Thanksgiving, a national holiday since 1863, had special significance in Massachusetts, its state of origin. But the tradition of a school vacation is relatively recent. In the 19th century Williston Seminary celebrated the day, but that was all. Still, Seminary students welcomed any holiday.
George Benjamin Wardman, class of 1889, kept a scrapbook of his first two years at Williston, which he entered in the fall of 1885. It is a fascinating collection. Wardman saved printed memorabilia of debates, theatrical events (to which he happily journeyed significant distances), ballgames, dances, musical entertainments, the occasional restaurant meal – all in all, evidence of a student deeply committed to every aspect of school life except, perhaps, the academic program.
The image above is of an 1844 lithograph by Edmund Burke Kellogg and Elijah Chapman Kellogg of Hartford, Conn. The Kellogg brothers were prolific publishers of scenic, historical, and sentimental prints, active from 1830 until 1900, second in popularity only to the rival firm of Currier & Ives. The print measures 18 x 14 inches, and was published in two states, the color lithograph shown here, and a monochrome version. (Our reproduction leaves off the lengthy title for no better reason than the entire sheet would not fit on the Archives’ scanner.)
It is probably the earliest published image of Easthampton; certainly of Williston Seminary. The vantage point is West Street, on the bluff above the Manhan River, which is visible in the middle foreground. At this time none of the later construction—Shop Row, the Town Hall, etc.—had even been contemplated. Open land, most of it the village common, ran right down to the riverbank.
Passionate educational philanthropist that he was, Samuel Williston is a major figure in the histories of several colleges. Most prominent among them is Amherst College, where Samuel served as Trustee, where he recruited many of Williston Seminary’s early faculty, and whose legendary Professor William Seymour Tyler he counted among his closest friends.
In 1847 there was a proposal that Amherst College be renamed for Samuel Williston. Williston demurred — but there were opinions on both sides of the issue. Amherst College Archivist Peter Nelson tells the story on his blog, “The Consecrated Eminence.” Enjoy! — RT