Category Archives: Campus and Building History

A William Rittase Gallery (II)

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
A William Rittase classroom image from the 1940s, with teacher Earl N. Johnston. The dramatic lighting, from floods placed outside the margins of the image, is characteristic. (Please click images to enlarge.)

William Rittase (1894-1968) was an American photographer based in Philadelphia.   On several occasions from the mid-1930 to the early 1950s, he was hired by Williston Academy to create catalogue images. He also, on at least one occasion in the ‘forties, shot photos at Northampton School for Girls. Rittase’s artistic interests lay in industrial and railroad subjects, for which his work is prized by collectors today. Catalogue photography was undoubtedly meant to pay the bills. But in retrospect, Rittase’s catalogue photography frequently surpasses the medium for which it was intended.

Rittase’s images are sprinkled throughout this blog, but only once, in A William Rittase Sports Gallery, have we devoted a full post just to his work. Not long ago his grandson left a comment on that page. That led to the realization that we have a great many wonderful images that we haven’t shared. Thus, this article.

South Hall, on the Old Campus, with the Easthampton Congregational Church in the background. The cloud effect is another Rittase signature

His style lent a distinctive look to Williston’s and Northampton’s marketing materials. Rittase’s work is typically characterized by dramatic lighting and high contrast between light and shadow.   In outdoor photographs, billowing clouds are another signature.  Sometimes he obtained his singular chiaroscuro through artificial means, placing floodlights at unusual angles, occasionally casting striking shadows. Retired Williston photography instructor Bob Couch ’50 has observed that Rittase’s trademark clouds sometimes repeat themselves from one image to the next. (And Rittase worked half a century before anyone had imagined digital photo editing.)

Chemistry at Northampton School for Girls, around 1945. Rittase has darkened the room, except for a flood placed low behind the glassware.

Most of Rittase’s photographs survive in the Archives as mounted gallery prints, in which the images measure approximately 13.75″ x 10.” Over the years, many of these have faded or the dyes in the prints turned sepia. But because we have the published images, and because other Rittase work is available as a reference, we have a good sense of what the originals once looked like. A number of years ago, using modern scanning and digital editing, we undertook a project to try to reproduce the photographs in something approximating their original state.

A Rittase print in its present state.
The preceding photograph, digitally restored. The tower of the old gymnasium appears in the background.

Beyond their often sheer beauty, Rittase’s pictures present aspects of student life and the campus that have long since vanished. Here are some of his best — or most interesting images. Viewers are encouraged to look for some of the Rittase attributes described above.

Faculty and Students
Classics master Lincoln Grannis, 1944. In this case we can date the photo from the calendar on the wall.
English teacher Chuck Rouse in conference.
Continue reading

The Tale of The Lion

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

We are not a campus of monuments.  Other schools may have their statues of alumni Presidents, of creepy idealized schoolboys, of King Ozymandias . . . Williston has a statue called “The Actor,” generally understood to represent a fictional knight whose every attribute defies institutional aspirations toward Purpose, Passion, and Integrity.  And, of course, a lion.  No . . . The Lion.

The Lion in Winter. (Please click images to enlarge.)

The Lion has no name, nor does he represent the school’s Wildcat mascot.  He stands guarding the flagpole.  His empty eyes scan Mount Tom, perhaps anticipating danger from the bike path.  For generations he has been a magnet for children, some of them quite old, who cannot resist riding him.  Chameleonlike, his colors change so often that while his aging body is cast iron, observers may be forgiven for assuming that he is comprised entirely of layers of paint.  Perhaps like Auden’s Sphinx, The Lion is admired. but unloved.

Periodically, especially before important events like Convocation and Commencement, The Lion metamorphoses to a neutral color, institutionally repainted in the name of Looking Neat and Clean.  It never lasts.  The Lion has celebrated the national holidays of many countries, graduations, and the occasional birthday.  At times of local or national tragedy, leonine memorials have been de rigeur.  These have tended to last longer than other redecorative efforts.  He has been painted to advertise school plays, has appeared in support of political candidates, has been colored pink to promote breast cancer awareness,  and adopted a rainbow insignia to commemorate Williston’s participation in an LGBDQ Day of Silence.

(Ann Hallock)

Not every paint job has been so high-minded.  A couple of years ago, The Lion sported an odd shade of light blue, serving as background for a too-public senior prom invitation.  (Embarrassed, she declined.)  And painting traditions have changed over the years.  There was a time when a student subject to involuntary early departure might leave a farewell message.  More often, his friends would paint the beast in the miscreant’s memory.  Until a recent shift in tradition, it was rare actually to see anyone painting The Lion.  Most of the time, he appeared, overnight, to have painted himself.

The Lion in the 1930s, in its original Williston location, next to Swan Cottage

How the Lion Came to Williston

Edward Clare (William Rittase)

The Lion was brought to Easthampton in the 1920s by Williston Junior School Headmaster Edward Clare (for whom Clare House is named), and was installed next to what is now called Swan Cottage, on the crest of the Main Street Precipice.  When Ed Clare died suddenly in 1947, his widow Hazel stayed on, as did his Lion.  In 1965 the statue was relocated to a spot on the main campus, next to the Theater, where it remained until 1996, at which time it was moved to its present location, to make room for Falstaff.

The Legend of the Lion

According to legend, as transmitted by Hazel Clare, The Lion was one of a pair that stood overlooking the Charles River in Boston, on the property of a British merchant.  At the time of the Boston Tea Party, a mob invaded the merchant’s house and dumped the lions into the river.  The Tory fled to Canada, and the lions remained underwater until around the time of the Civil War, when they were dredged from the river during the expansion of the Charlestown Navy Yard.  Col. George Moore was the officer in charge of the recovery operation.  In civilian life, Col. Moore sold pianos.  That detail becomes relevant because at home in nearby Walpole, Mass., Moore had access to a variety of cranes, blocks, and tackles meant for hoisting pianos through upper-story windows, thus also useful for fishing cast iron lions out of the muck.  Moore took one of the lions for himself and installed it at his Walpole residence, which he named Lionhurst.  The second lion was taken by someone else, and lost to history.  Col. Moore had a daughter, Treby Moore.  Treby, who never married, was Edward Clare’s aunt.  She gave Ed the Lion, which he brought to Easthampton. Continue reading

A Different Time

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

The Williston Junior School, 1944

The cover of the April,1944 Williston Bulletin, featuring what was then called Williston Cottage, later Conant House. (Please click images to enlarge them.)

The Williston Junior School was a semi-autonomous branch of Williston Seminary and Williston Academy, offering a boarding program for students in grades 5-8.  Founded in 1918, it shared facilities with the Upper School, but had its own Headmaster and faculty.  Originally operating out of Payson Hall on the Old Campus, it eventually relocated to four buildings on Main Street.  Present-day alumni will recognize the “Main St. Quadrangle,” or Clare House, Swan Cottage, Conant House (a.k.a. Williston Cottage), and Sawyer House.

The title page. showing the Junior Schoolhouse, now Swan Cottage.

Edward Clare was Junior School Headmaster from 1936-1947. Clare House is named for him.

We’ve reproduced a Junior School viewbook from 1944 – largely without comment, because the often charming images speak for themselves.  It was a different time.  (Copies of the viewbook are from donations by Ellis Baker ’51 and Peter Stevens ’60)  Please click on any image to enlarge it. Continue reading

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