Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII

Williamstown, The Beautiful, 1885

Under the maples that shade Williamstown Street, one looks out on wide, green meadows hemmed in by a circle of frowning mountains save where the Hoosac has broken through the barrier to continue its course to the Hudson. The little valley is hopelessly entangled in these bold peaks, broken spurs of the Green Mountains, rising abruptly without order or system. Nothing is plainer to the loiterer under the maples than that nature meant an eternal seclusion here; but manís great end is to circumvent nature, and up the valley, five miles away, he has cut a tunnel through the most formidable hill and made the valley one of the nationís highways.

Yet, spite of the innovation, we fail to see that the old town has lost any of its rural beauty or tranquility. West College and East College, though surrounded by smarter and more esthetic structures, are as firmly seated, as piquant and interesting as ever. There is a novelty and beauty in this park-like main street of Williamstown which you will find nowhere else. And there is that in the origin and history of Williams Col-



Williamstown, The Beautiful, 1885

lege which is not embodied in the history of any of our institutions of learning. Musing under the shades and wandering through the old halls instinct with young life and high hopes and endeavors, Ephrairn Williamsís foresight and self-sacrifice appear in their fullest scope and significance. Too many men devote themselves to the fighting of battles and the material development of the country; too few found universities and endow scholarships. This man, in a rude age, suggesting and founding an institution so beneficent and so successful, seems the ideal hero of his time.

The annalists have preserved the history of the College so perfectly that one may pass leisurely down the years, and without effort observe the salient features and more striking incidents.

It is not until the French and Indian war of 1744 that Captain Ephraim Williams, one of the leading citizens of the Province, coming into the valley to build Fort Massachusetts, the westernmost of a chain of forts which Massachusetts has ordered for the defense of her frontiers, discovers the valley. Charmed with its beauty and fertility, at the close of the war he succeeded in inducing the Legislature to organize in the valley two townships of six miles square, to be called the east and west townships of Hoosac. There was a hamlet of eleven souls in the valley when, in the spring of 1755, war with the French and Indians again broke out, and



Williamstown, The Beautiful, 1885

Captain, now Colonel, Williams marched away at the head of the Hampshire Regiment to join in Johnsonís expedition against Crown Point. On the 8th of September, 1755, Williams fell in battle with Dieskauís forces, near the head of Lake George, and on the administering of his estate a will was found, which, after a few minor bequests, gave the bulk of his property "for the support and maintenance of a free school in the township west of Fort Massachusetts," provided that township remained a part of the Massachusetts Colony, and was erected at a proper time into a town to be called Williamstown. Such was the modest origin of the College and the village.

It was fortunate that the bequest came into the hands of wise and judicious trustees, for it had to be nursed carefully for a generation before it became at all adequate to the purpose designed. At length, in the year 1785, the colonies which Colonel Williams died for having become free and independent States, the trustees, reinforced by a public subscription of $2,000, and further buttressed by a lottery which yielded £1,037, began the erection of West College, which still remains strong and serviceable, to show how well men builded in those days. In this building the school opened October 2O, 1791, with the Rev, Ebenezer Fitch, who had been a tutor at Yale, as principal, and Mr. John Lester as assistant. The school was really a college from the beginning. In its academical department,



Williamstown, The Beautiful, 1885

the studies usually taught in the colleges of the day were pursued, and in its free school, graduates of the common school were instructed in the higher branches of English. There was no lack of students from the beginning, and in 1793 the trustees were emboldened to procure an act of Legislature incorporating the free school as a college, by the name of Williams College. The same act bestowed $4,000 for the purchase of a library and other necessary apparatus. Thus gradually and with some effort the College was established on a firm basis, and began its work of beneficence. Some incidents of its early history give us pleasant glimpses of the social customs of the day. There was the Commencement dinner, provided for by one of the earliest acts of the trustees, at which the President, Trustees, and officers of the College, with such other gentlemen as the President might invite, were appointed guests. For many years the annual Commencements continued to be the great days not only of the village, but of the region roundabout.

Almost any sunny day one may see under these shades a venerable form who is recognized as the central figure in the annals of Williams ó ex-President Mark Hopkins. It will be fifty years in 1886 since he became President of the College, and although the burden of years caused him in 1872 to resign the Presidency, he still fills the chairs of Christian Theology and of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, and is a counselor of



Williamstown, The Beautiful, 1885

weight in all the affairs of the College. Much of what is distinctive and beneficent ó and there is much of it óin the atmosphere of Williams to-day is admittedly due to this long administration of President Hopkins.