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Amherst College: A Place of Learning

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The Amherst College landscape has grown and evolved over the years to fit the changing needs of generations of students. Some buildings have succumbed to natural disasters or were outgrown, while others now fill new roles on campus, but many are still the same as they were when these photographs were taken. This exhibition offers a glimpse of the place that was Amherst College in the late 1800's.

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An Exhibition of 17 Photographs from the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

 

 


 

Amherst College, 1880
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(Photo by Notman Photographic Co., Albany, New York -- from White 1880 Class Album)


View of the main College campus showing (left to right): Walker Hall, opened in 1870, burned in 1882, rebuilt in 1883 and razed in 1963, the present site of the Robert Frost Library; Stearns Church, also known as College Church, opened in 1873, razed (with the exception of the steeple) in 1948, the present site of the Mead Art Museum; East College dormitory, dedicated in 1858, razed in 1883, the present site of James Hall; Williston Hall, built in 1858, renovated, altered and tower removed in 1951, still standing; North College dormitory, opened in 1823, known as Middle College until 1857, mirror image of South, still standing; Johnson Chapel, dedicated in 1827, still standing; South College dormitory, cornerstone laid in 1820, exterior same as when erected, still standing; and (in the foreground) the Octagon, also known as Woods Cabinet and Lawrence Observatory, dedicated in 1848, still standing.


 

Appleton Cabinet
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(Photo by Notman Photographic Co., Albany, New York -- from White 1880 Class Album)


This building is situated on the brow of the hill at the south end of Chapel Row. It was built in 1855 as a three-story building with a one-story extension to the east, to house scientific collections of the College. It is named for the Hon. Samuel Appleton of Boston, from whose estate President Hitchcock secured funds in support of the building. For many years, it held the Hitchcock Ichnological Cabinet, the Gilbert Museum of Indian Relics and the Adams Zoological Museum. The extension was removed in 1925 and the building has been remodeled several times. The building was renamed Appleton Hall after the 1925 remodeling.


 

Hitchcock Ichnological Cabinet
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(Photo by Notman Photographic Co., Albany, New York -- from White 1880 Class Album)


Located in the main room on the lower level of Appleton Cabinet, this collection of fossil footmarks was made chiefly from the Connecticut Valley by President Edward Hitchcock. Begun in 1835, when the science of ichnology (the study of tracks) was unknown, the collection by 1875 was considered one of the largest and most valuable in the world, consisting of 21,773 tracks representing 120 different species.


 

Zoological Cabinet
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Dickinson 1876 Class Album)


On the second floor of Appleton Cabinet, the Adams Zoological Cabinet began with the collections of Professor C. B. Adams, Professor Sylvester Hovey and various students, friends and alumni. When Appleton was built in 1855, the collection was brought together from various locations on the campus.


 

Barrett Gymnasium
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(Photo by Pach, New York -- from Rolfe 1882 Class Album)


Barrett was built in 1859-60 of Pelham gneiss. Its cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1859. On the first floor were offices, dressing rooms and a main room containing bowling alleys and rowing weights, as well as anthropometric equipment. The building was named in honor of Dr. Benjamin Barrett of Northampton, who made the largest donation towards its construction. Although Barrett was not the first American college gymnasium, it was in this building that Dr. Edward Hitchcock instituted the first Department of Hygiene and Physical Education in the country. Pratt Gymnasium was built in 1883-84, and in 1907 Barrett was remodeled for the use of the departments of modern languages, and was renamed Barrett Hall.


 

Interior of Barrett Gymnasium
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Dickinson 1876 Class Album)

The hall for gymnastic exercises on the second floor of Barrett was used four times a week by each of the four classes. In it was unusually heavy apparatus such as trapeze, swinging rings, batule board, vaulting bar, rack bar, and ladders. Dr. Barrett, at his own expense, later installed galleries for spectators who were welcome to witness the exercise classes.


 

Student Lounge in North College
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Culver 1878 Class Album)


Identified as number 25 North College in Allan M. Culver's 1878 Class Album, this photograph shows the kind of common living space that was available to students at the College during the last quarter of the 19th century. Between 1828 and 1857, while a third College dormitory stood on the present site of Williston, this building was known as Middle College. Built mainly as a dormitory and opened during winter term of the year 1822-23, it was a mirror image of the first building, South College.


 

The Octagon
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Wood 1884 Class Album)


The Octagon is on the hill west of College Row, on the site where the old village church stood from 1782 to 1828. The central building, together with the observatory, was dedicated in 1848. The choice of the octagonal shape was heavily influenced by President Edward Hitchcock. The Octagon was originally built to house the natural history collection and the astronomical apparatus. The Sweetser Geological lecture room was added to the northwest corner in 1855 and the Dickinson Nineveh Gallery was added to the southeast corner in 1857. The building was made of wood and stucco and originally scored and painted to resemble large blocks. This architectural detail and the observatory dome are both visible in the photograph. 


 

Pratt Gymnasium
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(Photo by Pach Bros., New York -- from Blodgett 1887 Class Album)


Built in 1884, the gymnasium was the gift of Charles M. Pratt, Class of 1879, out of affection for Edward "Doc" Hitchcock, Class of 1849. Constructed partially of material from the short-lived East College Dormitory, this gymnasium was almost three times bigger than Barrett and had a large central hall, bowling alleys, billiard tables, hot and cold water and a room for athletic memorabilia. The large hall had ample space for exercise and apparatus. A six-foot wide gallery with crosswise boards and banked corners, supported by iron pillars was originally used for running practice. A visitors gallery for fifty spectators was located at the west end of the hall. Pratt Gymnasium served the College for fifty years and is now the Pratt Museum of Natural History.


 

College Row
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(Photo by Pach, New York -- from Rolfe 1882 Class Album)


The most famous view of Amherst College is that of College Row, which consists of Johnson Chapel flanked by North and South Colleges. Johnson Chapel, dedicated in 1827, is the central building in interest and position of the College. It is named after Adam Johnson of Pelham, whose legacy supported the construction of the building. For more than 25 years it served as a combination church, chapel, laboratory, museum, library, and recitation building. The view from the tower afforded an unsurpassed view of the natural scenery of the surrounding towns. Built in 1821, South College was the first building constructed for Amherst College. It was completed in little more than three months. Since 1823 it has been used entirely for residence purposes. North College, a mirror image of South, was opened in 1823. Originally known as Middle College, it still serves the College as a residence.


 

Walker Hall
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(Photo by W. H. Baker, New York -- from Woodruff 1885 Class Album)


President Stearns referred to Walker Hall as the "Temple of Science" when its cornerstone was laid in 1868. Walker Hall was formally opened in October 1870. Constructed of Monson granite, Walker was the largest and most elaborate building on campus. It held the scientific departments as well as the President's Office and the Trustees' room. Named for Dr. William Walker of Newport, R.I., who contributed to the building fund, Walker burned on the night of March 29, 1882. After the tragedy of the fire, Walker was reconstructed on the same site in the "revised medieval" style of the first. Professor W.S. Tyler described the rebuilt Walker as "more than ever, the archives, the treasury, the capitol, the acropolis of Amherst College." The Robert Frost Library now stands on the site.


 

College Library Reading Room
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(Photo by Notman Photographic Co., Albany, New York -- from White 1880 Class Album)


Completed in 1853, Morgan Library was the first stone building on the College grounds, made from Pelham gneiss. The interior space had tables and mezzanine levels for books. Portraits of prominent College individuals were hung from the rails all around the room. The lower level had a workroom, pamphlet room and a room for College Archives. The library housed about 30,000 volumes before overcrowding became a problem.


 

Morgan Library Reading Room
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(Photo by W. H. Baker, New York -- from Woodruff 1885 Class Album)


Between 1882 and 1888, an addition was added to the College Library to increase the capacity of the stacks. At that time the Trustees named the building after Henry T. Morgan in recognition of a bequest from his estate. This large room was on the second floor of the Library building. It contained reference books and periodicals. Portraits on the wall included the first five Presidents of the College, several professors and other benefactors. The original stained glass windows in the reading room were removed in 1911.


 

Shepard Mineral Collection
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Dickinson 1876 Class Album)


When Walker Hall was built in 1870, the third floor was dedicated to Professor Charles Upham Shepard's lecture room and the Mineralogical, the Geological and the Meteoric collections. Gathered by Professor Shepard over the course of more than fifty years, the collection was noted not for the number of specimens, but rather for their quality. When Walker Hall burned on the night of March 29, 1882, many of its valuable contents were destroyed.


 

Williston Hall
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Dickinson 1876 Class Album)


Williston Hall was completed in 1857, and dedicated in May 1858. It stands on the site of old North College, which burned to the ground in 1857. Williston is named for the Hon. Samuel Williston of Easthampton, who met the expense of building the hall. The upper story was occupied by Alumni Hall, the second floor contained the halls and libraries of the Alexandria and Athenae literary societies, and the lower floor was entirely devoted to space for the Department of Chemistry. The tower was removed in 1951.


 

Chemistry Lecture Room
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(Photo by Lovell, Amherst -- from Dickinson 1876 Class Album)


When Williston Hall was built in 1857, the entire first floor was devoted to the study of chemistry. The space was divided into six spaces: the lecture room, pictured here, working rooms for analysts, furnace room, balance room and the professors' private laboratory.


 

Mather Art Gallery
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(Photo by Notman Photographic Co., Albany, New York -- from White 1880 Class Album)


By 1875, the third floor of Williston Hall was occupied by the Art Gallery. The gallery housed a large collection of plaster casts illustrating Egyptian, Mycenaean, Greek and Roman sculpture. Of particular interest was the bas-relief copy of the Panathenaic frieze from the Parthenon, which encircled the main hall. The gallery measured eighty feet in length, forty feet in breadth and twenty feet in height. The ceiling was raised by two feet to admit the Ghiberti Doors, in the east end. The walls were frescoed to enhance the Greek design. The contrivance of alcoves was used to increase the surface for pictures and the corners for statuary. The gallery was later named after Professor Richard Mather (AC 1857) who brought the collection together.