Kirkpatrick Chapel was built in 1873 in memory of Sophia Astley Kirkpatrick of New Brunswick, New Jersey, wife of Littleton Kirkpatrick, trustee of Rutgers College from 1841–1859. Rutgers College was made a residuary legatee of her estate, and the chapel was funded by her gift of $61,054.57. This marked the first time in New Jersey history that an institution became heir to an estate.
The chapel was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, the great-great-grandson of Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, the first president of Rutgers College. Henry Janeway Hardenberg was at the beginning of what would become a successful career, and the building's details reflect his skills. The New Jersey Historic Trust notes that the chapel “is an excellent example of High Victorian Gothic ecclesiastical architecture…and the chapel’s stained glass windows contain some of the first opalescent and multicolored sheet glass manufactured in America.” Four of the chapel windows are from the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany and date back to the late 19th century.
The building was designed to accommodate both the chapel and the library of the college. The original chapel consisted of just four bays. Almost half of the building was the library. The reading room ran down the center of the building, flanked on either side by the book stacks. The library was active from ca. 1880 until approximately 1904 when Voorhees Hall was built. After the construction of Voorhees Hall, the library was moved there, and the partition wall was removed from Kirkpatrick, and the chapel was expanded.
For about the first 50 years of the chapel’s existence, it was used for daily worship services for the men of Rutgers College. As the years passed, the chapel was used less often for regular worship services and more for special events, such as lectures, programs, and classes.
At the time of the 150th anniversary of the college in 1916, the chapel was enlarged so that the whole interior could be available for the purpose of student worship. The architectural designs for these changes were made by the original architect, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh. The modifications included a new chancel, two properly designed organ chambers, and a new window, “Jesus, the Teacher of the Ages,” given by Henry Hardenbergh. The Hardenbergh family funded all these changes in the memory of Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, their great-great-grandfather and first president of Rutgers College.