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Big Days in a Small Town

One of the leading features of small town life is that on several occasions during the year a substantial part of the population, young and old, gathers at some central place for a townwide meeting, a parade, or holiday festivities. These events are a means to bring everybody together and to reaffirm their participation in a small community.  Community celebrations will be the topic of both our new exhibition curated by Dusty Griffin.

These townwide events are a prominent part of the Williamstown’s annual calendar, and have been going on for a long time. Some events — Town Meeting, Memorial Day, Independence Day – have been recognized or celebrated for more than a century. The Williams College commencement exercises have drawn large numbers of townspeople ever since the early 19th century. Others are relatively new – the Holiday Walk, for example. Some, an annual feature for many decades, are no longer celebrated: the Fireman’s Ball, the Grange Fair. And even the ones we continue to celebrate today have not always taken the same form.

This exhibit looks at a number of the townwide events in Williamstown, and by means of old photographs, posters, programs, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts traces how these occasions have been celebrated over the years.


Dusty Griffin taught English literature at Berkeley and NYU for 40 years before retiring in 2009. A 1965 graduate of Williams College, he has published a number of scholarly books on 17th- and 18th-century English poetry. He has also written on topics in Williams College history, and on the local history of Williamstown. He has frequently given talks on local history in the Williamstown Historical Museum lecture series, most recently on “Three Williams Generals in the Civil War” (2012). He serves as chair of the Exhibitions Committee, and has curated an exhibitions at the Museum on “Williamstown in the Civil War” (2011). His talk in May on “Big Days in a Small Town” coincides with the opening of his exhibition at the Museum on “Big Days in a Small Town.”

This approximately half hour program was filmed at the Harper’s Center. In this video, Williamstown Senior Citizens share their memories of celebrations in the Williamstown of their youth.