Self Guided Tours of Williamstown and South Williamstown
Williamstown is a beautiful town with more than a few historic sites. We invite you to take the self guided tours of the town featured below. Sites are noted on the maps, (with some exceptions from buildings being moved which are noted in the text). While some of the sites are close enough to one another to view on a walk, completing the entire tour is best done by vehicle.
The second map was put together by the South Williamstown Community Association (SWCA) and focuses on the Five Corners district in South Williamstown.
The only cemetery in the north part of the town for about 75 years, Westlawn was laid out in 1766 on land purchased from John Newbre. Newbre’s daughter Anne, was buried on the property in 1762. The next oldest stone (1766) on top of the hill with the oldest graves, six stones north of Main Street, is that of Jonathan Wright. Six rows west and two stones north of Wright’s is the grave of Elizabeth Smith who died in 1771. The design on her stone was once used on the letterhead of the Association of Gravestone Studies.
Dr. Jacob Meack House (1192 West Main Street): Built or bought by Dr. Meack about 1768, the front part of this house includes the original “regulation” house. It was for Dr. Meack, the first physician in town, that early settlers named this part of Hemlock Brook “Doctor’s Brook.”
Site of the 1st Meeting of the West Hoosac Proprietors, December 5, 1753 (1183 West Main Street): Seth Hudson’s house, which stood at the southeast corner of the West Main Street bridge of Hemlock Brook, was a regulation house built in 1753 and located in what was then the center of the settlement. Here the Proprietors chose officers and committees, imposed taxes upon themselves, planned the division of meadows and uplands and made provision for highways. The present house was built in the 1830s.
Site of Fort Hoosac (Marker): At the end of the French and Indian War, the fort became the meeting place for the Proprietors until the building of a schoolhouse on the northeast corner of North and Main streets.
Glen Female Seminary (39 Cold Spring Road): The Misses Snyder opened the Glen Female Seminary in 1878 in this circa 1830s Greek Revival house. Its growing enrollment and the admittance of boys soon required the building of the house next door (29 Cold Spring Road) as a dormitory.
Field Park: This park, at the junction of Routes 7 and 2, is a remnant of the town green, which once ran the length of what is now Main Street and served as a common grazing area. The park was created in 1878 by Cyrus Field (of Atlantic Cable fame) and the Village Improvement Society.
Site of 1st (1768-1798) and 2nd (1798-1866) Meetinghouses (Marker in Field Park): After the arrival of the first pastor (1765), and the town could be incorporated as Williamstown, there was felt a pressing need for a meetinghouse for worship and town meetings. The first meetinghouse was a crude building with one door, few windows and no chimney. It was the site of the first Williams College commencement (for four students) in 1795. It was moved further to the west in 1798 to make way for the second meetinghouse and was used for town meetings and as a school until it burned in 1828. The second meetinghouse, built in 1798, was larger and more dignified than the first crude building. Just after the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the church in October 1865, it burned to the ground on January 21, 1866 destroying many early town records.
1753 House: This regulation house was constructed in Field Park in 1953 for the bicentennial celebration of our first Proprietor’s meeting using the tools and construction methods of the British settlers along Hemlock Brook. In order to gain title to a lot, settlers were required to clear five acres and construct a house measuring at least 15 by 18 feet with a 7 foot stud. It was these requirements that gave the name “regulation house” to these early buildings.
Center for Development Economics: Designed in 1886 by McKim, Mead & White, this building served as the home of the Delta Psi fraternity. In 1966, it became the Center for Development Economics offering intensive, one year masters degrees to young economists from government and financial institutions in developing countries.
Site of the Mansion House: This was the minister’s lot, until the death of Rev. Whitman Welch, when the town took over the lot. This corner of Route 7 and 2 became the site of the principal hotel of the town from the late 18th century until it burned in 1872. It was replaced by the Greylock Hotel, frequently called the finest hotel in the Berkshires, which attracted summer visitors until it closed in 1937. Henry N. Teague, manager from 1911, coined the phrase “The Village Beautiful” for Williamstown. The hotel was demolished in 1967, at the time that Williams College built three dormitories on the site.
Benjamin Mather House (now located at 66 Stetson Court): A symbol of the gradual eastward shift of the town from the Hemlock Brook area, this plank house was built about 1800. Mather was a ninth generation descendant of the famed New England Mather family. He and his son, Charles, were the leading Williamstown merchants in the mid-1800s. Benjamin’s house was located on the site of the “62 Center for Theatre and Dance, and his general store was located on the site of the present Adams Memorial Theater, just to the west. Charles’s store sat on the site of the present Faculty House/Alumni Center, just to the east, at the corner of Park Street. Mather House was for many years home to the college admissions office. It was moved to Stetson Court to make way for the ’62 Center when it was built.
95 Park Street: A handsome Gothic Revival “cottage” started in 1854 by Williams College President Paul Chadbourne and finished a few years later by Professor John Bascom. The architect is unknown, but the house is clearly derived from the published work of Andrew Jackson Downing. The exuberant Gothic ornamentation was restored in 1990.
Sloan House (936 Main Street): Designed by a Boston architect, this late Federal house was built in 1802 by general 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 home of Williams College presidents since 1858.
West College: Built in 1790-1799 as the Free School in Williamstown with money from the estate of Col. Ephraim Williams and $3,500 raised by lottery, the building opened on October 20, 1791 as the English Free School and Academy. 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.
First Congregational Church (906 Main Street): When the Second Meetinghouse burned in 1866 (see entry #7 above), the church raised money over a few years for a new building in a new location. The New Congregational Church (no longer called a “meetinghouse”) was constructed of brick in the German Romanesque Revival style. The college contributed $6,000 toward the construction in order to have an auditorium for college functions. Baccalaureate and Commencement exercises, as had been the case in the older meetinghouses, were held in this New Congregational Church until 1912 when Chapin (formerly Grace) Hall was completed. In 1914, a rebirth of classical taste, and the need to reduce the seating capacity of the church, inspired church authorities to encase the older brick building in a white clapboard shell and rebuild the church in neoclassical style, modeled in part on the newly rebuilt 18th century church in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
The Old Bookstore (9 Spring Street): Originally built in 1842 on the lot where the Congregational Church now stands, the N.F. Smith Bookstore was moved across the street in 1867 when the church bought the lot. It was moved again to its present location in 1886 to make way for the building of Lasell Gymnasium. Except for the years 1947-57, there was a bookstore in this building from 1842 until 1990. The building has also served as a drug store, general store, post office (1848-1879), the town’s first telegraph office (1876), and first soda fountain (1885). Before baths were installed in the college dormitories, public baths for students were available in the basement of the building.
Stone Chapel and Alumni Hall: Designed by Gervase Wheeler and built of local dolomite with money raised by the Society of Alumni, this building served as the college chapel and alumni meeting hall until 1905 when it was renamed Goodrich Hall.
Thompson Memorial Chapel: This imposing stone chapel was built in 1903-1904 with money donated by Mary Clark Thompson in memory of her husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson (class of 1856). The west transcept window, dedicated to President James A. Garfield (class of 1856), was created by noted 19th-century stained-glass artist John LaFarge and is one of the many fine windows LaFarge produced between 1874 and his death in 1910. The window was first installed in the 1859 Stone Chapel across the street and moved here in 1915.
Griffin Hall: Designed and built in 1828 as a chapel and classroom building by the college’s third president, Edward Dorr Griffin, this building was patterned after a Charles Bulfinch building at Andover Theological Seminary. From 1883 to 1893, the Williamstown National Bank, the first bank in Williamstown, rented the southeast section of Griffin. This section also served at the same time as the office of the college’s treasurer. In 1904, Griffin Hall was moved north and east to bring it into line with the new Thompson Memorial Chapel.
Lawrence Hall: The original octagonal structure was designed by Thomas Tefft and built for $7,000 in 1846 as a college library. The money was donated by millionaire cotton manufacturer Amos Lawrence, a friend of President Mark Hopkins. Lawrence Hall is now a part of the Williams College Museum of Art. The 1983 addition on the back houses, the other part of the museum and the Art Department offices, and classroom spaces.
East College: The original East College was built in 1797 with money granted to the college by the General Court from the sale of land in Maine. It burned to the ground in 1841. The college petitioned the court for $15,000 to rebuild, but was turned down and had to seek private contributions. Of the money needed, 54 percent came from residents of Williamstown. South College, to the rear, was constructed the same year.
Hopkins Observatory: Built in 1836-38 by Professor Albert Hopkins and his students from stone they quarried on East Mountain, this is the oldest extant observatory in the United States. It is used today as a planetarium, run by the Astronomy Department.
Daniel Day/Judge Dewey House (796 Main Street): This late Federal-style house was built in 1798 by Daniel Day, a prosperous farmer who moved into the village because his daughter had social ambitions. Ornamentation for the house, and for the daughter’s dresses, came from Boston and brought Mr. Day to financial straits. He was forced to sell the house to Judge Daniel Dewey. The house was later used as a lodge for the Delta Upsilon fraternity. It is now a private home.
Stephen Horsford/Caleb Brown Store (772 Main Street): Built around 1832 from bricks made at Horsford’s brickyard on South Street, this building has served as a general store, the home of a fraternity, the town hall, the public library and as a Masonic Lodge since 1889.
The Botsford House (762 Main Street): First built as the Daniel Noble house around 1815, the house was long owned by the family of Joseph White, a founder in 1874 of the Williamstown Library Service. In 1941 by E. Herbert Botsford purchased and gave the house to the town for a public library in memory of his daughter Elizabeth Sanford Botsford. The architectural details are clearly of local manufacture (from Asher Benjamin’s pattern books) compared with the imported woodwork of the Day/Dewey and Sloan houses. Several original mantelpieces and moldings can still be seen. This is now a private home.
Site of the Opera House (27 Water Street): Built in 1845 as the Methodist Church, the wood framed building was moved south to become the Waterman and Moore Opera House when the new brick church was built on the corner in 1877. It was a center for traveling shows, college drama productions and town social activities and also housed the town offices and fire department. In its last years from 1889 to 1992, it was a lumberyard. The build was demolished in 1992 for a new studio art building for Williams College.
Center or White School (Grundy Court): One of the 14 district schools listed in the town records in 1850, the Center or White School originally stood on the site of the Baptist Church at 731 Main Street and for a time was used as a center of worship by the Methodists before they built their church in 1845. The building was later used as a butcher shop and was eventually moved to Grundy Court.
Dr. Samuel Smith House (732 Main Street): This fine brick house was built in 1817 and has remained in the Smith family to the present day. Dr. Smith’s office was in the little building to the west of the house.
Asa Morton House (718 Main Street): Built around 1880 by Joseph White, a treasurer of Williams College, the Queen Anne style house is based on plans published by Palliser and Palliser Architects of Bridgeport, Conn. It was purchased by Professor Asa Henry Morton and his wife, the painter Josephine Ames. As an artist, Josephine had studied in Paris, so she finished the third floor as a studio salon, the scene of many Sunday afternoon social gatherings.
Bissell Sherman House (711 Main Street): Bissell Sherman built this Federal-style house in 1796 after saving money as a farmer in the west end of the village. He opened a small store in the east room and a school on the second floor for neighborhood children. From humble beginnings, by investing and reinvesting, he became the richest man in town.
Judah Williams House (678 Main Street): During the Revolutionary War, Judah Williams became very rich as a commissary to the army. At the peak of his prosperity, probably before 1778, he built this brick mansion. Inflation, which attended the war, ruined him and he was forced to sell the house to David Noble, who subsequently acquired nearly all the land north to the Hoosic River and west to what is now Southworth Street.
Site of the Walley Mill: The first establishment in Williamstown to qualify as a factory was a cotton textile mill built in 1826. Later known as the Walley Mill, it stood on the west bank of the Green River about 100 yards north of the Main Street bridge (now known as the “Walley Bridge”). The great stone arch which covered the tailrace may still be seen in winter months. The dam was about 200 yards south of this bridge at the point where the Green River makes a westerly bend. The water was carried across the road to the factory. Business reached its greatest prosperity during the proprietorship of Stephen Walley. In 1879, Williams College President Paul Chadbourne purchased the enterprise along with Keyes Danforth, who operated it until 1883 when it burned to the ground throwing 70 people out of work.
Site of the Walley Mill Dam: About 200 yards south of the Main Street bridge are the remains of the Walley Mill Dam. This dam was built on the site of an earlier dam serving Duncan’s 1768 grist mill.
Eastlawn Cemetery: In 1842 Ashael Foote deeded land to the town for Eastlawn Cemetery. The Sherman Burbank Memorial Chapel was built in 1935 by Sherman H. Burbank (of the Bissell Sherman family). William Henry Seeley (1853-1932), one of the youngest soldiers in the Civil War, is buried in this cemetery. Seeley enlisted in the U.S. Army 25th Regiment on January 20, 1865 at the age of 11 years, 9 months, 13 days.
Nehemiah Smedley House (530 Main Street): Built in 1772 by one of the original Proprietors and an officer in the Williamstown Militia, this house was operated 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.
Williams College Cemetery: Set aside in 1856 from college land and enlarged in 1882, this cemetery was designed for use by the college trustees, faculty and descendants of President Mark Hopkins. There are monuments to President Ebenezer Fitch (1755-1833), and Edward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837). Uphill to the south of the cemetery is the Haystack Monument, commemorating the spot where in 1806 a group of Williams students took refuge in the lee of a haystack from a storm that interrupted their prayer meeting. A pledge made that afternoon became the inspiration for the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
Mill Village National Historic District (Cole Avenue, Mill and Arnold Streets): The Williamstown Manufacturing Co. built the “station mill” in 1865, taking advantage of water power supplied by the Hoosic River. Williams College President Paul Chadbourne was a key figure in building both the mill and the village which housed workers imported from Canada. One of the least changed of all mill villages in Massachusetts, it was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Williamstown Railroad Station (Cole Avenue and North Hoosac Road): The only stone masonry station on the Boston & Maine main line, the Williamstown station was built in 1898 to replace a wooden structure that had burned. A distinguished building in a Richardsonian Romanesque style, it was the first experience of Williamstown for thousands of Williams College students. For many years, the adjacent rail yard to the northwest was one of the busiest on the railroad with freight trains being constituted here for trips through the Hoosac Tunnel to East Deerfield.
Riverbend Farm (643 Simonds Road): Col. Benjamin Simonds built this structure as a home and a tavern beside the trail leading north from the village in 1770. One of the earliest and most influential citizens of the town, he led his regiment in the Battle of Bennington. Simonds’ daughter, Rachel, was the first child of European descent born in town. Extensively restored, River Bend Farm now a bed and breakfast listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Red Saltbox House (1385 Main Street): Built about 1765 on the corner of Main Street and the original line of a main westward highway (Bee Hill Road), this house served at times as a tavern and as a school. It is now a private home.
William Horsford House (196 South Street): built on Main Street around 1763 or 1764 by William Horsford (see #13, above), this house acted as a reference point in locating West College (1790) and later served as a center for student prayer meetings. It was moved by eight span of oxen to its present location in 1802 to make way for the Sloan House (now Williams College President’s official residence) and was extensively restored in 1952.
Clark Art Institute (225 South Street): Built in 1955 by Sterling and Francine Clark to house their private collection of paintings, as well as silver, sculpture, prints and porcelain, it was enlarged in 1973 with an auditorium, art history research library and additional galleries. In 2014 the newest addition, designed by Tadao Ando will open, providing a new entrance, gallery, and public spaces, with enlarged parking, and a reflecting pool. The Williamstown Art Conservation Center is now in the Stone Hill Center, also designed by Ando, which opened in 2008.
Five Corners Historic District (Intersection of Routes 7 & 43): Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the cluster of dwellings, general store (now closed), school house and church are the remnants of a late 18th century settlement that grew up to serve the surrounding farms. The Greylock Institute for Boys, later Idlewild Hotel, was located here until it was demolished in 1937.
The Five Corners Area, South Williamstown
Historic Walking Tour (reference map)*
Hancock Road (Rte. 43 south)
1. Foster House
Built in 1808-1812 by Ebeneazer Foster, selectman, state legislature (1830-1831), and proprietor of the Meeting House. Later, summer residence of Ossining Military Academy. Circular staircase, fan window and stenciled walls are singular architectural features. Remains a private residence.
2. Old Meeting House Site/Second Congregational Church
Built in 1875 to replace old Meeting House (1808). In 1841 town leased upper floor for town meetings and community affairs; 1875 Second Congregational Church built and the town relinquished rights.
3. Porter House
Built in 1813 by Dr. Alanson Porter; of red brick, fired in nearby pasture (now Waubeeka Golf Course). The house is built with eighteen inch thick walls to withstand fire; long rods through house to hold it together. Remains a private residence.
4. Clark/Young House
Colonial saltbox built in 1765 by Capt. Samuel Clark, veteran of the Battle of Bennington. Later (1790), home of William Young who served in the Massachusetts General Court between 1792-1808. Second floor Masonic meeting room (“Friendship Lodge” 1785-1823) has domed ceiling with inlaid emblem. Remains a private residence.
5. Cheese Factory Site
Factory served Idlewild Hotel and surrounding area: served as temporary schoolhouse during construction of South Center School.
6. Mill School/Greylock Institute/Idlewild hotel Site
Boys prep school founded by Benjamin Mills (1842); burned in 1872, rebuilt as Greylock Institute, went bankrupt in 1880s and closed; estate sold to Idlewild Hotel; prominent resort with private lake and golf course until 1920. Here Lauris G. Treadway started his career in hotel management. Hotel demolished in 1932.
Cold Spring Road (Rte.7 north)
7. Ambrose Hall House
Built in 1806 by Ambrose Hall, lawyer, banker and great-grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill. It subsequently became one of the Mills School buildings. Later, annex to Idelwild Hotel. Now a private residence.
8. 1st General Store/Bloedel Park
Lawrence H. and Eleanore P. Bloedel donated area as a public park. This was the site of first general store (early 1880s to 1927). First South Williamstown telephone here in 1903. Original building demolished during road widening (1952). Other no longer extant buildings: volunteer fire department; woodworking mill; harness and leatherworks factory.
9. Sloan Tavern/ “the Store at Five Corners”
Tavern built in 1770 by Samuel Sloan on land purchased from Isaac Stratton. Home of the first South Williamstown post office (1827). Under ownership of John Jordan (1830), the second floor and Greek Revival portico were added. “Steele’s Store” (1905-1978) purchased by Williams Vanderbilt, former Rhode Island governor, and renamed “Store at Five Corners”. Samuel Sloan later moved to town center and built Federal style house now serving as residence of Williams College president. The Store remained in business under various owners until 2013.
Green River Road
10. Former Wing of Sloan Tavern
Detached and moved early in the 1900s to this site. House demolished as land annexed to Green River Farm in 2011.
New Ashford Road (Rte. 7 south)
11. South Center School/”Little Red Schoolhouse”
Built in 1865 by Edward Curtis, replacing original 1810 building. Housed South Williamstown Public Library (1927-1962). Was home to the Williamstown Cooperative Nursery School until 2012. Now home to the IS 183 Art School of the Berkshires and the South Williamstown Community Association.
12. Southlawn Cemetery
Established (1769) on land given by first settler, Isaac Stratton. First burial in 1777: Rueben Burbank, 3 year old son of second settler family. Many early settlers and Revolutionary War veterans are buried here.
13. Clark/Dickinson House
Built by Ira Clark (c. 1855), grandson of Benjamin Simonds, and later the home of John Dickinson, a prominent Massachusetts educator; home of Judge Arthur Robinson, an early and prominent conservationist. Remains a private home.
14. Stratton House Site
Original house built in 1785 by first settler Isaac Stratton, veteran of the Battle of Bennington, and who for many years served as justice of the peace and town clerk. Stratton Mountain (to SW) is named in his memory (1891).
* as documented 1993 by the South Williamstown Historical Society
SOUTH WILLIAMSTOWN DATELINE*
1745-48 West Hoosac surveyed
1750 Town lots established and sold
1754 Drawing by lot for land in South Part
1760-62 Isaac Stratton cleared land
1762 Bridge built so that Stratton and Burbank could attend church and town meetings
1765 Samuel Clark built saltbox house
1767 Samuel Sloan bought tavern site
1769 Isaac Stratton gave land for cemetery
1770 Samuel Sloan built tavern
1775 Captain Samuel Sloan led minute men to Charlestown and Battle of Bunker Hill
1777 Capt. Samuel Clark led company to Battle of Bennington
1790 William. M. Young (descendants still living on part of land) purchases saltbox from S Clark
1800 Town School Districts established
1805 North and South Parts issued separate warrants for Town meetings
1806 Ambrose Hall built his house
1807-08 First Schoolhouse constructed
1808 Second Congregational Church established
1808-13 Meeting house built
1842 Mills School/Greylock Institute founded
1865 South Center School built
1875 Present Second Congregational Church erected
* as documented 1993 by the South Williamstown Historical Society
For more on Williamstown’s history, click here: Williamstown History