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.
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.
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.
After Williston, Abner Davol returned to Fall River, where he became a banker and City Councillor. He died in 1940, aged 87.
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
Finally, if you watched thevideo, 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!
Nashawannuck. The name is apparently Algonquian for “Valley of the Little River.” The “Little River” was probably the Manhan — another local Native American appellation. Ironically, the Manhan doesn’t feed Nashawannuck Pond, that large body of water that dominates the Cottage Street district of Easthampton. Scenic it may be, but its original purpose was industrial. Over the course of several decades of the 19th century, Samuel Williston and his associates dammed a small stream to create a power source for the complex of textile mills that sprung up around Williston’s button and elastic factories. In what was surely an unusual idea for its time, the sluice that drove the water wheels passed directly under the factory buildings and fed a collection pond behind them, on Pleasant and Ferry Streets.
The work was accomplished in stages. This 1873 map shows a single body of water — the “Upper Mill Pond” had not yet been named “Nashawannuck” — divided only by a railroad causeway. A few years later a small dam was built just above the railroad, creating Williston Pond. Williston Avenue, incorporating another dam, was built, extending across the pond from the intersection of Village Street (now Payson Avenue), Union Street, and Cottage Street, thus isolating what became known as the Rubber Thread Pond, which remains behind the modern-day City Offices. The result was a system comprising four ponds at descending levels. (Click for a currentmap.)
The entrance to to the spillway is clearly visible right of center, in the postcard image below.
While Samuel Williston’s intentions in creating the pond may have been practical, recreational and scenic implications soon came to the fore. Samuel and Emily Williston donated a large tract of land known as “Brookside” to the town. It was mostly wooded, and abutted Nonotuck Park. Eventually it was developed as a cemetery, but remains a lovely spot. Boaters, including a short-lived Williston Seminary rowing team, swimmers, and fishermen used the pond. In a town dominated by textile mills, whose employees typically worked six 12-hour days or more, it became an essential part of community culture. Continue reading →
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.
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 →