Sharing Williston Northampton and Local History

The Second-Best Ford Hall Practical Joke Ever

Names have been changed to protect the reputations of the guilty.

Once upon a midnight dreary not too many years ago, a Ford Hall dorm master – specifically, the occupant of an apartment overlooking the Pond and Victory Bell – was contemplating bedtime.  The dorm was quiet, the inmates apparently enjoying their guileless dreams, when all at once . . .

912_1513-lrCLANG!  CLANG!  CLANG!  The teacher – we’ll call him Mr. Ford – sprang from his bed and looked out the window, where he could see a shadowy figure ringing the Victory Bell.  Mr. Ford threw open the window.  “Now cut that out,” he shouted – or words to that effect.

CLANG!  CLANG!  The ringing continued.  So Mr. Ford threw on his bathrobe, descended several flights of stairs, and emerged to confront the misguided Quasimodo.  “Please stop,” called Mr. Ford – or words to that effect.

CLANG! Mr. Ford had had enough.  “What the heck is wrong with you” (or words, etc.), he shouted, as he grabbed the bellringer’s arm and spun him around.

The arm came off.  “Aaughh!” screamed Mr. Ford, as gales of laughter descended from the upper stories.  The villains had constructed a straw effigy, tied its arm to the ringer, and operated the bell by means of a length of nylon fishline strung from a window.

And what was the very best Ford Hall Prank Ever?  We’re going to save that for another day.  Subscribe to From the Archives and you’ll never miss a post!

Photo by Ken Edwards '70
Photo by Ken Edwards ’70

Sarah Stevens in Her Time

A tribute by Ellis Baker '51

Sarah Stevens color“First Lady of Williston” Sarah Stevens left us on February 9, aged 99 (read her obituary here).  At a memorial service in the Williston Chapel on Saturday, August 13, Ellis Baker delivered the following remarks.  Mr. Baker graduated Williston Academy in 1951, returned to teach English, 1957-1961 and 1966-2000, and was Director of the Williston Theatre.

Talking about Phil and Sarah Stevens separately is impossible … at least for me, since I knew them both from the time they arrived at Williston in 1949, Phil as Headmaster and I as an upper middler (11th grader), both new kids on the block . Actually, I had been there earlier, too, from age 10 in grade 6 in 1944 through grade 8 in 1947, through the end of the war years, in the Williston Junior School. And the distinguished Galbraith Years were soon to end. The end of an era. The beginning of another.

Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966
Sarah and Phillips Stevens in the Homestead, 1966

Phil Stevens had been hired to reconstitute Sam Williston’s school physically, to remove it from its once elegant but deteriorating 100-year-old downtown campus to the half finished “new campus” out Park Street where Samuel Williston’s farm and Homestead had been—and where in the 1920’s and 30’s Ford Hall and the “new gym” had been built before the Depression and World War II years. The problem now was: Phil had to move the school with precious few remaining funds, especially owing to Samuel’s ill-advised late-in-life bad business decisions in the 1870s, to which Emily Williston had objected to no avail and which ultimately had sapped the funds meant to endow Sam’s school. Sam had gone ahead without her approval, which he had never done before, she being the one with an uncanny head for business. He lost nearly everything. Until then, they had been the perfect team, and history has spoken of Sam and Emily in one breath.

The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.
The 1951 parade from the old campus to the new steps off from Payson Hall. Subsequent units carried the furniture.

For Phil and Sarah, the new 100-years-later team, the going was tough, but they had wasted no time, and at the end of their first year in 1950, we had a ceremonial celebratory parade through town carrying beds and desks and chairs and suitcases and bureaus to the modernistic new square brick edifice along Payson Avenue to be known as Memorial Dormitory, as yet surrounded by a sea of mud and construction debris. A dreary beginning, but it was the best Phil could do with too little money … certainly a stylistic departure from the Classical and Georgian … but that’s what you get when the money annually runs dry. You learn to get by. For classrooms and a library and labs and offices, even a chapel, Phil had renovated three 19th century factory buildings languishing at the edge of the campus by the railroad tracks. They would have to do. Given that Sam’s original button factory still stood a block and a half away, this 19th century factory connection seemed not inappropriate for this school “founded on a button.” 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.

Heroic

by Caren Altchek Pauley '62 and Holly Alderman '67

The truth, looking back now in the mirror of time, now, is that most of the teachers seem heroic in their own ways – all hard working women, very conscientious, and kind.  In current culture, the general kindness of our classrooms seems a profound blessing. — Holly Alderman.

Some weeks ago, as we prepared a special Northampton School for Girls feature in the Williston Bulletin, I asked a few alumnae to name adults whose presence during those formative and formidable ‘Hamp School years had made a difference.  We couldn’t use every response.  But two of them, from Caren Altchek Pauley and Holly Alderman, were special enough to deserve publication.  Here they are, with thanks to the authors for allowing us to share! — RT

Dagmar Abkarian
by Caren Altchek Pauley ’62

Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)
Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)

With a comforting presence, Dagmar Abkarian ruled the  pristine two-room Northampton School for Girls “infirmary,” located on the upper floor of Montgomery House.  During my tenure, 1959-1962, she was a formidable presence, dark, round and with an unusual lumbering gait which seemed to separate her legs when she walked. She wore an immaculate white uniform, nurse’s coif, sensible white shoes, and a name badge.  She was unlike any other teacher or faculty member at the school.  Her coloring was like mine.  It separated her and me from nearly all the other  faculty, staff members and students  who were mostly light eyed blonds and fair skinned.  She was also a bit garrulous and although a mature woman, rather girlish at the same time.

I was a frequent visitor to the infirmary, as every bout of homesickness, math test, science test, and athletic competition caused me to seek consolation in her peaceful domain.  Before school counselors became de rigueur, it was the school nurse on whom we depended for advice on “how to survive”.  She took my temperature, and then usually pronounced me OK, to my utter and complete disappointment.  Then she discussed the challenges of that moment, before nearly squeezing me to death in an affectionate hug.  With her sympathetic endorsement, I knew I could make it through the morning geometry exam and even the afternoon field hockey game, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had little talent for either and thoroughly loathed both. Continue reading

Sharing Williston Northampton and Local History