In 1968, Lansing Chapman Rink was still exposed to the elements at both ends, and the only indoor facility for so-called ‘cleat’ sports like lacrosse, baseball, and track was an old, dusty, brick structure known as the Delano Baseball Cage. The latter two issues were finally solved the next year, when construction began on a project that, when completed, would close up the rink and link it to an adjacent building to replace the cage. This building became the Herbert Towne Field House, a facility that served as a symbol of a renewed commitment to athletics at Williams and a building that would forever change sports at the college.
Towne Field House is located at the corner of Spring and Latham streets, at the south end of campus. The building measures 252 feet in length and 152 ft in width. The double-domed roof was chosen in order to lower the building’s profile so that it would not dominate its surroundings, with the height at the center of the domes measuring 47 feet. The main material used for the walls is concrete block. The cavernous interior can be divided by a white mesh curtain so that activities on the track do not conflict with any that may be taking place in its interior. The surface of both the track and the infield is a 3/8″ synthetic rubber material, allowing for all sorts of cleated footwear to be worn, including sharp track and field spikes.
It appears as though the initial processes required to build the facilities moved quickly. The Williams Record reported on May 3, 1968 that the Board of Trustees had approved the construction of the new complex, for approximately 1.2 million dollars. Herbert Towne himself pledged $900,000 dollars to the project. The firm chosen to design the complex was Lockwood Greene Company, an engineering firm headquartered in New York. Frank Antonell was the chief architect. By September 24 the Record related that the necessary demolition of a number of buildings had already occurred. The structures that were demolished in order to make room for the field house included the cage, two houses at the end of Spring Street, the warming house of the hockey rink, and two small garages. A parking lot also had to be removed.
While planning and early site preparation may have gone smoothly, the evidence suggests that the actual erection of Towne Field House was plagued by a number of problems. Work began in early 1969, but a labor strike that spring brought construction to a complete halt for seven weeks. Another snag came about in the summer when the wooden roof arches were delivered to campus. It was discovered that the arches, which were fashioned in Oregon, were each six inches too short. This obstacle was overcome by affixing metal extensions at the ends of the arches. Towne Field House was not fully completed until early 1971. It was dedicated on June 12 of that year at a ceremony coinciding with the 50th reunion exercises of Herbert Towne’s Class of 1921.
Towne Field House was quickly put in use. The North Adams Transcript reported on June 7, 1971, that the facility was “already serving physical education groups, intramural leagues, and recreational activities such as badminton and volleyball.” They added: “The field house and rink give Williams one of the most complete and adaptable indoor recreational resources in New England.” In a letter to Herbert Towne, President John E. Sawyer commented: “You have allowed us to build a structure that is both useful and beautiful.”
Perhaps the greatest impact of Towne Field House was the growth of the winter track and field program at Williams. Coach Denny Fryzel told the Williams Record: “Largely due to our new facilities, winter track, which in past years has had 4-6 runners, will have 20 members this year.” He then called the field house “One of the finest small-college track facilities in the East.” The first indoor track meet ever held at Williams took place on January 27, 1972. Union College triumphed with a score of 56 points, followed by host Williams with 53.
By Jonathan Pearson
North Adams Transcript, June 6, 1971.
Sawyer, John. Letter to Herbert Towne, May 5, 1971. Biographical file of Herbert S. Towne.
Williams Record. May 3, 1968.
Williams Record. September 24, 1968.
Williams Record. September 19, 1969.
Williams Record. February 12, 1971.