The Recorder – My Tour: Quabbin College and Amherst


This year, 2021, is celebrated – if that term is appropriate under the circumstances – as the bicentennial of Amherst College. Other dates would also have been appropriate: 2019 with the completion of the Charity Fund, the college’s first endowment, or 2025 with the granting of a state charter.

But 2021 marks significant events, with the inauguration of the first building, now known as South College, on September 18, 1821, as well as the inauguration of the first president, Zephaniah Swift Moore, followed the next day by the start of the first term. academic. We have a first-hand account of the first event from Administrator Rufus Graves, who was the driving force behind the Charity Fund and personally active in the construction of the new building:

“Some of the stones for the foundation of the building [South College] having been gathered by voluntary effort, the ceremony of laying the cornerstone was performed with religious solemnities on the ninth day of August and then the following 1820 … on the seventh day of November following, which was the ninetieth day since the laying of the cornerstone… By a series of acts and efforts of the same nature, the building of the College was completed and about half of the rooms nicely furnished, and the eighteenth day of September 1821 solemnly consecrated. The exercises were introduced by Noah Webster Esq, Chairman of the Board… A prayer of dedication was offered by Reverend Joshua Crosby of Enfield… ”

Like Rufus Graves, Joshua Crosby is a forgotten college founder, overshadowed by most prominent and tireless self-promoter, Noah Webster. Even the Enfield town of Crosby is now wiped out, sunk under the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir. Crosby arrived in Greenwich’s new south parish, the later Enfield, in 1789.

Enfield native and founder of Atlantic magazine, Francis Henry Underwood, and also the college’s first historian, William S. Tyler, remembered him – albeit from different angles – as, in Tyler’s words, an ardent Defender of “the pilgrim’s faith Fathers. Underwood lamented Crosby’s strict Calvinism, but still appreciated him as an exceptional person. He especially remembered how striking it was in a sermon when Crosby lifted the flowing sleeves of his robe of old-fashioned black silk and “as if he was shaking …”

Tyler also noted Crosby’s strong federalist policy; his sermons “were so harsh … that they drove some of his Democratic parishioners out of the boardroom.”

Crosby’s own education was irregular, although he eventually graduated from Brown. But he was one of the first trustees of the Amherst Academy from which the college was first organized, and upon President Moore’s sudden death in 1823 Crosby briefly presided as interim president.

His conservative religious and political views dovetailed with those of the college’s other founders, and he served conscientiously on the college’s board of trustees until his death in 1838. But he had little aptitude for academic practice and ceremonial made it the subject of some undergraduate humor. Tyler recalled that at first, “He called my name wrong and I waited for it to be corrected before taking the platform.”

Although Crosby had only very modest success in persuading his thrifty Enfield parishioners to contribute to the charitable fund, he was successful in providing the college with a notable benefactor.

Josiah B. Woods was born in 1796 on his father’s farm on Great Quabbin Mountain and was prepared for college by Crosby, but instead turned to manufacturing just as the Swift River at Enfield was used for the first time as an industrial power.

Woods became a strong ally of Amherst President Edward Hitchcock (1845-1854) and promoted the interest of the college as a member of the board of trustees and overseer of the Charitable Fund. As a state senator, he supported the 1847 Vital Grant from the General Court to college and raised funds for the Octagon Natural History Cabinet. He also served on the construction committee of the Barrett Gymnasium, now Modern Languages. The college continues to present a commemorative award each year to a recent graduate, now the Woods-Travis Award, for “outstanding excellence in culture and loyalty to duty as a scholar.”

The views of the founders of Amherst College, including Webster, and its other early supporters would, of course, be embarrassing to the current college, but even the less prominent – but no less worthy – of them such as Graves, Crosby and Woods deserve explicit explanation. recognition of their current beneficiaries in this bicentenary year.

Their daring and perseverance succeeded against formidable local and state opposition, including that of this newspaper.

Carl I. Hammer, of Pittsburgh and Easthampton, graduated from Amherst College in 1965.

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