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Williamstown Points of Historical Interest

Williamstown's History

Williamstown began as West Hoosuck in 1750. The earliest settlers were sentinels from nearby Fort Massachusetts, the last outpost on the northern line of defense during the French and Indian wars. The first meeting of the Proprietors took place on Dec. 5, 1753, at which time there were about a dozen frame "regulation" houses along the main street. In 1756, a blockhouse, fort and stockade were built on the site of the present Williams Inn as refuge from repeated French and Indian raids.

After 1760, with the coming of peace, settlers flooded in, principally from Connecticut. Land was cleared and agriculture became the main source of livelihood. In 1765, the hamlet was incorporated as Williamstown - named for Col. Ephraim Williams who had commanded the northern line of defense and who, in his will, left money for the founding of a free school in West Hoosuck, providing the name be changed to Williamstown.

The school opened as an academy in 1791 and became Williams College in 1793. From then until the Civil War, the burgeoning of the town was sustained by farming, sheep herding, small mills and the growth of the college. After the Civil War, larger mills, railroading, dairy farming, tourism, summer visitors, the growth of industry in North Adams, the development of other cultural institutions and the beauty of the town's surroundings explain the development from a village of 2,000 to a town of 8,700.

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#1 - Westlawn Cemetery
The only cemetery in the north part of town for about 75 years, Westlawn was laid out in 1766 on land purchased from John Newbre. Newbre's daughter, Anne, was buried on the property in 1762. The next oldest stone (1766) on top of the hill with the oldest graves, six stones north of Main Street, is that of Jonathan Wright. Six rows west and two stones north of Wright's is the grave of Elizabeth Smith who died in 1771. The design on her stone is used on the letterhead of the Association of Gravestone Studies.

#2 - Dr. Jacob Meack House, 1192 West Main Street
Built or bought by Dr. Meack about 1768, the front part of this house includes the original "regulation" house. It was for Dr. Meack, the first physician in town, that early settlers named this part of Hemlock Brook, "Doctor's Brook."

#3 - Site of the First Meeting of the West Hoosac Proprietors, Dec. 5, 1753. 1183 West Main Street. Marker.
Seth Hudson's house, which stood at the southeast corner of the West Main Street bridge over Hemlock Brook was a regulation house built in 1753 and located in what was then the center of the settlement. Here, the Proprietors chose officers and committees, imposed taxes upon themselves, planned the division of meadows and uplands and made provisions for highways. The present house was built in the 1830s.

#4 - Site of Fort Hoosac. Marker.
At the end of the French and Indian War, the fort became the meeting place for the Proprietors until the building of a schoolhouse on the northeast corner of North and Main Streets.

#5 - Glen Female Seminary, 39 Cold Spring Rd.
The Misses Snyder opened the Glen Female Seminary in 1878 in this circa 1830s Greek Revival house. Its growing enrollment and the admittance of boys soon required the building of the house next door (29 Cold Spring Rd.) as a dormitory.

#6 - Field Park
This park at the junction of Routes 7 and 2 is a remnant of the town green which once ran the length if what is now Main Street and served as a common grazing area. The park was created in 1878 by Cyrus Field (of Atlantic Cable fame) and the Village Improvement Society.

#7 - Site of the First (1768-1798) and Second (1798-1866) Meeting Houses. Marker in Field Park.
The first meetinghouse was a crude building with one door, few windows and no chimney. It was the site of the first Williams College commencement (for four students) in 1795. It was moved further west in 1798 to make way for a larger meetinghouse and was used for town meetings and as a school until it burned in 1828. The second meetinghouse, larger and more dignified, burned on January 21, 1866 destroying many town records.

#8 - 1753 House
This regulation house was constructed in Field Park in 1953 for the Williamstown Bicentennial using tools and construction methods identical to those of British settlers along Hemlock Brook. In order to gain a title to a lot, settlers were required to clear five acres and construct a house measuring at least 15 by 18 feet with a 7-foot stud, hence the name "regulation" house.

#9 - Center for Development Economics
Designed in 1886 by McKim, Mead & White, this building served as the home of the Delta Psi fraternity. In 1966 , it became the Center for Development Economics offering masters degrees to young economists from government and financial institutions in developing countries.

#10 - Site of the Mansion House
Originally the minister's lot, this corner of Route 7 and 2 became the site of the principal hotel of the town from the late 18th century until it burned in 1872. It was replaced by the Greylock Hotel, frequently called the finest hotel in the Berkshires, which attracted summer visitors until it closed in 1937. Henry N. Teague, manager from 1911, coined the phrase "The Village Beautiful." The hotel was demolished and in 1967, Williams College built three dormitories on the site.

#11 - Benjamin F. Mather House
A symbol of the gradual eastward shift of the town from the Hemlock Brook area, this plank house was built about 1800. Mather was a ninth generation descendent of the famed New England Mather family. He and his son, Charles, were the leading Williamstown merchants in the mid-1800s. Benjamin's general store was located on the site of the present Adams Memorial Theater. Charles's store sat on the site of the present Faculty Club/Alumni Center. Mather House has been home to the college's admission office since 1971.

#12 - 95 Park Street
A handsome Gothic Revival "cottage" started in 1854 by Williams College President Paul Chadbourne and finished by Professor John Bascom a few years later. The architect is unknown but the house is clearly derived from the published work of Andrew Jackson Downing. The exuberant Gothic ornamentation was restored in 1990.

#13 - Sloan House, 936 Main Street
Designed by a Boston architect, this late Federal house was built in 1802 by General Sam Sloan, a wealthy South Williamstown farmer. The ornamentation came from Boston by water via New York City and Albany, then overland through Pownal, Vermont. It has been the home of Williams College presidents since 1858.

#14 - West College
Built in 1709-99 as the Free School in Williamstown with money from the estate of Col. Ephraim Williams and $3,500 raised by lottery, the building opened on October 20, 1791 as the English Free School and Academy. The trustees later petitioned the General Court to allow its conversion to a college and Williams College opened its doors in October, 1793, under president Ebenezer Fitch. The English Free School was discontinued but the Academy survived until 1811.

#15 - The First Congregational Church
After the Second Meetinghouse burned in 1866, a new brick church (no longer called a meetinghouse) was constructed in the Romanesque Revival style. The college contributed $6,000 toward the construction in order to have a spacious auditorium for college functions. Commencement exercises, as in earlier meetinghouses, were held in the new church until 1912 when Chapin (formerly Grace) Hall was completed. In 1914, a rebirth of classical taste prompted the church authorities to encase the old brick building in a white, clapboard shell and rebuild the church in the neoclassical style, modeled in part on the 18th century church in Old Lyme, Ct.

#16 - The Old Bookstore, 9 Spring Street
Originally built in 1842 on the lot where the Congregational Church now stands, the N.F. Smith Bookstore was moved in 1867 to the present site of the Lasell Gymnasium and again in 1886 to its present location. Except for the years 1947-57, there was a bookstore in this building from 1842 until 1990. The building also served as a drugstore, general store, post office (1848-1879), the town's first telegraph office (1876), and first soda fountain (1885). Before baths were installed in the college dormitories, public baths for students were available in the basement of the building.

#17 - Stone Chapel and Alumni Hall
Designed by Gervase Wheeler and built of local dolomite with money raised by the Society of Alumni, this building served as the college chapel and alumni meeting hall until 1905, when it was renamed Goodrich Hall.

#18 - Thompson Memorial Chapel
This imposing stone chapel was built in 1903-04 with money donated by Mary Clark Thompson in memory of her husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson (class of 1856). The west transept window, dedicated to President James A. Garfield (class of 1856), was created by noted 19th century stained-glass artist John LaFarge and is one of only 400 LaFarge windows in existence. The window was first installed in the 1859 Stone Chapel across the street and moved in 1915.

#19 - Griffin Hall
Designed and built in 1828 as a chapel by the college's third president, Edward Dorr Griffin, this building was patterned after a Charles Bullfinch building at Andover Theological Seminary. It was also for a time the home of the former Williamstown National Bank, which opened in 1884 in the office of the college treasurer. In 1904, Griffin Hall was moved north and east to bring it into line with the new Thompson Memorial.

#20 - Lawrence Hall
The original octagonal structure was designed by Thomas Tefft and built for $7,000 in 1846 as a college library. The money was donated by millionaire cotton manufacturer Amos Lawrence, a friend of president Mark Hopkins. Lawrence Hall is now a part of the Williams College Museum of Art. A 1983 addition was designed by Charles Moore.

#21 - East College
The original East College was built in 1797 with money granted to the college by the General Court from the sale of land in Maine. It burned to the ground in 1841. The college petitioned the court fro $15,000 to rebuild, but was turned down and had to seek private contributions. Of the money needed, 54 percent came from residents of Williamstown. South College, to the rear, was constructed the same year.

#22 - Hopkins Observatory
Built in 1836-38 by Professor Albert Hopkins and students from stone they quarried on East Mountain, this is the oldest extant observatory in the United States. It is used today as a planetarium.

#23 - Daniel Day House
This late Federal-style house was built in 1798 by Daniel Day, a prosperous farmer who moved into the village because his daughter had social ambitions. Ornamentation for the house and for the daughter's dresses, came from Boston and brought Mr. Day to financial straits. He was forced to sell the house to Judge Daniel Dewey. The house was later used as a lodge for the Delta Upsilon fraternity and is now owned by Williams College.

#24 - Stephen Hosford/Caleb Brown Store
Built around 1832 from bricks made at Hosford's brickyard on South Street, this building has served as a general store, the home of a fraternity, the town hall, the public library and as a Masonic Lodge since 1889.

#25 - Nobel-Botsford House, 762 Main Street
The Daniel Noble House was built around 1815. Long owned by the family of Joseph White, a founder of the Williamstown Library service in 1874, the house was purchased in 1941 by E. Herbert Botsford and given to the town for a public library in memory of his daughter, Elizabeth Sanford Botsford. The architectural details are clearly of local manufacture (from Asher Benjamin's pattern books) compared with the imported woodwork of the Day and Sloan houses. Several original mantelpieces and moldings can still be seen. The house was occupied by the Town Library and the House of Local History until 1997.

#26 - Site of the Opera House, 27 Water Street
Built in 1845 as the Methodist Church, the wood-frame building became the Waterman and Moore Opera House when the new brick church was built on the corner in 1877. It was a center for traveling shows, college drama productions and town social activities and also housed the town offices and fire department. In its last years, it was a lumberyard. The building was demolished in 1992 for a parking lot.

#27 - Center or White School, Grundy Court
One of the 14 district schools listed in the town records in 1850, the Center or White School originally stood on the site of the Baptist Church at 731 Main Street and was for a time used as a center of worship by the Methodists before they built their own church in 1845. The building was later used as a butcher shop and was eventually moved to Grundy Court.

#28 - Dr. Samuel Smith House, 732 Main Street
This fine brick house was built in 1817 and has remained in the Smith family to the present day. Dr. Smith's office was in the little building to the west of the house.

#29 - Asa Morton House, 718 Main Street
Built around 1880 by Joseph White, a treasurer of Williams College, the Queen Anne style house is based on plans published by Palliser and Palliser Architects of Bridgeport, CT. It was purchased in 1892 by Professor Asa Henry Morton and his wife, the painter Josephine Ames. An artist who studied in Paris, she finished the third floor as a studio salon, the scene of many Sunday afternoon social gatherings.

#30 - Bissell Sherman House, 711 Main Street
Bissell Sherman built this Federal-style house in 1796 after saving money as a farmer in the west end of the village. He opened a small store in the east room and a school on the second floor for neighborhood children. From humble beginnings, by investing and reinvesting, he became the richest man in town.

#31 - Judah Williams House, 678 Main Street
During the Revolution, Judah Williams became very rich as a commissary to the army. At the peak of his prosperity, probably before 1778, he built this brick mansion. Inflation which attended the war ruined him and he was forced to sell the house to David Noble, who subsequently acquired nearly all the land north to the Hoosic River and west to what is now Southworth Street.

#32 - Site of the Walley Mill
The first establishment in Williamstown to qualify as a factory was a cotton textile mill built in 1826. Later known as the Walley Mill, it stood on the west bank of the Green River about 100 yards north of the Main Street bridge. The great stone arch, which covered the trace, may still be seen in winter months. The dam was about 200 yards south of this bridge at the point where the Green River makes a westerly bend. The water was carried across the road to the factory. Business reached its greatest prosperity during the proprietorship of Stephen Walley. In 1879, Williams College President Paul A. Chadbourne purchased the enterprise along with Keyes Danforth, who operated it until 1883 when it burned to the ground throwing 70 people out of work.

#33 - Site of the Walley Mill Dam
About 200 yards to the south of the Main Street bridge are the remains of the Walley Mill dam, which was built on the site of an earlier dam, Duncan's 1768 grist mill.

#34 - Eastlawn Cemetery
In 1842, Ashael Foote deeded land to the town for Eastlawn Cemetery. The Sherman Burbank Memorial Chapel was built in 1935 by Sherman H. Burbank in memory of Sarah Duncan Sherman Burbank (of the Bissell Sherman family). William Henry Seeley (1853-1932) is buried in this cemetery. Seeley enlisted in the U.S. Army 25th Regiment on January 20, 1865, at age 11 years, 9 months, 13 days. He was one of the youngest soldiers in the Civil War.

#35 - Nehemiah Smedley House
Built in 1772 by one of the original Proprietors and an office in the Williamstown militia, this house was operated as a tavern. Benedict Arnold spent the night of May 6, 1775, on his way to join Ethan Allen in taking Fort Ticonderoga. The house has a large oven in the basement in which bread was baked to feed Capt. Smedley and his military company the day after the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1776.

#36 - Williams College Cemetery
Set aside in 1856 from college land and enlarged in 1882, this cemetery was designed for use by the college trustees, faculty and descendents of President Mark Hopkins. There are monuments to President Ebenezer Fitch (1755-1833), and Edward D. Griffin (1770-1837). Uphill to the south of the cemetery, is the Haystack Monument, commemorating the spot where in 1806 a group of Williams students took refuge under a haystack from a storm that interrupted their prayer meeting. A pledge made that afternoon became the inspiration for the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

#37 - Mill Village National Historic District, Cole Avenue, Mill and Arnold Streets
The Williamstown Manufacturing Co. built the "station mill" in 1865 taking advantage of water power supplied by the Hoosic River. Williams College President Paul Chadbourne was a key figure the building bothe the mill and the village which housed workers imported from Canada. One of the least changed of all mill villages in Massachusetts, it was included in the National Register in 1983.

#38 - Williamstown Railroad Station, Cole Avenue and North Hoosac Road
The only stone masonry on the Boston & Main line, the Williamstown station was built in 1898 to replace a wooden structure that was burned. A distinguished building in a Richardsonian Romanesque style, it was the first experience of Williamstown for thousands of Williams College students. For many years, the adjacent rail yard to the northwest one of the busiest on the railroad with freight trains being constituted here for trips through the Hoosac Tunnel to East Deerfield.

#39 - River Bend Farm, circa 1770, 643 Simonds Road
Col. Benjamin Simonds built this structure as a home and a tavern beside the trail leading north from the village. One of the earliest and most influential citizens of the town, he led his regiment in the Battle of Bennington. Simond's daughter, Rachel, was the first child of European descent born in town. Extensively restored, River Bend Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

#40 - Red Saltbox House, 1385 Main Street
Built about 1765 on the corner of Main Street and the original line of a main westward highway (Bee Hill Road), this house served at times as a tavern and as a school.

#41 - William Horsford House, 196 South Street
Built on Main Street in the early 1760s by William Horsford, this house acted as a reference point in locating West College (1790) and later served as a center for student prayer meetings. It was moved by eight span of oxen to its present location in 1802 to make way for the Sloan (now the college president's) house and was extensively restored in 1952.

#42 - Clark Art Institute, South Street
Built in 1955 by Sterling and Francine Clark to house their private collection of paintings, as well as silver, sculpture, prints and porcelain, it was enlarged in 1973 with an auditorium, art history research library and additional galleries. The Williamstown Regional Art Conservation Laboratory is located behind the institute.

#43 - Five Corners Historic District, Intersection of Routes 7 and 43
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the cluster of dwellings, general store, school house and church are the remnants of a late 18th century settlement that grew up to serve the surrounding farms. The Greylock Institute for Boys, later the Idlewild Hotel, was located here until it was demolished in 1937.

Excerpted from the brochure "Williamstown Massachusetts Points of Historical Interest" sponsored by the Williamstown Historical Commission, Williams Inn, Williamstown Board of Trade, Williams College.