Category Archives: Campus and Building History

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.

So Help Me, Alan Quatermain

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist
A formal meeting of Sigma 'Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)
A formal meeting of Sigma ‘Eta Delta. The reverse of the photograph is dated 1890. (Click images to enlarge.)

The 1870s and ’80s saw the rise of several secret societies or fraternities at Williston Seminary.  Initially there were four: Iota Zeta, L.L.D., Pi Beta Pi, and F.C.  A fifth, Phi Rho Alpha, appeared somewhat later, although its existence was sometimes not acknowledged by the four “legitimate” societies.  History knows relatively little about them; as secret organizations, they kept their petty confidences, and worse, to themselves.  So we have no idea what the initials stood for, not even for the two societies that didn’t affect Greek names.  We do know that their membership was selective; that at least some of their alumni remained loyal to the clubs, often at the expense of loyalty to the school, and that they posed as “service” organizations: in 1916, for example, their leaders formed the first Student Council.

None of the preceding can be said of a sixth fraternity, Sigma Eta Delta.

In fact, the Greek letters ΣΗΔ were a rendering of the society’s real name, the South Hall Devils.  (Since classical Greek doesn’t accommodate the “H” sound, it was the preference of the membership to spell “Eta” with an apostrophe: Sigma ‘Eta Delta.)  The group was formed in the winter of 1889, mostly to poke fun at the elite, thus much-resented, fraternities.  Membership was open to any resident of South Hall, the dormitory with the least desirable and least expensive rooms — thus a dorm shunned by any self-respecting (and they were nothing if not that) frat boy.

South Hall, ca. 1890.
South Hall, ca. 1890.

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The Congregational Church in Easthampton History

By Rick Teller '70, Archivist

This presentation was given at the Easthampton Congregational Church on October 11, 2014, part of the Easthampton CityArts+ monthly Art Walk.  The text and graphics have been slightly modified for this blog.

The Payson Church, now the Easthampton Congregational Church, on Main Street, with Williston's Old Campus in the background. (Easthampton Congregational Church Archives)
The Payson Church, now the Easthampton Congregational Church, on Main Street, with Williston’s Old Campus in the background. (Easthampton Congregational Church Archives [henceforth ECC]) (Click images to enlarge.)
The Reverend Jonathan Edwards.
The Reverend Jonathan Edwards.

At the time of New England’s Great Awakening, when Jonathan Edwards was pastor in Northampton, Easthampton did not exist.  There were a few landholders in the village of Pascommuck, out on what is now East Street.  Late in life Edwards would recall that around 1730 “there began to appear a remarkable religious concern at a little village belonging to the congregation, called Pascommuck . . . at this place a number of persons seemed to be savingly wrought upon.”

Note Edwards’ phrase, “little village belonging to the congregation.”  In colonial Massachusetts, church and town were interdependent.  One could not exist without the other.  In 1781 Easthampton residents, citing the growing size of their village, petitioned for severance from Northampton.  Attending services in Northampton cannot have been convenient – it was a ride or walk of five or more miles, over roads that barely deserved the name.

Anticipating the success of their request, they began construction of a meeting house on the town common, now the rotary.  However, Southampton, only recently independent and perhaps fearing the dilution of their own small congregation, blocked the petition.  It was not until June of 1785 that the Northampton church agreed to the formation of an Easthampton parish, thus allowing the town of Easthampton to be incorporated.  The following November, 46 adults were dismissed from the Northampton church to form the first congregation in Easthampton.  15 Southampton families followed, and the congregation was formally organized on November 17. Continue reading

Williston Boys at Home (1932)

wbahcover1932.  The national economic depression was at its worst.  President Herbert Hoover, forced to defend his record, was about to receive the worst electoral whipping ever at the hands of Franklin Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal for the American People.  But even FDR’s most rabid supporters knew that recovery would take years.  And the people who managed tuition-dependent private schools weren’t sure they had years.  Williston Academy’s Headmaster Archibald Galbraith (served 1919-1949) was no exception.

To be sure, Williston was in somewhat better shape than some of its competitors.  The 1920s had been reasonably good years for fund-raising.  When the 1929 crash came, much of the school’s assets were liquid, since Williston was midway through a major construction project.  So we were less affected by the implosion of the investment market.  The construction of the Recreation Center (see previous post) proceeded on schedule, and the building was opened in 1930.  But endowment was nearly nonexistent, and the pool of academically eligible students whose families could afford boarding school was shrinking.

wbahtitleOne answer was more aggressive marketing.  Gone were the days when a combination of alumni networking and discreet ads in a few prestigious magazines was sufficient to create a viable group of applicants for admission.  Galbraith needed to cast his net wider, to appeal to families that perhaps had never considered private schools.  Among the products of this re-thinking was a 1932 pictorial pamphlet entitled “Williston Boys at Home.”

The booklet is nearly devoid of text, in contrast to the dry, text-heavy and pictureless Annual Catalogue of the time.  It manages to avoid nearly any mention of Williston’s crumbling Old Campus, although more than half the students lived there and all classes met there — in fact, whether through oversight or design, there is no reference to the academic program at all.  This Williston is a place of hockey and dancing, theatricals and swimmin’ holes.  Times are good.  Williston boys are indeed at home.

(“Williston Boys at Home” was generously donated to the Archives in 2008 by Gordon Cronin of Taurus Books, Northampton, MA.)

The sole evocation of the "Old Campus" in the entire booklet.
The sole evocation of the “Old Campus” in the entire booklet.

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