonious background for the ornate capitals of the columns running in the peristyle. Running from the capitals, the ceiling is vaulted and the portion over the main body of the church, divided by the beamed portions, is tinted a pale summer blue, showing in faint contrast to the cream of the ceilings and the gold-leaf tips of the capitals of Ionic design. Above each column in the nave painted with gold leaf and in rich colors are the emblems of the Twelve Apostles stationed against the arched portion of the ceiling. In front, located in a balcony, is the organ and choir loft Here the design of the nave has been carried out without interruption. The loft is reached from the vestibule separated from the nave by three swinging doors upholstered in leather. The pews, numbering enough to seat eight hundred worshipers, are of quartered oak brought out in a golden finish. Separating the sanctuary from the nave is the altar rail of Botochino marble joining in bronze gates weighing nearly eight hundred pounds. The fireproof door to the tabernacle set in the altar is also of heavy bronze castings. The altars on either side of the main altar are dedicated to St. Joseph and St. Anne. Statues of these two saints, carved from a solid block of Pietra Chiara marble, are set in niches and flooded with indirect lighting. Upon entering the church from the broad terrace before the portico, a corridor in the vestibule leads to the memorial chapel beneath the campanile dedicated to the soldier dead of the World War. The chapel contains a miniature altar, above which, on the wall is a picture of Joan of Arc, the patron saint of the French soldier. This work is that of an Italian artist of Boston. On another wall is the roster of the parish heroes who gave their lives in the World War, and below of those other members of the parish who fought in the war. The furnishings of the chapel are the gift of the Assumption Veterans of Foreign Wars. The mechanical details of the edifice are such as to form a fireproof and soundly constructed building. The framework is of steel, reinforced with concrete, with the exterior finish of sandstone trim against red tapestry brick The campanile, connected by a corridor to the main structure, is, however, a separate unit. The front facade of the church, supported by . four columns of Ionic design, contains a relief carved in three-quarter facings depicting again the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary.” Below the panel is the inscription in Latin, Sis Entranti Janua Ceoli (May this door be open to those who enter heaven). The pipe organ is said to be one of the finest voiced instruments in a New England church. Later a full set of chimes covering two octaves can be added to the organ keyboard. The campanile has been so designed that the chimes may be installed in a bell vault. Rev. Frederick Bonneville has been pastor of the church for thirty-three years. The parish embraces about eight hundred and fifty families.
Mr. Dion, whose genius made possible the splendidly executed commission of designing the above church and having oversight of its construction, is a Republican in his political persuasion, and has served the city of Chicopee as alderman-at-large for two years. He is a member of the Chicopee Board of Trade, the Western Massachusetts Engineering Society, and the Kiwanis Club of Chicopee. His religious connection is with the Catholic Church of Chicopee.
Mr. Dion married, September 11, 1894, at Chicopee, Delia DeLisle, born April 5, 1872, in Chicopee, the daughter of Frank DeLisle, a native of Canada, and Sarah (Latour) DeLisle, a native of Vermont. Their children are:
- Walter Frank, born December 15, 1895, now a draftsman in association with his father.
- Edna Georgiana, born April 21, 1897, married Earle E. Burns, and they are the parents of one child.
- Mary Edna, whose picture appears in relief upon the altar panel.