Tag Archives: Joseph Henry Sawyer

Ford Hall Turns 100

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Williston Northampton is 175 years old this year.  But almost forgotten amidst the dodransbicentennial [yes, it’s a real word!] hoopla is another milestone: Ford Hall opened a century ago this fall.

Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.
Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.

After the Homestead, it is the first structure to have been built on the so-called “new” campus.  The Senior Dorm.  (Not any more.)  The Gold Coast.  (No longer.)  The Fraternity.  (Ditto — perhaps, perhaps not.)  Even in these unsentimental twenty-teens, some students — many of them the sons of alumni — will claim that to live in Ford Hall is to have arrived.  It goes without saying that their non-Ford peers might not agree.

Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.
Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.

But if any campus building can be said to embody Tradition, with a capital T, it must be Ford.  No doubt some individual traditions are best left unrecorded in a family publication like the From the Archives.  Alumni of various generations will recognize references to the Phantom, those “useless” fireplaces, the Bomb Sight, the Great Newspaper Caper, Couchie’s Carlings, and the mythical Kid Who Was Taught His Colors Wrong.  If you have to ask, you weren’t there.

Four decades since the previous picture, the campus was shaded by gorgeous mature elms. Sadly, by the late 1960s they had all succumbed to the Dutch elm blight and were replaced by maples.

On the other hand, readers who were there are invited to add their favorite Ford Hall stories to the comment form at the bottom of this article.  What, after all, is a history blog for?  Be advised, though, that publication is likely, unless you’ve forgotten that there is no statute of limitations on good taste.

Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.
Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.

It is hard to imagine that a structure so much a part of the fabric of Williston Northampton life was almost never built.  Samuel and Emily Williston’s estates had provided an endowment for the operation of the school, which was originally situated at the head of Main Street, on a site now occupied by two banks and a supermarket.  Emily’s will conveyed the Homestead and surrounding land — the present campus — to Williston Seminary, with the proviso that the school erect at least one new building on the property. 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.

The Campus That Never Was

Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer in the 1920s. (Click all images to enlarge.)

At schools and colleges like Williston Northampton, one eye is necessarily on the future.  Difficult as it is to predict the educational needs of the nation and the world a decade or a half-century hence, it is essential to try.  As Williston itself very nearly learned in the 19th century, complacency is what closes private schools.  It took a Headmaster of exceptional vision and perseverance, Joseph Henry Sawyer (who joined the faculty in 1866 and served as Head from 1896-1919) to break us of the habit of constantly looking backwards.

Details of Sawyer’s campaign for “The New Williston” are for another post.  But briefly, it called for the development of the Williston Homestead property – our present campus – as the eventual replacement for the cramped and increasingly obsolete Old Campus in downtown Easthampton.  There was a complete re-thinking of the role of the school and faculty in its students’ lives, from a kind of laissez-faire paternalism to active collaboration in academic, athletic, and social activity.  To pay for all this, Sawyer sought new funding sources, notably through the then-controversial idea that a Williston education was only the beginning of an alumnus’s lifelong relationship with, and responsibility to, the school.

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