Category Archives: Recent Gifts

William Brooks Cabot Writes Home

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Recently, through the generosity of Mr. Eric Brothers, the Archives acquired two letters written by William Brooks Cabot, class of 1876, to his mother in Brattleboro, Vermont.  In August, 1874, Cabot had just arrived at Williston Seminary, and was enrolled in the Middle Class — the equivalent of the modern 11th grade — in Williston’s Scientific curriculum.   The following transcriptions retain William’s occasionally idiosynchratic punctuation and free-form sentence and paragraph structure.  He was, after all, just 16 years old and, in fairness, somewhat ahead of his peers (then and now) in matters of spelling.

Detail of Cabot’s first letter, Sunday, August 30, 1874, on school stationery (Click all images to enlarge)

It was a Sunday.  William had just moved out of a dormitory and into a boarding house where he had already arranged for his meals — the school had no dining hall of its own at this time.

Easthampton, Aug. 30th [1874]

Dear Mother

I am sorry father was not at home to decide what course I should take with regard to my studies.  I shall take Geometry, Drawing, Zoology, & German, though if possible I shall take Latin instead of Zoology.

We have changed our rooms & are now boarding where we take our meals.  I only pay $5 $6.00 per week in all, which is about twenty five cents more than I paid – or rather, was to pay at the Sem.  It’s much more convenient for meals & we have carpets & towels, & do not have to do our own chamber work, as we did at the Sem.  We paid our tuition yesterday.  My bill was $26.00.

We have to attend chapel at a little before nine in the morning.   We do all our studying in our rooms, which I like very much.  At 7:30 P.M. the chapel bell rings, and we must go to our rooms immediately.  Once in a while a Prof. will happen around after dark, to see if we are all in our rooms, but we have not been honored by a visit as yet.

We are living at a Mrs. Embury’s, where there are five of us.  One is from Moline, Ill. & another from Scranton, Pa.

William’s housemates can be identified as Frederick William Keator, class of 1876 Classical, from Moline, and Edwin Hunter Lynde ’76 Scientific, from Scranton.  For a newly-enrolled kid who had, to this point, grown up in southern Vermont, these may well have seemed like exotic places.  As he would no doubt later discover, while the majority of students hailed from the Northeast, in 1874 Williston enrolled students from as far away as Louisiana, Alabama, and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).

William continues,

The German Student Lamp, a kerosene-fueled desk lamp that produced a soft, non-flickering light. (Photo: eBay)

I have so far spent about ten dollars besides tuition, for R.R. Fare, books, &c.  I use a kerosene lamp to study by & think it better for my eyes than gas.  I have a lamp with a burner like the German Student lamp & it gives a very good light.

I guess we will both take the optional course, as then we will not be examined & I expect plenty of study even then.  The class is larger than usual this year – I mean the Junior – & I think the greater number take the Scientific course.  I don’t expect to use my rifle more than three or four times this term and perhaps not at all.  I have to get permission from one of the Profs. before I can take it out even to shoot at a mark.

Yesterday six of us went over to Mount Tom, which is only about two miles.  We walked over & came back in the cars.  Most of the boys were rather lame this morning but I didn’t feel it at all.  Tell Mollie I wish she would give W. E. Waite’s pistol to him.  It is in one of the drawers of my bureau.  I forgot it the morning I came away.

It seems astounding in 2019 that Williston would permit students to own firearms at all, or that William would be indignant over needing permission even for target practice, but in the mid-19th century, it was probably taken for granted.

I have been to church twice today.  We are all obliged to go to the same church, unless the parents expressly desire that they should attend some other.  Although it is against the rules some of the boys are out as late as they please, almost every night.  I do not know yet whether I can take Latin instead of Zoology or not but I hope I can.

With much love to all,


Captain Henry E. Alvord. No photograph of the egregious Captain Hill has been reliably identified.

William’s second letter, written on a Sunday three weeks later, introduces Captains David Hill and Henry Alvord.  Regular readers of this blog may have already met Captain Alvord; he was clearly, at best, stiff-necked over rules.  David Hill taught Physiology and Physical Education.  He had been wounded in the Civil War.  Everything written about him suggests that, frustrated by having missed the final two years of opportunity to inflict suffering upon rebels, he was a martinet who projected his resentment on his students.  Within days of his arrival at Williston he had instituted military drill, including marching and bayonet exercise, as the daily warm-up activity prior to gymnastic practice.   (Present day athletes might consider this the next time they complain about calisthenics.)

Why Captain Hill could not, nearly a month into the fall term, find “time” to accommodate an earnest and talented student’s application to take his course remains an open question.  But documents indicate that he and Alvord largely occupied themselves in meddling with administrative matters, particularly when they could undermine colleagues who did not share their views.

Williston Sem. Sept. 20

Dear Mother

I was glad to receive yours of the 18th, also Mary’s of the 16th.  Capt. Hill did not get time to examine us in Physiology until yesterday.  He gave me three written questions which I had to answer upon paper, & when I finished these he asked me a few questions verbally & then said that he would look over my paper when he had time.  So I do not know whether I have passed or not as yet.

“Prex” – Principal Marshall Henshaw (served 1863-1876). Hill and Alvord would engineer his removal in favor of the wildly unsuccessful Principal James Morris Whiton.

I do not suppose that my report for the month will be very good, as I have had a good deal of extra studying to do, especially on my Physiology.  One of the Profs. – Capt. Alvord – has come here to room; so we will have to observe study hours rather more strictly than we have been in the habit of doing.

Yesterday Prex. gave notice that we must be in our rooms at 7 P.M. instead of 7:30 as before.  This is because the days are getting short, & they are afraid to have us out after dark.  The students use tobacco as much as they please, & even some of the little boys in the English Class strut around with cigarettes in their mouths.  Almost all the students who have been here any length of time, smoke.  The Faculty never say a word about it.

I have just sent two weeks washing (12 pieces) by the man who takes the other boys clothes.  His wife can do up shirts better than any I ever saw.

There seem to be more parties, etc. going on at B. than usual.  I wish I could be there to attend one or two.  We have been having a good time evenings after getting our lessons, but Capt. Alvord’s coming ends that, as it is considered just as bad to be out of your own room as out of the house after study hours.  One of the boys rooming here is from Illinois & is one of the best fellows I ever saw.  His name is Keator.  I believe he said he was about 18 years old.  Is a first rate scholar & neither smokes, drinks nor swears; which is rather remarkable for this place.  Yesterday I took a long walk out west of the village & might have shot three or four partridges if I had taken my gun.

It costs a great deal to get along, as there are so many little things to get, but I have enough money to meet my expenses for about two weeks longer.  How does Ranger get along?  There are hardly any dogs here.  Tell Mary to write when she has time.  With much love to all.  W.

William Cabot did not return to Williston for his senior year.  He enrolled in the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, but left before finishing there as well, eventually completing a Civil Engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1881.  He went on to a long career in mining and engineering out West and ultimately in Brooklyn, but he is primarily remembered as an important amateur explorer and anthropologist who worked primarily with Native Americans in Labrador and Northern Quebec.  There is a good biographical article at this link, including  a photograph — no images of William in his student days have come to hand.

Edwin Lynde returned to Scranton to build blast furnaces and had a long career in the steel industry.  The fastidious Frederick William Keator eventually became an Bishop in the Episcopal Church and a college president.  By the Spring of 1885 both he and Lynde had moved to other boarding houses, very possibly to escape the pernicious influence of Captain Alvord.


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!


by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Archives Acquire a Fascinating Record of Science Teaching
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather's biology notebook.  (Click all images to enlarge.)
Meticulous renderings of earthworm anatomy, from William T. Mather’s biology notebook. (Click all images to enlarge.)

It was one of those phone calls that vastly improves one’s week.  “My name is Will Wyatt – I’m a dentist in Texas.  I have what appear to be a notebook from a Williston biology class, dated 1890.  Would you like it for the Archives?  If so, I’d be happy to donate it.”

Would I like it?  That would have been an understatement.  Among the more important things we collect are examples of academic work: what was studied, and how it was taught, going back to our beginnings 175 years ago.  We actively seek current student work, as well as that from the past.  Consider: all the other things we save and cherish – theater photos, box scores, school newspapers, and dozens of other categories, most of them well-represented in this blog, wouldn’t even exist without the academic program.  It provides a context for everything else in our daily lives at a busy school.  Academics are the most important thing we do at Williston.

Mather's title page.  While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called "purple ditto."  The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869.  Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had on as early as 1877.
Mather’s title page. While much of the notebook is handwritten, some pages were reproduced using a transfer process similar to what we, mid-20th century, called “purple ditto.” The machine used was probably a Hectograph, invented in 1869. Other documents in the Archives indicate that Williston Seminary had one as early as 1877.

So yes, we were thrilled to accept Dr. Wyatt’s generosity – the more so given the age of the item.  It is relatively easy to lay hands on student papers from 2015.  Anything from the 19th century is another story entirely.  And as shall be seen, this particular item is very special.

The document is a set of teaching notes for an 1890 Williston Seminary biology course taught by William Tyler Mather (1864-1937).  Mather, Williston class of 1882, went on to Amherst College, graduating in 1886.  He taught at Leicester Academy, 1886-1887 then, like many Williston and Amherst alumni, returned to Williston to teach (1887-1893).  During this time he also completed a master’s degree at Amherst (1891).  In 1894 he entered Johns Hopkins University, earning a Ph.D. in physics in 1897.  In 1898 he became Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, Austin, where he remained the rest of his life.  (This would tend to partially explain how a set of teaching notes found their way from Easthampton to “a very eclectic used book store” in San Antonio, where Will Wyatt purchased them in the 1980s.)


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