Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


West College

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Institution Name: Williams College
Original/Historic Place Name: Williamstown Free School
Location on Campus: 931 Main St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1790-1791original construction Unknown
1855remodeled Unknown
1951rebuilt after fire Perry, Shaw & Hepburn
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: stone
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
ca. 1791library
ca. 1791chapel
ca. 1791dining hall (and kitchen)
ca. 1791classrooms
1791-present (2007)residence hall

Significance: architecture, education, history
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

West College is perhaps the most important building for the history and identity of Williams College. Built to house the Williamstown Free School, in fulfillment of the wishes of Ephraim Williams, Jr. (1715-1755), West College served as the first of the college's buildings when the institution received its charter in 1793. (Williams was the second college established in Massachusetts.) It is associated, therefore, with the college's first president, Ebenezer Fitch (1756-1833), and the first trustees, among whom were John Bacon (Mass. State Senate and U.S. House), Theodore Sedgwick (U.S. House and Senate, Mass. Supreme Judicial Court), Woodbridge Little, William Williams (1734-1808, Mass. Senator and president of the college's founding trustees), David Noble (judge in the Court of Common Pleas), and Thompson J. Skinner (Mass. State Treasurer).

In Reflections on the Architecture of Williams College, Stoddard explains that the original structure was remodeled in 1855, altering the west-east passageway in favor of north and south doors, and remodeled again in 1904. When much of the building was devoured by fire in 1951, architects Perry, Shaw and Hepburn took charge of the reconstruction. "Despite all these changes, the building's wonderful, simple brick masses and the elegant spacing of its windows and string courses still give this simple structure great dignity."

I. Bibliographic sources:

Brewster, Sam F. Campus Planning and Construction: Physical Facilities for Universities and Colleges. Washington, D.C.: Association of Physical Plant Administrators of Universities and Colleges, 1976.

Lewis, R. Cragin, ed. Williams 1793-1993: A Pictorial History. Williamstown, MA: Williams College Bicentennial Commission, 1993.

Rudolph, Frederick. Mark Hopkins and the Log: Williams College, 1836-1872. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.

Rudolph, Frederick. Mark Hopkins and the Log: Williams College, 1836-1872. Reprint, with an appendix by the author, "Williams College 1793-1993: Three Eras, Three Cultures," Williamstown, MA: Williams College, 1996.

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges VI. Dartmouth, Williams and Amherst." Architectural Record 28 (December 1910): 424-42.

Spring, Leverett Wilson. History of Williams College. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917.

Stoddard, Whitney. Reflections on the Architecture of Williams College. Williamstown, MA: Williams College, 2001: 18.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

II. Location of other data:
University: Special Collections

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