Williston Northampton and Local History . . . Your History!

The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall (Click images to enlarge)

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new.

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading

An Intersession Gallery

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Alan Shaler’s cooking class, with Gwen Pullman and Barbara Sloan, 1979. (Click all images to enlarge.)

For twenty-one years, beginning in 1975, Williston Northampton culture was partially defined by the Winter Session, later called Intersession, program.  It was modeled on the January Term programs then popular in many colleges.  The “statement of purpose” in the prospectus for the first year read,

“During most of the academic year, the Williston Northampton School is primarily concerned with the very important task of giving its students the best in college preparatory academics.   This should and must be our primary task, but often this leaves little or no time for experimentation with new programs and different approaches to learning.  Thus, during the school year 1974-75, Williston Northampton has lengthened its overall school year and set aside 25 days in January during which the whole school community will concentrate on programs which tend to be extra-curricular during the bulk of the school year.”

A quilting workshop, 1991

“The emphasis during the Winter Session is on learning by doing.  The student will not just read about the Navajo Indians but he will actually go and live among them.  He will not just speak French in class but will speak it with and among Frenchmen in Cannes.  He will perform in a play; or sing in a chorus; or build a table; or learn to type; or serve senior citizens in the community; or work each day with mental patients; or observe criminal court proceedings; or … the list goes on and on.  Student and teacher will be active and involved.  The student will not be graded but will be expected to evaluate his own accomplishments at the end of the session, which evaluation together with a verbal evaluation of his work  by the teacher will be placed in his permanent file.”

Students at the Ming Tombs, Nanjing, China, 1982

One observes, alas, the use of gender-specific pronouns to describe a program at a school then in its fourth year of full coeducation.  But let us overlook that, for the moment; it is symptomatic of a cultural issue endemic to the school for more than a decade after the merger with Northampton School.  This has been discussed elsewhere.  (See the last part of “Northampton School for Girls – and After.”)  Better we should consider the ambitious nature of this fledgling program which, remarkably, achieved most of its goals and established a high standard in that very first year.

Bob Bagley assisting with wooden toy-making, 1991

Over the next few years the program would grow and evolve.  The range of some of the offerings is hinted at in excerpts from the annual catalog, reproduced at the bottom of this article.  Students were encouraged to try new things, new approaches to learning — and by the second decade, students were teaching some of the courses.  Faculty frequently taught their avocations, rather than their academic specialties: some of the offerings over the years included fine cooking with Alan Shaler (English), carpentry and toymaking from Bob Bagley (Math), wood carving with Ann Vanderburg (Math), home renovation with Stephen Seybolt (English) and Bob Couch (Math and Photography), music and architectural appreciation from Elizabeth Esler (Librarian), “Developing a Comic Character” with Stan Samuelson (Math),  investment from Robert Blanchette (French), figure skating with Harriet Tatro (Science). Continue reading

Going to Mount Tom (ca. 1870)

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Abner Davol, class of 1872

Mount Tom — the “great hill” that dominates Easthampton’s eastern skyline — has drawn Williston students since the school’s founding.  Abner Pardon Davol, class of 1872, was no exception.  Davol, a native of Fall River, Mass., entered Williston Seminary in September, 1869, enrolled in the Scientific curriculum.  He graduated in 1872.

Student academic work from the mid-19th century is relatively rare.  But somehow Abner’s essay, “Going to Mt. Tom,” survives in the Williston Northampton Archives.  The manuscript, on both sides of a single folded 8 x 10 inch sheet, is undated.  The writing is not terribly sophisticated, and there is a certain naiveté to some of the content.  My guess is that this was submitted to a weekly English composition class during Abner’s first or second year at Williston.

Here is Abner’s paper.  Readers may click on each image to enlarge it.

Abner Davol, “Going to Mt. Tom,” page 1.

It was, and of course, remains, a distance of just under two miles from the Old Campus on Main Street to the foot of the mountain.  For Abner and friends to have walked the distance and achieved the summit in 80 minutes is quite an accomplishment.

Mt. Tom from Holyoke Street, at the time unpaved. Except for a few farms, the mile between the “factory village” and the foot of the mountain was unpopulated.
Page 2

What were they thinking?  Apparently Abner and his companions decided to descend via the steepest part of the escarpment, just beneath the basalt cliffs, a field strewn with broken shale.  And after sunset.  Contemporary maps confirm that there was a perfectly good road, but perhaps the kids were taking the most direct route from the summit to it.

“Factory village” was the residential area east of Nashawannuck Pond and the factories alongside it.  Town-gown relations were imperfect at this time, but Davol’s concern seems overstated.  It was probably added for dramatic effect, since it is likely that he expected to read his essay to his English class.

Mt. Tom from Nashawannuck Pond, ca. 1880. Then as now, the mountain was irresistible.

After Williston, Abner Davol returned to Fall River, where he became a banker and City Councillor.  He died in 1940, aged 87.

“My Dear Parents . . .” 19th Century Students Write Home

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

[Note: This post is an expansion of an article published in the Williston Bulletin in 2000.  A few of the quoted documents have appeared elsewhere in this blog.]

Anyone pursuing the history of Williston Seminary’s first four decades might assume that the task involves the study of dry, formal documents, the records of austere men shaping the serious minds of New England’s youth under the benevolent gaze of a saintly founder.  Fortunately, we have an antidote.  At a time when telephones and email were not even a dream, students wrote long, lively, personal letters, dozens of which are preserved in the Williston Northampton Archives.  Most we have in manuscript; a few are copies or transcriptions of documents in private hands.

While much was happening in the 19th century world, most students’ letters barely acknowledge events away from school and home.  Their concerns were necessarily more local: classes, friends, money.  These letters let them speak with their own voices, and provide a fascinating window into their daily lives.

The campus in 1845, showing Principal Wright’s house, the First Church, English (Middle) Hall, and the White Seminary. (Click images to enlarge.)

Their writing was hardly that of finished scholars.  Samuel Williston once admonished that “Bad orthography, bad penmanship, or bad grammar— bad habits in any of the rudiments— if they be not corrected in the preparatory school, will probably be carried through College and not unlikely extend themselves to other studies and pursuits.”  Perhaps to prove his point, we have mostly left the writers’ syntax alone, making only minimal corrections.  Indeed, as student Abner Austin wrote his family in 1856, in a sentence spectacularly devoid of any punctuation whatsoever,  “Mr. Williston is not the teacher he has nothing to do with it no more than you have he is the founder of it therefore it is called the Williston Seminary.”

By mid-century many New England towns were connected by rail, but in 1854 the line had not yet reached Easthampton.  That April, Charles Carpenter wrote his father,

I arrived safely at No. H. on Tuesday morning.  On the way, met (in the cars) with a young fellow, like myself, Williston-bound.  Had to wait in No. H. all day — crowds of students came up in the train — and several stages and teams were in readiness to convey them over.  Ten of us got into a three seated wagon.  It was most terrific going — mud and melted snow formed a horrible coalition — Could hardly get out of a walk, a single step.  We suffered the greatest trouble, however, in fear that other students would get ahead of us and engage the rooms; but after two hours we arrived — “put” for the “Sem.”  The Chief Boss of the Institution, Mr. Marsh, is absent, on account of dangerous family sickness — and everything went hurly-burly. Continue reading

Williston Northampton and Local History . . . Your History!