Category Archives: Campus and Building History

Albert Kiesling at Williston

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Albert Kiesling next to the Easthampton Congregational Church, working on a view of Shop Row.
Albert Kiesling next to the Easthampton Congregational Church, working on a view of Shop Row. (Easthampton Historical Society) Please click images to enlarge.

Anyone familiar with Easthampton in the ’40s through the ’60s is likely to recall a taciturn gentleman with an easel and paintbox, often engaged in capturing a town landmark or rural scene.  Albert Kiesling (1885-1968) was born in Clinton, Mass., and moved to Easthampton to work in the textile mills.  He was a protégé and friend of the American expressionist painter Oscar F. Adler (1868-1932), another Clinton native.  In fact, Kiesling and Adler often painted the same scenes together.

In the summer of 2016, Easthampton CityArts+, in association with Albert Kiesling’s family, mounted an exhibition and sale of a large group of his paintings, at the Mill Arts Project (MAP) Gallery at Eastworks in Easthampton.  The following video, from Easthampton Media, is an excellent introduction to Kiesling’s work.  (Alumni from certain eras may recognize some of the people interviewed.)

There are five known Kiesling paintings of Williston scenes.  One had been on campus since 1945.  Following the CityArts+ exhibit, Williston Northampton was able to obtain the other four, through a combination of alumni generosity and purchases.  They are:

The Old Gymnasium

The Old Gymnasium

The Old Williston Seminary Gym, with its distinctive tower, was built in 1864, the first free-standing athletic building in any American secondary school.  It stood on High Street, at the rear of the original Williston campus.  Rendered largely obsolete by the construction of the Recreation Center (now the Reed Campus Center) in 1930, it was razed following the school’s consolidation onto the present campus in 1951.  Kiesling painted the scene in 1952.  Williston Northampton was able to acquire the painting through the generosity of Patricia Zavorski Coon ’61.  This painting currently hangs in the office of the Director of Athletics.

Kiesling at work on the Gymnasium painting
Kiesling at work on the Gymnasium painting

The Button Mill

The Button Mill

The painting of the original Williston Button Mill, Easthampton’s first factory building, was commissioned in 1945 by Charles Johnson, class of 1875, Treasurer of Easthampton Savings Bank, and presented to the school by the Class of 1905, one of whose members, Guy Richard Carpenter, was instrumental in tracking down and preserving many of the documents and memorabilia that now comprise the Williston Northampton Archives.  The building, which still stands on Union Street, was erected in 1846-47.  One of the workers’ tenement houses beyond the mill also remains, now home to the Easthampton Diner.  Kiesling added a couple of historical touches to the background: the spire of the Payson (now Easthampton Congregational) Church and, in front of it, Williston’s original (1841) White Seminary building.  This painting hangs in the front parlor of the Head of School’s Residence.

The Old Campus

The Old Campus on Main Street.

This undated painting now hangs in the Advancement Conference Room in the Williston Homestead.  Purchased in 2016 via the Archives Fund, it shows the pre-1951 campus from the intersection of Main and Union Streets, from the vantage point of the Congregational Church’s front lawn.  The buildings, from right, are South, Middle, and North Halls.  All these structures were torn down after the move to the New Campus in 1951, but a portion of the distinctive iron fence remains in place.  Also visible are the Maher Fountain, which remains today, and the First Congregational Church, which succumbed to fire in 1929.

The Old Campus, from a vantage point a bit to the left of the painting.
The Old Campus, from a vantage point a bit to the left of the painting.

Payson Hall

Payson Hall, formerly Hill’s Mansion House

In the mid-19th century, Hill’s Mansion House was Easthampton’s grand hotel.  Even then, it housed Williston students able to pay the premium rates.  The huge wooden building stood at the top of the hill on the corner of Main and Northampton Streets.  In the early 20th century, when the hotel business had fallen off, the school bought the building and renamed it Payson Hall.  It was used as a dormitory, dining commons, and for many years, the home of the Williston Junior School.  From the early 1950s on the structure, in increasingly fragile condition, hosted inexpensive apartments.  It burned in the early 1970s.  Kiesling’s 1963 painting, part of the 2016 purchase, is now in the office of the Director of Alumni Engagement.

The Mansion House in the late 19th century
The Mansion House in the late 19th century

The Williston Birthplace

The Williston Birthplace
The Williston Birthplace

Here the subject is the Payson Williston parsonage, also known as “The Birthplace,” on Park Street, opposite the Homestead.  Dated 1968, thus one of Kiesling’s last paintings, this seems less successful than the others – something in the perspective is not quite right. The artist has set the building well back from the road and included a nonexistent mountain.  Also part of the 2016 purchase, this painting presently hangs in the Williston Birthplace, now a faculty residence.

The Williston Birthplace, ca. 1880.
The Williston Birthplace, ca. 1880. Note the kid on the tricycle!

Finally, if you watched the video, you’ll recall that Kiesling was also an enthusiastic creator of snow sculpture, often of epic proportions.  On Saturday, February 10, as part of the 5th Annual Easthampton Winterfest, the Nashawannuck Pond Steering Committee will host the First Annual Albert Kiesling Snow Art Competition. Please click the link for details!

Professor Alvord Speaks His Mind

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Henry E. Alvord, ca. 1886. [Lovell, J. L. (John Lyman), 1825-1903. University Photograph Collection (RG 120_2). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries] (Click images to enlarge.)
Henry Elijah Alvord (1844-1904) had the privilege of reinventing himself several times during his lifetime.  A native of Greenfield, Mass., he graduated Norwich University in the spring of 1862, aged 18, with a degree in Civil Engineering and a military education.  He immediately enlisted as a private in the 7th Rhode Island Squadron, rapidly rising to the rank of First Sergeant, and by November 1862, was commissioned Lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry.  By the end of the Civil War in 1865, he had achieved the rank of Major, and was assigned a joint appointment as Superintendent of Freedmen’s Affairs in Northeastern Virginia and Superintendent of Schools in the Carolinas.

In 1868 he became Inspector General of the Indian Territory District (now Oklahoma), serving until 1869 when, by order of President Andrew Johnson, he was appointed Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Massachusetts Agricultural College (now UMass) in Amherst.  In 1871 he resigned from the Army and joined the U.S. Department of the Interior as a civilian Commissioner of Indian Affairs, eventually serving as Special Commissioner to the Sioux of Dacotah and Wyoming.

Then, for reasons unknown, he set his hand to other things.  In 1873 he was elected Professor of Drawing and Commercial Business at Williston Seminary, where he would remain until 1881.  (As shall be seen in the document below, he acquired other responsibilities.)  Most of his students were enrolled in the scientific, as opposed to the classical, department (for a look at the different curricula, see the last third of the article “Entrance Exam.”) “Commercial Business” primarily entailed bookkeeping and business math.  Students of drawing largely focused on mechanical drawing and drafting, but Alvord insisted that his program begin with an intensive study of freehand drawing.

Principal Joseph W. Fairbanks

In the spring of 1880 Principal Joseph W. Fairbanks, then completing his second year at the helm, asked Alvord, and probably all the faculty, to present status reports.  Whether this had been regular practice in the past is uncertain; few such statements from earlier years have come to light.  Fairbanks’ self-destructive predecessor, James Whiton, hadn’t lasted long enough to poll his faculty, nor would it have been in his character.  And by his own account Marshall Henshaw, who preceded Whiton and had hired Alvord, quarreled with him.  So it is likely that  Alvord was pleased to have been asked, possibly for the first time.  In any case, he responded with a detailed letter whose scope extended beyond the confines of Alvord’s assigned duties.  The document provides wonderful insight not only into faculty workloads and responsibilities at the time, but also addresses wear and tear on the buildings, student behavior, and much more.  (The first page of Alvord’s manuscript is reproduced here, followed by a transcription of the entire document.)

Department of Drawing, Williston Seminary
Easthampton, Mass, April 17, 1880

To the Principal.
In compliance with your request, I respectfully present the following statement of the duties performed by me in connection with the Seminary, during the current year, with remarks thereon.

Joseph Sawyer with his surveying class, ca. 1900.

My duties have been similar to those of previous years — three classes in Drawing of 2, 3, and 4 hours a week, respectively, extending through the year; one class in Book-keeping in the Fall Term, in history in the Winter Term and in Surveying (assisting Prof. Sawyer) in the Spring Term, five forenoons in the week; supervision of Gymnastic exercises four afternoons and Inspection of Dormitories on Saturday mornings.

The time thus passed by me with classes or on specific duty at the Seminary has averaged twenty-four (24) hours per week, during the year; in Drawing, 9 hours; in Recitations 5 hours; at Gymnasium 9 hours, on Inspection, 1 hour.

The Drawing: During the year there have been 35 different pupils in Instrumental Drawing, members of the Senior and Middle Scientific Classes, and 31 pupils in Free-hand Drawing, from the Middle and Junior Middle Scientific Classes.

A particularly fine piece of freehand drawing, indicative of the standards Alvord asked of his students.

When called to the Seminary, now about seven years ago, I was informed that the special object was to establish and develop the Dept. of Drawing, and particularly to teach the practical branches of Drawing, then just beginning to receive attention in the schools of this country.  The work has been gradually introduced as a requirement in the Scientific Course of Study and only within the past year has the original plan been realized.  As now in operation, the course of instruction is this:

The student begins with elementary work in Free-hand Drawing at the opening of the Junior Middle year and during that year devotes two hours per week in drawing outlines and practice upon the fundamental principles of Perspective, in the last Term.  In the Fall Term of Middle year, the instruction is given three hours a week, in outline drawing from models and solid objects, with applied perspective.  With the second term of Middle Year begins Drawing with Instruments (the class having then had one term’s instruction in Plane Geometry) and during the Winter and Spring Terms, Geometrical Constructions and Elementary projections are taught 3 hrs. a week. Continue reading

Ford Hall Turns 100

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Williston Northampton is 175 years old this year.  But almost forgotten amidst the dodransbicentennial [yes, it’s a real word!] hoopla is another milestone: Ford Hall opened a century ago this fall.

Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.
Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.

After the Homestead, it is the first structure to have been built on the so-called “new” campus.  The Senior Dorm.  (Not any more.)  The Gold Coast.  (No longer.)  The Fraternity.  (Ditto — perhaps, perhaps not.)  Even in these unsentimental twenty-teens, some students — many of them the sons of alumni — will claim that to live in Ford Hall is to have arrived.  It goes without saying that their non-Ford peers might not agree.

Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.
Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.

But if any campus building can be said to embody Tradition, with a capital T, it must be Ford.  No doubt some individual traditions are best left unrecorded in a family publication like the From the Archives.  Alumni of various generations will recognize references to the Phantom, those “useless” fireplaces, the Bomb Sight, the Great Newspaper Caper, Couchie’s Carlings, and the mythical Kid Who Was Taught His Colors Wrong.  If you have to ask, you weren’t there.

Four decades since the previous picture, the campus was shaded by gorgeous mature elms. Sadly, by the late 1960s they had all succumbed to the Dutch elm blight and were replaced by maples.

On the other hand, readers who were there are invited to add their favorite Ford Hall stories to the comment form at the bottom of this article.  What, after all, is a history blog for?  Be advised, though, that publication is likely, unless you’ve forgotten that there is no statute of limitations on good taste.

Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.
Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.

It is hard to imagine that a structure so much a part of the fabric of Williston Northampton life was almost never built.  Samuel and Emily Williston’s estates had provided an endowment for the operation of the school, which was originally situated at the head of Main Street, on a site now occupied by two banks and a supermarket.  Emily’s will conveyed the Homestead and surrounding land — the present campus — to Williston Seminary, with the proviso that the school erect at least one new building on the property. Continue reading

Musings on the Campus Fence

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Campus fence pano infrared
WNS15ALM10_175l small lrWhen I drive to work, I usually come down Brewster Avenue.  As I turn onto Park Street, I see the iconic Class Fence, stretching out of sight in both directions, each section with the date of a graduating class.  173 of them, so far, going back to 1842.

It’s a powerful metaphor.  Every class is represented, plus one enigmatic “L.L.D.”  Last Friday night, May 20, at the annual Senior Dinner, Williston’s 174th graduating Class of 2016 received its number plaque.  There will be many more.  Williston Northampton has a lot of fence left.  For seniors, the placing of the plaque is the first traditional end-of-the-year milestone in joining the rest of us alumni represented by that fence.  (But of course, it isn’t really the first milestone.  Enrolling at Williston is.)

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

The fence dates from 100 years ago, 1916, when Headmaster Joseph Sawyer (served 1896-1919), as part of a campaign to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary, challenged every class to meet certain fundraising targets.  Upon achieving them, the class could put its number on the fence.  That’s why the dates are not in order; classes met their goals at different times.  The campaign was 100% successful.  Even those classes which had no surviving members were “adopted” by other alumni groups.  At some point mid-century the tradition changed and classes were awarded plaques at the time they graduated.  From this point the numbers are consecutive — or were until recently, when “new” sections of the fence were installed near Scott Hall and on Galbraith Field.

L.L.D. plaqueAnd the mysterious “L.L.D.”?  They were one of Williston Seminary’s fraternities.  We don’t know much about them; they were a secret society that kept its secrets well.  The frats were wisely abolished in 1926-28, but not before the L.L.D. alumni achieved a kind of immortality by pledging and contributing to the fund.

So . . . it is more than just a fence.  Welcome to the fold, Class of 2016!


Adapted from an article originally posted in May, 2012.

Class of 2016 President Nate Gordon unveils the class's number plaque.
Class of 2016 President Nate Gordon unveils this year’s plaque.