The Campus That Never Was

Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)

At schools and colleges like Williston Northampton, one eye is necessarily on the future.  Difficult as it is to predict the educational needs of the nation and the world a decade or a half-century hence, it is essential to try.  As Williston itself very nearly learned in the 19th century, complacency is what closes private schools.  It took a Headmaster of exceptional vision and perseverance, Joseph Henry Sawyer (who joined the faculty in 1866 and served as Head from 1896-1919) to break us of the habit of constantly looking backwards.

Details of Sawyer’s campaign for “The New Williston” are for another post.  But briefly, it called for the development of the Williston Homestead property – our present campus – as the eventual replacement for the cramped and increasingly obsolete Old Campus in downtown Easthampton.  There was a complete re-thinking of the role of the school and faculty in its students’ lives, from a kind of laissez-faire paternalism to active collaboration in academic, athletic, and social activity.  To pay for all this, Sawyer sought new funding sources, notably through the then-controversial idea that a Williston education was only the beginning of an alumnus’s lifelong relationship with, and responsibility to, the school.

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