Throughout this blog’s existence thus far, I had always mentioned Cady’s two buildings at Williams College in a sort of context of uncertain longing, essentially saying “I would love to complete my tour of all Cady academic buildings in existence, but Williamstown is so far away and I can’t just go there freely whenever I want!” There was never a certainty of “You’ll see them when I get to them.” It was always “If I get to them…”
Therefore I am happy to report that I got to spend September 3rd in Williamstown, Massachusetts, taking in not just the Morgan Hall dormitory and Lasell Gymnasium, but also all the other sights that Williams College and the small town it is woven into have to offer.
Williamstown is the northwesternmost town in Massachusetts, about 2 hours north of the Hartford area and near basically nothing but the former industrial city of North Adams, best known as the home of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). The center of Williamstown and Williams College are one and the same, resulting in a town that to me didn’t feel much like a typical small New England town and a college campus that didn’t feel very coherent. The individual buildings are all quite pleasant, though, and the mountains that surround the town on all sides (see above) provide a lovely backdrop.
For those not aware, Williams is quite old, dating to 1793. It is also one of the most elite small liberal arts colleges in the country, if not the most elite, given that both Forbes and U.S. News & World Report rank it first in the nation. Rival Amherst College, which split off from Williams in 1821, is consistently ranked second. Wesleyan, which certainly was so vital to my early Cady explorations, is closely associated with both Williams and Amherst in the form of a grouping referred to as the Little Three, which began as a sort of athletic conference around the turn of the 20th century.
Cady’s contributions to Williams came in the 1880s, before he became something of a fixture at Wesleyan for a time. The two Williams buildings, Morgan Hall (1883) and Lasell Gymnasium (1886), are both physically close on campus (on opposite sides of the north end of Spring Street, a quintessential college town commercial street) and stylistically similar. As the title of this post indicates, both feature prominent Dutch Revival elements, though Curran also correctly points out the inclusion of Romanesque features, which is certainly typical for Cady. They also share a common material, light gray limestone, which Curran says originated both from the local mountains and Kentucky.
Morgan Hall is a residence hall that houses upperclass students. A Williams information page on it describes it as a bit over 24,000 square feet in size and consisting almost entirely of single rooms.
As can be seen above, with the exception of a few features and the natural effect of sloping terrain, the north facade of Morgan (which I presume most think of as the “front”) is nearly symmetrical. It is here that the Dutch influence is most obvious in the form of the three gables, but otherwise most of the building is in the common Romanesque style of the day that I have amply discussed elsewhere.
Dutch gables are also used on the east and west ends of the building, as seen here:
The south side or “back” of Morgan, however, is entirely different and much plainer, but still quite recognizable as a Cady building. The multiple clerestory windows on the top floor are common to buildings I’ve focused on in the past like Chittenden at Yale and Fayerweather at Wesleyan. There is essentially no ornamentation or distinct style of any kind, and the stonework is rougher.
Directly across Spring Street from Morgan is Lasell Gymnasium. Lasell originates from the same context of late 19th century interest in physical education that Fayerweather does, though it is quite a different building in appearance.
Lasell mixes Dutch and Romanesque elements as equally as Morgan, including the former via gables and the latter with the distinct square tower. It is the oldest component of the Williams athletic complex and is quite well-used, but the actual large gym room is the smallest major athletic space in the complex, no larger than a single basketball court. As courts go, though, it certainly does function as a beautiful piece of living history, with a full wooden walkway running around the second floor.
Ultimately, the strength of Cady’s contributions to Williams, and what I experienced viewing them that I didn’t truly feel anywhere else in my explorations, is a sense of consistency and unity of design. On a campus that (as I said earlier) is somewhat lacking in architectural coherence, here are two attractive and dignified buildings in the same style, built around the same time and situated in direct proximity to each other. Presumably, few people would be surprised to hear that they were designed by the same architect. Though a dorm and a gym are functionally very different, Morgan and Lasell form one of the most coherent architectural units among all of the Victorian-era buildings at Williams, and that’s something the college should be proud of.