Discover Historic Williamstown! Historic Site Marker Scavenger Hunt

Discover Historic Williamstown!

We hope you are holding up well and remaining healthy.  While we are still encouraged to maintain our “social distancing” status, we encourage you to explore historic Williamstown! Throughout town, nine historic sites are marked with plaques, describing their significance.  Eight of the plaques were installed by the Williamstown Bicentennial Committee in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the town’s settlement, in 1953, and one was installed by a town resident.

We are currently running a series on our FaceBook page about the town’s historic sites, but we understand that not all of our members and friends use FaceBook, and we want everyone to take part in a “scavenger hunt” for our historic site markers.  Each week we will post information about the marker at one of the town’s historic sites. If you wish to drive to find the markers, there is parking near each one, but getting out on foot, if possible, may be a great way to enjoy the spring and capture history at the same time.  We encourage you to photograph the historic sites and email us the photo so that we may add it to our collection of current images of the historic sites in town.  Please take care and have fun!

Historic Site 1.  Nehemiah Smedley House

Benedict Arnold slept where?!?

Right here in Williamstown at the Nehemiah Smedley House, but where is that?

On May 6, 1775 West Hoosuck (the town was not yet Williamstown) tavern owner Nehemiah Smedley contracted with Benedict Arnold (then a revolutionary war hero, not a traitor) to produce or procure enough biscuits, salted pork, and rum to supply a contingent of men for a few weeks. According to the contract, which still exists, Arnold paid Smedley five pounds for the goods.

Can you locate the former home of Nehemiah Smedley’s tavern and its historical marker?

Captain Nehemiah Smedley was one of the seven sons of Captain Samuel Smedley III and Esther Kilbourne. He was born in Litchfield, CT, in 1732 and died in Williamstown in 1789. One of the notable early residents of our town, he served as a military and civic leader, built a handsome house, owned a fine farm, and ran a tavern.

In 1754 Nehemiah Smedley planted the first orchard in Williamstown, but not at the site of the Smedley house that is still standing. His first property was at intersection of South Street and Field Park, where the Williams College Center for Development Economics (former Delta Psi fraternity, also known as St. Anthony Hall) now sits.

A few facts about Nehemiah Smedley:
1. At 35 years old he was the youngest member of the Building and Seating Committee for the first meetinghouse (First Congregational Church) in 1768, but he never joined the church
2. No portrait or other likeness of this “founding father” of Williamstown is known to exist
3. No headstone was erected over his grave and even the place of his burial within the limits of the graveyard is unknown.

Are you interested in learning more about Nehemiah Smedley?  You can watch a WilliNet video of a WHM sponsored lecture, presented in April 2014, by Louise Dudley and Judith Wilson, descendants of Smedley.  Here is a link to the video: Smedley Family Video.   In 2015, Bruce McDonald, the owner of the home, carried out extensive work on the house and presented a program on the history of the house and its restoration.  You can watch the video here: Smedley House Video Enjoy!

How many of you found the historical marker by his home/tavern on Main Street? The privately owned house has recently been beautifully restored and is a real gem of Williamstown architecture. Take a peek next time you are driving or walking past.  If you do, we hope you will photograph it and, and send the image to [email protected].

Historic Site 2. The Haystack Monument

You’ll have to delve into the depths of the Williams College campus to find our next historical marker which stands at the (supposed) site of the very haystack beneath which Williams students Samuel J. Mills, James Richards, Francis L. Robbins, Harvey Loomis, and Byram Green sheltered during a thunderstorm in 1806.

If you can find this marker and historic site, take a photo of it, or of you standing next to it, and send it along to [email protected]

Haystacks looked quite different in 1806 than they do today. We are used to seeing rolled bales of hay wrapped in Tyvek, but the image above is an example of the type of  haystack the five Williams students probably sheltered under or, more accurately, within.

The distinctive “beehive” shape is also represented on the Haystack Monument.

“The field is the world” (Matthew 13:38) reads the inscription beneath the globe atop the Haystack Monument. From that meeting under a haystack in 1806, came the impetus for the formation, in 1810, of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). By the mid-19th century over four dozen Williams graduates were serving as missionaries in the American West, the Middle East, Africa, India and Hawai’i.

Whatever your feelings are about the missionary movement, there is no question that what happened at the site of this historical marker changed the world.

You can learn more at the Williams College Chaplains’ Office webpage.  The video and an article by Douglas Showalter’s can be found here:  Into All the World:  the Story of the Haystack.

This week’s historical marker is located on the land known as Mission Park – seen in the map and aerial view above.

“The bonds of secrecy were so strong among these students that for many years after the Haystack Prayer Meeting its date, its exact location, and even the names of all the participants were not known. Fortunately, in 1854, Byram Green, the last surviving participant, put a cedar stake in the ground where the haystack had been…”
– The Rev. Dr. Douglas K. Showalter

That land, known as Sloan’s Meadow, was purchased by the Williams Society of Alumni and renamed it Mission Park.

In 1857, after the 1856 Haystack Jubilee (50th anniversary) celebration, the Mission Park Association was incorporated with its members holding the property “for the purpose of . . . erecting and placing thereon suitable monuments, and other memorials to commemorate the origin and progress of American missions . . .”

The Society of Alumni donated Mission Park to the College in 1885.

Paid for by Harvey Rice (Williams Class of 1824), the Haystack Monument was dedicated in July 1867. Although Rice originally planned a life-size haystack made of sandstone, a monument was decided upon. Made of ‘silver blue’ marble, it was erected by the Berkshire Marble Company of Alford, MA. Several of the trees around the monument were brought by groups from around the world, contributing species not commonly found in Williamstown to the arboretum of Williams College. We hope you will photograph the monument and surrounding trees so we may add them to our collection for posterity.

You can find a PDF of the 1867 “Proceedings at the Dedication of the Missionary Monument in Mission Park” here:

WCMA’s 2018 exhibit, “‘The Field is the World:’ Williams, Hawai’i, and Material Histories in the Making” looked at the legacy of the Missionary Movement. More about the exhibit can be found here:  “‘The Field is the World:’ Williams, Hawai’i, and Material Histories in the Making.”

Good luck in your search and we hope you will photograph the monument, marker, and surrounding trees so we may add them to our collection for posterity.  Thank you!

Historic Site 3. South Williamstown Five Corners

This week’s historic site marker is located in the center of South Williamstown at the Five Corners.

The Sloan, Stratton, Jordan, Phelps, and Steele families are just a few of the folks who made the “south part” the vibrant community it remains today.  We invite you to explore the Web site of our friends at the South Williamstown Community Association to learn more about the area yesterday and today.

Isaac Stratton, South Williamstown’s first European settler, was born in Warren, MA, in 1739 and moved to Williamstown with his parents and seven siblings in 1760. In 1762 he built his first cabin on the site of the The Store at Five Corners, which he subsequently sold to Samuel Sloan.

Stratton served as Justice of the Peace and had an illustrious military career, distinguishing himself as a Major in Colonel Simonds regiment at the Battle of Bennington.

Isaac Stratton married Mary Fox in 1761 and they had at least five children. They are buried together in Southlawn Cemetery.

Regina Rouse delivered this excellent presentation “Honoring Isaac Stratton” for us back in 2018. We encourage you to watch for a detailed account of this important founding member of our community.

Honoring Isaac Stratton Video

The Five Corners Historic District, encompassing the central district of South Williamstown, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. It is centered at the junction of Cold Spring Road (Rt. 7 north), Green River Road (Rt. 43 northeast), Hancock Road (Rt. 43 southwest),New Ashford Road (Rt. 7 south), and Sloan Road. The junction has been a prominent center in the area since 1760.

Commercial area near the Store at Five Corners

South Williamstown was formed out of the junction of four large parcels of land, and developed in the late 18th century as a stop on the main north-south stagecoach route (today United States Route 7). By the turn of the 19th century the village had a tavern, store, and cemetery, and the first church was built in 1808. The area remained agricultural through the 19th-century, having been bypassed by railroad construction and significant industrial activity.

Map of South Williamstown in 1876.

A History of the Store at Five Corners

Isaac Stratton built the original building, a log cabin, in 1760, then Samuel Sloan built a tavern on the site in 1770 where it became a gathering place for Colonial troops, including a brief stop-over by General George Washington.

Nathan Rossiter

In 1816 Nathan Rossiter had a tavern on the site. As Jordan’s Tavern, under the ownership of John Jordan from 1833-65, the second floor and Greek Revival portico were added. After two changes of ownership, in 1875 Thomas Sabin gave it the name Sabin House and conducted it as an inn.

While the Mills School was in existence just up the hill, the tavern was a haven for parents and visitors. Business took a hit with the closing of that school in 1889.

Photo of the Five Corners in 1880, featuring students from the Mills School.

In 1905 Thomas and Jane Hoy Steele and their ten children moved from Shushan, NY, and bought the Sabin inn for use as a family home. They lopped off a wing of the building and had hauled north on Green River Road by teams of horses. Eventually the Steeles started selling bread from their home and the Steele’s Corners Store was born.

Images from the Berkshire Eagle

Jane Steele ran the South Williamstown Post Office from the Store from 1916 until her death in 1930. The branch was closed the following year.

James A. “Jim” Steele took over the operation of the Store after his mother died and operated it until his death in 1963.

In a 1992 article in the Eagle, neighbor Harold Guiden remembered the Store being the hub of the community in the 1930’s and 1940’s, when “South Williamstown was a long ways from anywhere,” and going into Williamstown seemed as big a trip as going to Pittsfield.

Image from the Berkshire Eagle

The Store opened when Jim Steele got out of bed in the morning and closed when he retired at night, Guiden recalled. All day long there were at least a half-dozen people gathered around, drinking Cokes and shooting the breeze.

Jim Steele’s generosity was legendary, and he helped many members of the community during the Great Depression. Children of that era have fond memories of buying penny candy and ice cream and hanging out at the Store. Many teens had their first jobs working for Steele’s.

After Jim Steele died in 1963 his widow, Susan, leased the Store to Janet and Carroll Cummings, before selling it to William H. and Helen Cook Vanderbilt in 1978. The Vanderbilts renamed Steele’s Store the Store at Five Corners, removed the upstairs porch and expanded the sales room. While William Vanderbilt, the former Governor of Rhode Island, was known to pump gas for visitors, the Cummings remained as managers.

William Vanderbilt died in 1981 and Helen Vanderbilt put the Store up for sale in 1984. A year later she sold it to Patricia and Dr. Roger Gould, and Bernard and Cecelia Bandman, who also retained Janet Cummings as manager.

In 1987 the Store was up for sale again. Bryan and Donna Livsey appear to be the owners in 1990. Then in April of 1992 Stuart and Andrea Shatken purchased the property, holding a grand reopening in May with State Senators Jane Swift and Shaun Kelly cutting the ribbon while the Mt. Greylock Regional High School Band played.

The Store flourished during the five years the Shatkens owned it, being featured in Gourmet magazine. In September of 1998 they sold to Meredith K. and Jeff Woodyard, who replaced all the windows and added a deck and enclosed dining porch.

In July of 2009 the Store passed into the hands of the current owner Franklin C. Lewis, who also purchased the abutting Green River Farms property. In January of 2011 he closed both businesses, marking the first time in more than a century that the Store had been out of business.

The South Williamstown Community Association attempted to purchase the Store to operate it as a non-profit entity but couldn’t come to a sales agreement with Lewis. Lewis briefly reopened the Store in 2012-2013, after which it remained closed for another two years.

Since 2015 the Store has been open for business under various managers.

If you have found the marker we encourage you to take a photo of it and the surrounding Five Corners area and email it to us at [email protected]  We are grateful for our members and friends who help build the collection of historic photos of Williamstown!  Thank you!

Historic Site 4. West College

This week’s site is easy to find.  West College was the original building housing the Free School donated to the town in Ephraim Williams’ will, which became Williams College in 1793. You will find it on Main Street, across from the Williams College President’s house.

In this photo, c. 1850, you are looking from the east toward West College, from somewhere between Water Street and Spring Street from the north side of Main Street.

The Free School was conceived by Colonel Ephraim Williams, and described in his will for the direct benefit of the children of the soldiers who had served under him in one or other of the forts of the old French line.

The nine trustees empowered to establish the Free School in Williamstown met for the first time on April 24, 1785, in Pittsfield, and discovered that the $9,157 left by Williams’ was in no way sufficient.

In August, the Building Committee suggested that the “old lime-kilns” where Griffin Hall was eventually sited in 1828, would be a good location for the school, but the protruding rocks were deemed too difficult to level, as indeed they eventually proved to be.

A site directly across Main Street to the south, where the college built their second building in 1797, was also considered. But eventually the Committee decided on the site “south of William Horsford’s house” where General Sloan eventually built the house that has been home to the presidents of Williams College since 1858.

At the second meeting of the trustees, in August 1785 the trustees set out the dimensions of the building, but by May of 1788, when the following plans were announced, nothing had been built. Finances, clearing and leveling rocks, siting a sufficient well, and dealing with a lawsuit brought by the citizens of Adams [now North Adams], claiming that Williams’ had also intended that a Free School be erected in their community, were among the issues causing delay.

“That the house for the use of the Free School in Williamstown be constructed of brick, and be of the following dimensions, namely, seventy-two feet in length and forty feet in breadth, from inside to inside, three stories in height, with four stacks of chimneys and a bevel roof ; that said house be erected on the eminence east of the meeting-house, and south of Mr. William Horsford’s dwelling-house, on the south side of the highway; — provided the sum of five hundred pounds be paid or secured to be paid, to the said Corporation for the use of the said School.”

Finally, on May 26, 1790 the trustees voted: Taking into consideration the importance and necessity of erecting without delay the building intended for the use of said school ; and Colonel [Tompson Joseph] Skinner having this day engaged to sink the well already begun, and partly dug, on the western eminence where the house was ordered…to be placed, and to level the said western eminence sufficient to accommodate the building,— do resolve, that the committee appointed to superintend and direct in the erection of said building shall proceed to set up said building, on said eminence, without delay.”

The trustees, in their 1792 Petition to the General Court of Massachusetts, describe West College 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.”

David Noble donated a bell, which was rung to signal chapel, study hours, recitations, and evening prayers.

In 1793 the cupola and the top floor were finished, the hall divided by a partition “so as to make two rooms for the Students,” and a lightning rod was added.

Although the interior of West College has been reconstructed due to fire and various renovations, the shell of the building is original.

Where’s the water?

West College never had a well of its own, and never enjoyed a legal right of access to any neighboring well, although the Whitmans (successors to William Horsford) by courtesy allowed its roomers for considerable stretches of time to use the old well. There are two copious natural springs not very far apart from each other on the low ground to the southeast of the West College, from one or other of which the students supplied themselves for the most part till the middle of the nineteenth century.

When [Arthur Latham Perry, Williams class of 1852] as a freshman became a roomer in West College in 1848, there was a well-worn path diagonally across what was then called “Deacon Skinner’s meadow” on which there was not then a building of any kind, leading to what has now long been called the “Walden Spring.” At the same time there was opened a new and narrow street directly down to this spring southerly from Main Street, and consequently named “Spring Street.”

This 1889 Burleigh Lithograph of Williamstown shows West College (red x at far left) and Spring Street (red x near center). Remnants of the “diagonal path” between the two can still be seen here.

About the middle of the [19th] century… the Williamstown Water Company brought water from the “Cold Spring” to the village residences and near to the college buildings.

This wooden water pipe, shaped like a railroad tie with a hole bored through the center, is likely from the first set of pipes carrying water from Cold Spring into town. Wooden pipes were replaced by iron pipes in 1876.

What do we know about the Free School that existed in the West College building from 1790-1793?

Two departments of instruction were established at first : an English free school with students recruited from the higher classes in the town schools, such as these then were ; and a grammar school or academy, to which a yearly tuition of thirty-five shillings was charged.

Only two teachers were provided at first for both schools, a preceptor and his assistant; an usher was afterward added.

Only two Williamstown boys – Daniel Kellogg and Billy J. Clark, a grandson of Colonel Benjamin Simonds – are positively known to have been trained at the Free School, and while both became distinguished men, neither of them graduated from the College.

When the school became a college by an act of the Legislature in 1793, the common department, which was entirely free, fell at once into “innocuous desuetude;” but the tuitioned grammar department continued for a few years as a sort of preparatory school for the College, before it too closed.

Many of the citizens of Williamstown deprecated the action of the General Court in transforming the school into a college to the utter loss of Ephraim Williams’ original intention.

The 19th century saw many changes to the West College building.

In 1829 three students try to burn it down. William O. Parker & Stephen Thayer “concerned in firing the West College” were expelled, and Nathan T. Rosseter was “sent from college in disgrace.” (Records of the Faculty, 1821-1871).

As the College built more buildings to serve specific purposes – chapel, library, dining halls, etc. – more and more space in West College was converted to student living space.

In 1855 a major remodeling of the building saw the East-West hallway replaced by non-communicating entrances at the North and South ends. The annual commencement day march through that hallway had been referred to as going “through college.”

In 1871 the brick exterior of West College was painted yellow in a “renewal of youth and freshness,” according to the Williams Vidette.

The lighter color of the building can be discerned in this 1898 photo by Alexander Davidson (original in the Williams College Archives). The Davidson photo, taken from Lab Campus Drive, shows the stairs in place before the construction of Hopkins Gate.

To West College
…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
– J. B. Pratt (Williams Class of 1898)
Williams Literary Monthly, April 1896

The West College building was gutted right down to its brick shell twice in the 20th century.

North Adams Transcript, June 8, 1904

In 1904 everything except for the exterior walls was demolished and rebuilt with “all the necessities and luxuries of a College dormitory” according to the Williams Record, although one letter-to-the-editor judged the renovation: “as dangerously threaten[ing] the democratic spirit in Williams College.”

North Adams Transcript, July 1, 1904

In December 1904, fire escapes were placed on the building.

In 1928, after 57 years, the yellow paint was finally sand-blasted off the brick exterior.

Then on January 2, 1951 a devastating fire gutted the building. Three students who had returned early from vacation escaped with their lives, and all the residents lost their belongings.

North Adams Transcript, January 2, 1951

The $225,000 renovation wasn’t complete until the 1952-1953 academic year. The architectural firm Perry, Shaw, Hepburn, Kehoe, and Dean assured the North Adams Transcript that from the outside, the building looked “exactly as it was in 1790.” Inside, there were fireproof stairways, rooms for 48 upperclassmen, and a vault in the basement for College records.

A “West College Room” built from salvaged timbers, was added to the Alumni House, now known as The Log.

Can you find the historic site marker for West College and the building? If you find it, please photograph the marker, the building and anything around it and email your photos to [email protected] so we can add your images to our collection of recent photographs of historic sites in our ever changing town.

Please be safe, enjoy yourselves, and have fun!

This week’s historical marker is much harder to locate than some of the others. Do you know where the First Meeting House was located in Williamstown and its importance in our town’s history?

There was no separation of church and state in the late 1700s, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided that in order to incorporate as a town a community had to have a meetinghouse and a “learned and settled pastor.” This meant what we now call a Congregational minister. There was no choice, that was the religion of the Commonwealth.

The town needed to incorporate under the name of Williamstown in order to access the money left to them in Ephraim Williams’ will to establish a free school, and they needed a church and pastor in order to incorporate. And yet it took a decade those conditions to be met.

“In 1765 the town was regularly incorporated by the Province authorities at Boston…The proprietors and not the townsmen called and settled the first minister, Rev. Whitman Welch…and paid all the expenses of his ordination; they built and paid for the first framed meetinghouse in 1768…” – Arthur Latham Perry “Williamstown and Williams College” 1899

Moira O’Hara Jones gave a great talk for us in 2015 about the relationship between the town and what is now the First Congregational Church, on the occasion of that institution’s 250th anniversary.

First Church and Williamstown: 250 Years Together Video

During the years between the settling of West Hoosuck and the construction of the first meeting house which enabled us to incorporate as Williamstown, there was a log cabin referred to as “The Schoolhouse” built around 1763 and located on Lot 36, which can been seen at the bottom right hand corner of this map, where it says “minister’s,” as indeed that lot had been originally reserved for the first minister. (The building would have been about where Mark Hopkins Hall is on the current Greylock Quad.)

Despite its name, it was never used as a school, but as Arthur Latham Perry wrote in “Origins in Williamstown” (1894): “…the proprietors uniformly held their meetings at this schoolhouse for several years; and public worship was held in it, whenever there was any, until the first rude meeting-house was built, 30’ x 40’, in 1768.”

Even after the first meeting house was built, Perry continues: “The log building acquired a certain sort of sanctity thereby, which was never wholly lost as long as it remained standing.”

As was evidenced on the afternoon of August 16, 1777, when the pious women of Williamstown gathered in the Schoolhouse “to pray for the safety and victory of their fathers and brothers and kinsfolk in the battle of Bennington, then raging.”

The Schoolhouse was probably taken down in the mid-19th century when the original “Mansion House” hotel was erected at the front of that building site.

“The proprietors and not the townsmen called and settled the first minister, Rev. Whitman Welch, in 1765, and paid all the expenses of his ordination; they built and paid for the first framed meetinghouse in 1768…” – Arthur Latham Perry “Williamstown and Williams College” 1899

The accompanying excerpt from Perry’s “Origins in Williamstown,” 1894, features snippets from Proprietors’ Meeting minutes c 1766-1770 pertaining to the building of the first meeting house, located in the middle of what is now Field Park. This drawing is the only representation we have of the first meeting house since it was replaced by the second meeting house before the invention of photography.

The first meeting-house was 30′ x 40′. At first it would have had rough bench seating, but then pews, probably box pews, as the First Congregational Church has today, were built and “seated.”

“Colonial churches were generally ‘seated’ each year; that is, each worshipper was assigned a particular seat, determined in accordance with their social or perceived spiritual status in the community.” – John Ogsapian, “Church Music in America, 1620-2000” 2007

There was a “seating committee” for the first meeting house in Williamstown, but not for the second.

While there was talk of “having the gospel preached in this town” as early as the second Proprietors’ Meeting in April 1754, no concrete action was taken until the Proprietors’ Meeting of March 10, 1763, after the French and Indian War had ended, when it was voted “that for the future” they “would have preaching,” and accordingly a call was given to Rev. Moses Warren to preach on probation.

Whitman Welch, the sixth child and youngest son of Thomas and Sarah (Whitman) Welch, was born on June 5 1738 in Milford, CT. He was orphaned by the age of ten when he went to live with an uncle in New Milford, CT, and where in time he was married to Ruth Gaylord.

Welch studied theology, graduated from Yale in 1762 and was licensed to preach by the New Haven Association of Ministers on September 25, 1764.

Immediately after the incorporation of Williamstown, the Proprietors called Welch “to the work of the ministry in this town” on July 26, 1765. He was ordained in October or November of that year, “at which time a church was gathered,” although the first meeting house wasn’t finished until 1768.

While Welch was given the use of Lot 36, the “Minister’s Lot,” on what is now the northeast corner of Main and North Streets (the northern junction of Rts. 2 & 7), he promptly sold it to Josiah Horsford for £25 and bought 18 acres of farmland on the Green River, where he made his home next door to Nehemiah Smedley.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Welch sold his farm to Smedley and joined the militia as a chaplain. He died of small-pox near Quebec on April 8, 1776, at the age of 38. His widow and children had returned to New Milford when he joined the war effort and never returned to Williamstown.

This map shows Williamstown in the upper left hand corner, and New Milford, CT in the lower left, on the Housatonic River just north of Danbury. A number of families followed Whitman Welch north when he was called to preach in Williamstown.

Williamstown struggled to attract a “learned and settled pastor.” According to Arthur Latham Perry: “They had had hard luck and had been at much expense even to get a suitable man to try for a settlement. In two cases where the candidate was willing, the constituency disapproved of him.”

But in neighboring Adams and Cheshire, founded by Quakers and Baptists respectively, they couldn’t incorporate as towns because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts didn’t recognize their worship or clergy as “Christian.”

In Cheshire Baptist pastor John Leland worked hard to get Thomas Jefferson elected President in 1800, because he believed Jefferson would work towards a separation of church and state in the newly formed USA, allowing towns like Adams and Cheshire to incorporate without having to abandon their preferred form of worship.

Once Jefferson was in the White House, Leland concocted an audacious PR stunt to call the President’s attention to his cause. He asked all the dairy farmers in Cheshire to donate a quart of milk, retrofitted a big cider press, and created what became known as the Mammoth Cheese.

The cheese weighed 1,235 pounds, was 4 feet wide, and 15 inches thick. Leland accompanied the cheese all along the three-week, 500-mile route. preaching fervently all the way. The cheese bore the Jeffersonian motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

In keeping with the Quaker’s abolitionist beliefs, Leland informed Jefferson that the Cheese was made “without the assistance of a single slave.”

Leland arrived on January 1, 1802, and presented the cheese to Jefferson, who that very afternoon, penned a letter to the Baptist community in Connecticut in which he coined the phrase “separation of church and state.”

So the people of northern Berkshire County played an important role in freeing both the states and the various faith communities from being under each other’s control.

You can visit the Cheshire Cheese Monument – a replica of the cider press used to create the cheese – across from the Cheshire post office on the northeast corner of Church and School Streets.

Have you spotted the historical marker honoring our first meeting house yet? Both the first and second meeting houses were built on that location, above the initial settlement , on what was then called “The Square,” now the east end of Field Park, formed by the intersection of Main Street with South and North Streets.

The construction of the first meeting house predated the establishment, or even the idea, of a college in town. The future of what we now call the Congregational Church in Williamstown was dictated by the needs of the college, not the congregation.

The first Commencement at Williams College was held on September 2, 1795, in the first meeting-house and “it was felt that the place was unsuitable.” President Fitch immediately began soliciting donors to help erect a temporary gathering place for major college events, but nothing came of that effort.

Before the next Commencement in 1796 there was a stronger and more varied opposition to going into the old meeting-house. Thomas Robbins (1777-1856, Yale & Williams 1796), who was to speak, wrote in his journal : “A scandal to have Commencement in such an old meeting-house.”

According to Arthur Latham Perry: “The College Trustees voted, ‘to hold the next Commencement in the town of Pittsfield or Lanesboro unless a suitable place should be provided in Williamstown,’ and appointed a committee to carry their vote into effect. But nothing was then accomplished, doubtless owing to much ill-feeling then prevalent as between town and college on political and other grounds, and the Commencement of 1797 also was held in the small and dark building.”

But on July 15 of that year Robbins wrote: “Great disturbance in town on account of the meeting-house being set on fire last night: it was happily extinguished: various conjectures about the perpetrators.”

The remains of the first meeting house were “removed a short distance” and used as a schoolhouse, and the second meeting house was erected on the site.

Perry wrote: “[The second meeting house] was so far advanced toward completion at the time of the Commencement of 1798, that its exercises were held within it, and thereafter uniformly until its destruction by fire in 1866.”