Category Archives: Local History

Easthampton Illustrated, ca. 1890

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Photo no. 21, showing its original format. The prints, which range in size from 8 x 6″ to 9.5 x 7.75″, are printed on 14 x 11″ paper, contained in a brown cloth-covered portfolio. (Please click all images to enlarge.)

The Archives hold several sets of a portfolio entitled East Hampton Illustrated, containing 32 lithotype photographs of Easthampton.  Many are images of Williston Seminary and of buildings associated with Samuel Williston or his business partners; the balance are of other Easthampton landmarks, most of them industrial.

The set was published by the Linotype Printing Co., 114 Nassau St., New York, and is undated.  Most antiquarian booksellers date the portfolio ca. 1900, but all  of the photographs are older.  The catalog of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library in Williamstown, MA dates the collection ca. 1880.  Information in some of the photo captions, noted below, suggests that the album appeared after 1881 and no later than 1895.  Thus, we estimate the publication date as ca. 1890.

No. 1: View of Easthampton from Adams Street, Looking North

View of Easthampton from Adams Street, Looking NorthThe vantage point is near the intersection of Adams and Liberty Streets, more specifically looking northwest.  In the distance are the spires of the Payson (Easthampton Congregational) and Methodist Churches (a different structure than the present day former church housing the Young World Childcare Center), the Town Hall, and the Williston Seminary gymnasium.  The reach from the Nashawannuck spillway to the Lower Mill Pond is visible in the foreground.  The area today is heavily wooded.

Incidentally, for this article we have, perhaps, broken a rule.  The reproduced images have been adjusted to mitigate yellowing and fading, so that their appearance better approaches their original state – which, admittedly, we can only conjecture.  As always, you may click on the photographs to enlarge them.

No. 2: Williston Seminary

Williston Seminary

A view of the original Williston Seminary campus on Main Street.  Union Street is to the right; the split rail fence surrounds the Payson Church – the present-day Easthampton Congregational Church.  The three main campus buildings, from the foreground back, were, with an appalling lack of creativity, named South, Middle, and North Halls,  The gymnasium tower is visible behind South Hall, and one can make out the First Congregational Church (1836; see “The Congregational Church in Easthampton History”) in the distance, at the end of Main Street.

No. 3: General View of Williston Seminary

General View of Williston SeminaryThis unusual view from across Union Street, near the side entrance to the Payson Church, shows South, Middle, and North Halls, with the Principal’s House, still standing at the corner of Pleasant Street and recently renovated, in the right distance.  (Despite the name, from 1849 forward the Principals resided elsewhere.)  The Gymnasium, with its distinctive tower, is at right.  Close examination of the photo shows a baseball game in progress.

North, Middle, and South Halls, and the Gymnasium were demolished in or shortly after 1952, after Williston Academy consolidated operations on the present Park Street/Payson Avenue campus. Continue reading

Firebrand

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
From the Archivist’s Bookshelf

Laurie RebelsIn the half-century prior to the Civil War, antislavery sentiment was strong up and down the Connecticut Valley.  Yet there was an essential conflict between two schools of Abolitionists: the high-minded movement inspired by reformer and The Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), and a number of rabble-rousers who advocated more direct action.

Five of the latter, all residing in Northampton, are treated in a new book by Bruce Laurie, Rebels in Paradise: Sketches of Northampton Abolitionists (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 2015).  Dr. Laurie (Professor Emeritus of History, UMass Amherst) has selected the scholarly Sylvester Judd, African-American Underground Railroad conductor David Ruggles, newspaper editor Henry S. Gere, and preacher-turned-entrepreneur Erastus Hopkins.  Not least among them was Samuel Williston’s brother, manufacturer John Payson Williston.  All were local business, religious, and political leaders; none was especially subtle in advocacy of favorite causes, be they temperance, political reform, or the abolition of slavery.

Like his elder brother Samuel, John Payson Williston (1803-1872) broke with several generations of Williston male tradition by choosing a manufacturing career over the Congregational ministry.  Again similar to Samuel’s experience, the decision was driven by circumstance: neither was able to complete a university education because of poor eyesight.  From there, their paths diverged.  Samuel, largely through prescient investment, became one of Western Massachusetts’ leading industrial barons and philanthropists, but one whose public advocacy of reformist concerns, however passionately he believed in them, was often held in check by a need to protect his Southern business interests and, perhaps, the desire to project a certain patrician reticence. Continue reading

Nashawannuck

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Wish you were here, part II)

Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)

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.

In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.
In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.

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 current map.)

1873 map nashawannuck detail

The entrance to to the spillway is clearly visible right of center, in the postcard image below.

Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.
Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.

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

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