Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States and Europe were swept by a craze for postcards. Useful not only for mail, the cards were snapped up by scrapbookers and collectors. Cities and towns, large and small, published “views.” They were a source of civic pride. Easthampton was no exception. In fact, largely through the enthusiasm of a local shopkeeper and photography buff named Charles J. Keene,1 Easthampton was featured in more postcard images than any other U.S. location except New York. The Williston Northampton Archives hold nearly 300 postcards of the school and the town.
Many of the older and more attractive cards were published by Raphael Tuck & Co., ca. 1890-1915, although the photographs used for the cards sometimes dated from the 1880’s or even earlier. Tuck developed a process of tinting black and white photographs to produce color images via lithographic printing. When images were colorized, they were often altered to include vehicles and people not present in the original photographs.
1Keene’s other claim to Williston Northampton fame is that he lived in what is now French House.
(“Wish You Were Here” will be a regular feature of “From the Archives,” probably until we run out of postcards.)
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Among the great themes in private school life, dorm room decoration is, perhaps, insufficiently recognized as one of the Great Traditions.
But consider the first image below, taken in North Hall in 1903. All the elements of modern-day student interior decoration are present. The overall theme might be described as “Eclecticism, and Too Much Of It.” There is an emphasis on advertising and clipped photographs, especially portraits of unattainable celebrities of opposite gender.
Perhaps the impression of young gentlemen sitting up straight and reading in their jackets and ties doesn’t seem quite real, but it is somewhat mitigated by paper that didn’t quite hit the wastebasket.
American photography came into its own during the Civil War, when photojournalists like Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner documented the conflict. Peacetime brought photography to the civilian population, as hundreds of photographers set up studios or embraced picture-taking as a hobby.
We have what may be the earliest extant photograph of the old Williston Seminary campus on Main Street, opposite Shop Row. Today the Easthampton Savings Bank stands on the site of North Hall, the leftmost structure. Beyond North Hall we see Middle and South Halls and the Payson Church, now the Easthampton Congregational Church. The image is by an anonymous photographer, and measures approximately 14 x 10½ inches. The event of being photographed was sufficiently novel to attract the attention of most of the students, who turned out to watch the process and, not coincidentally, to get into the picture.
Henry Perry’s description of the Williston Seminary fire of March, 1857, was presented in an earlier post. His schoolmate, Abner Ellsworth Austin, class of 1859, wrote a very different account of the event.
The Archives hold 10 letters to and from Abner Austin (1839-1918), the gift of Margaret Gardner Skinner and Warren F. Gardner. Beyond providing wonderful detail about school life, the documents are a testament to Abner’s irrepressible nature. Even as he is reporting the fire’s impact — the phrase “learning nothing but uglyness” seems heartbreaking — Abner is contemplating his next bit of fun.
Austin entered Williston in the fall of 1856, in the equivalent of the modern 10th grade. As his letter suggests, he remained for only one year, then returned to his native Meriden, Connecticut. He went to work as a butcher, then in 1871 opened a livery stable. He became one of Meriden’s leading businessmen.