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Hikes & Walks | Local History

Williamstown History Walk


The mile-long walk through some of the Town’s history begins and ends at the rotary where Routes 2 and 7 meet to the West of downtown. It is near this spot that a fort and stockade were built in 1756 by soldiers from Fort Massachusetts against French and Indian raids. They had built a dozen houses along Main Street around 1750 (house lots were drawn on behalf of the King, and settlers drew a lot and paid crowns to the King) and the settlement was named Fort Hoosac.

The name was changed to Williamstown in 1765 when Colonel Ephraim Williams left money in his will for the founding of a free school with the mandate that the school and town were named after him. Fort Hoosac became Williamstown and the school became Williams College in 1793.

Begin walking east along Main Street (Route 2), on the north side of the street past the Williams College ’62 Center for Theatre & Dance and the Faculty Club to Park Street.


02_history A short detour down one block to 95 Park Street (the corner of Whitman) reveals a Gothic Revival ‘cottage’ that was built beginning in 1854 by Williams President Paul Chadbourne and finished a few years later by Professor John Bascom. The exuberant Gothic ornamentation was restored in 1990.


03_historyBack on Main Street at the corner of Park Street, the late Federal house at 936 Main Street (Sloan House) was built in 1802 by Samuel 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 designated home of Williams College presidents since 1858.


04_historyAt 906 Main Street is the First Congregational Church. When the town meetinghouse burned in 1866, the church raised money for a building in a new location. The Congregational Church (no longer called a ‘meetinghouse’) was constructed of brick in the German Romanesque Revival style. Williams contributed $6,000 to have an auditorium added for college functions, and baccalaureate and Commencement exercises were held in this church until 1912 when Chapin (formerly Grace) Hall was completed. In 1914, a rebirth of classical taste, and the desire to reduce the seating capacity of the church, inspired church authorities to encase the brick building in a white clapboard shell and rebuild it in neoclassical style, modeled in part on a newly rebuilt 18th-century church in Old Lyme, Connecticut.


05_historyHopkins Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus and the current home of the college administration was named for Mark Hopkins, Williams Class of 1824 and President of the college 1836-1872. The North facade is in the Romanesque Style. The building was renovated and the addition was built in 1988.


06_historyThe imposing stone Thompson Memorial Chapel was built in 1903-1904 with money donated by the widow of Frederick Ferris Thompson (class of 1856). The west transept window, dedicated to President James A. Garfield (class of 1856), was created by 19th-century painter and stained-glass artist John LaFarge, who was one of the best-known artists of his time (his windows are at Trinity Church in Boston).


07_historyGriffin Hall, which was built in 1828 as a chapel and classroom, was modeled after a Charles Bulfinch building at Andover Theological Seminary. From 1883 to 1893, the first bank in Williamstown rented the southeast section, where the college’s treasurer’s office was also located.


08_historyCivil War Monument. The soldier grasps the muzzle of his musket with both hands while leaning on the butt of the gun: the head is turned toward the South. The monument was commissioned by the Society of Alumni of Williams College in 1863 to commemorate Williams College students who died in the Civil War and is reportedly among the first monument to commemorate the Civil War dead.


09_historyThe gold-colored late Federal-style house on the corner of Southworth at 796 Main Street was built in 1798 by Daniel Day, a prosperous farmer who moved into the village due to his daughter’s social ambitions. Ornamentation for the house, and for his daughter’s dresses, put Mr. Day in the proverbial poor house and he was forced to sell the house to Judge Daniel Dewey. Later a fraternity house, it is now a private home.


10_historyAt 772 Main Street (Stephen Horsford/Caleb Brown Store) was built around 1832 from bricks made at Horsford’s brickyard on South Street. It has also been a frat house, town hall, and public library, but, since 1889 – a Masonic Lodge and dentist office.


12_historyAt 762 Main Street, the Botsford House was built as the Daniel Noble house around 1815, and long owned by the family of Joseph White, a founder in 1874 of the Williamstown Library Service. In 1941, E. Herbert Botsford purchased and gave the house to the town for a library in memory of his daughter Elizabeth Sanford Botsford. The architectural details are clearly of local manufacture (from Asher Benjamin’s pattern books). Several original mantelpieces and moldings still exist in this private home.


13_history718 Main Street, at the corner of Cole Avenue, the Asa Morton House was built around 1880 by Joseph White, a treasurer of Williams College. The Queen Anne style house (based on plans published by Palliser and Palliser Architects of Bridgeport, Connecticut), was purchased by Professor Asa Henry Morton and his wife, Josephine Ames. An artist (and daughter of an artist), Josephine had studied in Paris, so she finished the third floor as a studio salon, which became the scene of Sunday afternoon social gatherings. Today it is the office of Burr & McCallum architects.


14_history732 Main Street, the (red brick) Dr. Samuel Smith House was built in 1817 and remains to this day in the Smith family.


Continue down Main Street where the houses are set back on a small access road.


15_historyAt 674 Main Street, this brick house (Judah Williams House) was built in 1771 by Judah Williams, who during the Revolutionary War had become rich as a commissary to the army. Wartime inflation subsequently ruined him, and he was forced to sell the house to David Noble, who acquired nearly all the land north to the Hoosic River and west to what is now Southworth Street. It is a private home.


16_historyEXTRA A half-mile east at 530 Main Street the Nehemiah Smedley House was built in 1772 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. It has been historically restored as a private home.

Return to the corner of Cole Avenue where you can cross at the traffic light to walk West on Main Street.


17_historyBissell Sherman built the Federal-style house at 711 Main Street in 1796 and opened a small store in the east room and a school on the second floor for neighborhood children. A farmer from the west end of the village, he became the richest man in town by investing, according to local records.


18_historyIf you want to make a short detour down Water Street, at 16 Water Street you’ll find prism glass windows across the transom at the front of the building that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1897.


19_historyThe Hopkins Observatory (the oldest in the U.S.) was built in 1836-38 by Professor Albert Hopkins and his students from stones they quarried on East Mountain. Today it’s a planetarium, run by the Astronomy Department. It is open to visitors on some Fridays for stargazing. Check here for details.


20_historyThe original East College was built in 1797 and burned to the ground in 1841. South College, now, Fayerweather Hall, to its rear, was constructed the same year. The buildings are now part of the Berkshire Quad for the College.


21_historyThe octagonal structure of Lawrence Hall, now the Williams College Museum of Art, was built in 1846 as a college library. The money was donated by millionaire cotton manufacturer Amos Lawrence, a friend of President Mark Hopkins. The 1983 addition is by Charles Moore. The museum is free and open to the public.


22_historyAt 863 Main Street, the 1859 Gothic revival structure (made of local dolomite) was the college chapel, alumni hall, and classroom building until 1905 when it was renamed Goodrich Hall.

Continuing on Main Street, cross the head of Spring Street and walk west until you see the stairs to West College on the east side of the building.


23_historyWest College was built in 1790-1799 as the English Free School and Academy with money from Col. Ephraim Williams’s estate and $3,500 raised by lottery. The trustees later petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts 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.


24_historyOn the corner of Main St. and South St. is the grand 1885 old English style building designed by Sanford White, first a fraternity house, now the home of the Center for Development Economics, a graduate program that brings students from developing countries around the world to Williams College. 


The David and Joyce Milne Public Library sits across the roundabout from the former Williams Inn building.


26_historyField Park is in the center of the roundabout where you can find the 1753 house, a replica in size and layout of settlers home. It was originally constructed by townspeople in 1953 to commemorate a Bicentennial year. The house was built entirely with antique tools and constructed using the same techniques as in the 1700s. It was intended as a temporary exhibit but has become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Williamstown.


27_historyEXTRA If you’re driving south out of town on Rt 7 from the roundabout, you will shortly see 39 Cold Spring Rd (Rt 7) on the right, a Greek Revival house that was built as the Glen Female Seminary in the 1830s. When boys were admitted, a dormitory was built for them next door at 29 Cold Spring Rd.