Category Archives: Campus and Building History

Reformer With Fearsome Integrity

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist (Retired)
Archibald Victor Galbraith, Headmaster, 1919-1949. Please click any image to enlarge it.

In 1918-1919, the final year of Headmaster Joseph Sawyer’s administration, Williston Seminary’s outlook appeared bleak. Sawyer had been Principal since 1896, and on the faculty since 1866. Aged 77, he had been at Williston his entire adult life. Under his leadership, a vision for a different kind of school had evolved, but little had actually been done about it. Much of his effort had been in fund-raising, in which he had little experience, and for which, little taste. He had undertaken significant financial reforms at home. It was working: enrollment had stabilized, the deficits were shrinking, and Ford Hall had been opened in 1916. But the First World War changed everything. Enrollment, and with it income, plunged; deficits soared. Sawyer closed dormitories and tightened belts. Still, by the time the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, only 13 seniors remained. Depressed and in poor health, Sawyer announced his resignation in June 1919, effective as soon as a replacement could be found. (For Sawyer’s story, see Visionary Keeper of the Flame.)

Joseph Sawyer, a few years before his retirement.

Williston had hired Principals on short notice before. Sawyer himself had been among them. The 1919 timetable appeared open-ended: Sawyer would remain Head, assist with the transition, and then move over to the Board of Trustees. But those who knew him well probably sensed that there wasn’t much time. We are not sure why Archibald Galbraith was approached. Galbraith had been teaching mathematics at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, for 16 years. Aside from a few years as Athletic Director, and service as a dormitory head, he had relatively little administrative experience. In his own words, he “had no other plan than to continue there.” (GY, 8). But someone must have had good instincts. In July, Trustees Robert P. Clapp ‘75 (for whom the present campus library is named) and John L. Hall ‘90 met with Galbraith and convinced him of the “challenging opportunity for real service, one which [he] believed [he] was able to do.” (GY, 9) Middlesex Headmaster Frederick Winsor was supportive, and in due course, Galbraith accepted the position.

As things transpired, Galbraith would have only one meeting with Sawyer, who by this time was too sick even to move out of the Homestead. Instead, the Galbraiths moved into temporary faculty quarters in Ford Hall. Sawyer lingered a few weeks and died, worn out in service to his school, on November 7, 1919.

Helen and Archibald Galbraith, around 1940. Surprisingly, this is our only photo of Helen.

Archibald Victor Galbraith was born in Boxford, Mass., in 1877, and grew up in California and in Springfield, Mass. He was an 1895 honors graduate of Springfield High School, attended Harvard, where he concentrated in mathematics, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and received the Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in 1899. At Harvard he also excelled in athletics, particularly baseball. (According to legend, which Harvard authorities have so far been unwilling or unable to confirm, he was the only Harvard shortstop ever to execute an unassisted triple play.) After graduation he taught and coached at Milton Academy for one year, then three more at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, before he joined the Middlesex faculty. He married Helen McIntosh, of Newton, Mass. in 1905. Arch and Helen spent 1905-06 in Munich, where he pursued graduate courses. They also traveled extensively on the Continent for a year, before returning to Middlesex. They had two sons, Frederic ‘23, and Douglas ‘33.

When Galbraith arrived at Williston, he discovered a school which, in his words, was administratively “not fundamentally different from what it must have been during its formative years.” (GY, 11) For seventy years the Board, largely made up of the Founder’s friends and relations or their descendants, had labored to keep Samuel Williston’s vision alive, even as the educational needs of the country and the expectations of colleges had changed. There had been some migration away from this in recent decades – but certain Trustees were aware that it was not enough. Notably, John L. Hall ‘90, who had initially approached Galbraith, at age 47 represented the youth movement on the Board, while Clapp lived not far from the Middlesex School and may well have known Galbraith socially. They appear to have found a surprise ally in Robert L. Williston ‘88, Samuel Williston’s grand-nephew, but at 50, another relatively young Trustee.

Latin teacher Lincoln Grannis.

Galbraith inherited a strong faculty, led by Charles A. Buffum (Latin and Greek), Sidney Nelson Morse (English), and the extraordinary George Parsons Tibbets (Mathematics). Several other exceptional teachers were in early or mid-career: George Hero (History), Lincoln D. Grannis (Latin and Greek), Melvin J. Cook (Math), and Earl Nelson Johnston (Science) – the last three are very much alive in the memories of alumni from the thirties and forties. But faculty roles were, by longstanding tradition and preference, largely bounded by the walls of the classroom. Galbraith observed that even Tibbets, innovator though he was, expended most of his attention on his more talented students. Although Sawyer’s writings on “The New Williston” had called for a greater role for the faculty in student life, nothing had been done. The situation was in startling contrast to that at Middlesex.

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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.
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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