West College (1790-)

1788 August 19
The trustees of the Free School decide to pay five hundred pounds for the building later known as West College, “provided also that the said subscribers ? procure a good well.” (Minutes of the Trustees of the Free School)

A lottery, with tickets purchasable in cash or “neat cattle,” is held eight times to raise money for the building. Prizes range from two dollars to five hundred dollars, payable in cash or cattle, depending on which was used to purchase the ticket. (Berkshire Chronicle, in New Miscellaneous Manuscripts 3, 10)

West, “eighty two feet in length, and forty two feet in breadth, four stories in height with a hipt Roof,” is built. David Noble gives a bell, which is rung to signal chapel, study hours, recitations, and evening prayers. (Trustees records, 10/26/1790, Williams Literary Review 1904)

The trustees, in their Petition to the General Court of Massachusetts, describe West as “a large and convenient brick building within the said town of Williamstown, with lodging and study rooms sufficient to accommodate one hundred students, besides a common School-room sufficient for sixty scholars a Dining room that will accommodate one hundred persons, a Hall for public academical exercises, and a Room for a library, apparatus, &c., the whole being nearly finished.” (Petition to the General Court of Massachusetts from the Trustees of the Free School, May 23,1792)

The cupola and the top floor are finished, the hall divided by a partition “so as to make two rooms for the Students,” and a lightning rod added. (Trustees records Aug. 6 1793)

Three students try to burn down West and are punished: “The Faculty having obtained satisfactory evidence that William O. Parker & Stephen Thayer had been concerned in firing the West College, resolved that they be expelled, and they were accordingly expelled. Nathan T. Rosseter, for having taken a part in the same, was sent from college in disgrace.” (Records of the Faculty, 1821-1871)

Because the chapel has moved to Griffin, the old chapel in West is converted into student rooms. (Trustees’ Records)

Most of the remaining communal sleeping rooms are split up into individual bedrooms. “The ? rooms were without bedrooms or places for private devotions?they were cold, and there was such a construction of the halls as to be a constant temptation to noise and mischief. Now we have bedrooms in most of the rooms, they are warmer and more snug, and the halls are in fact taken into the rooms so that much of the temptation furnished by them is taken away. I have no doubt it will operate favorably not only on their comfort and studies but on their morals.” (Mark Hopkins- Letter of 14 October 1845)

The student rooms are enlarged and the East-West hallway replaced by non-communicating entrances at the North and South ends. (Williams Lit. Monthly 1855)

The brick exterior of West College is painted yellow in a “renewal of youth and freshness.” (Williams Vidette)

J. B. Pratt (Class of 1898) publishes “To West College” in the April Williams Literary Monthly. “?for every one/Who in the past has found a home in thee,/And for the countless students yet to be/Whom thou shalt shelter from the rain and sun,/We love thee, old West College?”

All of West, except for the exterior walls, is demolished, and rebuilt with “all the necessities and luxuries of a College dormitory.” (Williams Record 10 October.). Not everyone approved, though; “Milium” writes to the Record condemning the renovation “as dangerously?threaten[ing] the democratic spirit in Williams College.” (Williams Record 6 June 1904). .

The exterior is sandblasted, removing the yellow paint and restoring it to its original appearance. (Williams Alumni Review)

1951, January 2
A fire, possibly started by faulty wiring, reduces West to a sagging shell. Three students who had returned early from vacation are in the building at the time, but all escape safely. Forty-nine students living there lost most of their possessions valued at a total of $22,000. (10 January 1951 Record) The students start a Fire Relief Fund Drive to help the uninsured students, setting their goal at $5,000 and raising over $6500. (10 February 1951 Williams Record)

The architectural firm Perry, Shaw, Hepburn, Kehoe, and Dean completes a $225,000 renovation. From the outside, the building looks “exactly as it was in 1790.” Inside, there are fireproof stairways, rooms for 48 upperclassmen, and a vault in the basement for College records (North Adams Transcript, 20 September 1952). The West College room, built from salvaged wood, is added to the Alumni House. (Williams Record 27 September 1952).

West is renovated again. “Improvement in the ‘New West’ include more usable common space, new bathrooms, cable availability, and the elimination of ‘walk-throughs,'” making every room in the house a single. (Williams Record 22 September)