Tag Archives: Joseph Henry Sawyer

Founders’ Day

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The cover to a Founder’s Day invitation, 1895

According to most evidence, Williston Seminary began to celebrate Founders’ Day shortly after Samuel Williston’s death in 1874.  The original tradition was to commemorate the Founder on or close to his birthday, June 17.  Typically it was one element of Senior Week, which culminated with graduation exercises.  It was a major event.  The oldest surviving program, from 1895, presents a full afternoon of wreath-laying and speeches.

The Founders’ Day program, 1895.

Some form of the event survived into the 1970s.   By mid-century, it had been moved to a date earlier in the spring.  The school assembled at the Williston gravesite in the Main Street Cemetery, where either the Headmaster or Dean A. L. Hepworth would talk about the Willistons, and typically many of the other former heads and faculty interred nearby.

At the gravesite, probably 1970. Headmaster Phillips Stevens and Chaplain Roger A. Barnett.
May, 1966. Teacher Peter Rowe lays a wreath on Emily Williston’s grave. Other identifiable faculty include, from left, Frank Putnam, Yves Couderc (center, behind Mr. Rowe), Daniel Carpenter, A. L. Hepworth, Wilmot Babcock (partially obscured), and Alan Shaler (on the right margin).

In 2016, during Williston Northampton’s 175th Anniversary celebration, Founders’ Day was revived, now as a February event celebrating the tradition of giving that was so much a part of who Samuel and Emily Williston were.  It has become a major element in the School’s annual Advancement effort.  On February 20, 2019, our goal was to inspire 1,178 donors — for Williston’s 178th year.  Achieving that participation target triggered an additional $75,000 challenge grant, while several classes and the Williston Parents created incentives of their own.  By the end of the day we had vastly exceeded expectations, as nearly 1,400 alumni, parents, faculty, students, and friends realized almost $400,000.

Joesph Sawyer, ca. 1909.

For Headmaster Joseph Henry Sawyer, who joined the faculty in 1866 and led the school from 1884-1886 and 1895-1919, Founders’ Day was especially meaningful.  After all, he had known Emily and Samuel Williston personally, as well as most of the other major figures from the school’s early years.  In 1911 his friend Herbert M. Plimpton, class of 1878, published several of Sawyer’s Founders’ Day addresses.

June 17, 1909, fell on the same day as Commencement, so much of the traditional Founders’ Day speechifying was curtailed.  But Sawyer, in his graduation remarks to the senior class, included a few words —actually, more than a few — about Samuel Williston.  While the religious element Sawyer evokes is de-emphasized in 21st-century Williston Northampton, much of what Sawyer had to say seems especially relevant for students and alumni today.  The text, from Plimpton’s compilation, is reproduced below.  (Please click the images to enlarge them.)x

The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new. (Click all images to enlarge.)

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading

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.