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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1882 Letter

Bradford Wyckoff Sherwood

Delivered: June 11, 1932

When we, the Class of 1882, first looked upon this campus, we were captivated by its beauty. The grounds with their graceful, curving walks had been carefully laid out, and the trees selected so as to furnish a specimen of each variety of evergreen suited to this climate. As the years have passed, new buildings have been added, and the trees have grown with increasing beauty.

Fifty years ago, South, Middle and North Colleges were used as dormitories. South had recently been remodeled and contained the best rooms. None of the buildings had any plumbing. In Middle and North Colleges the rooms were so arranged that one entered from the hall into the study room, which was better lighted in the daytime than those in Carnegie today. Back of this was a windowless bedroom off from which was a still darker closet. In here, the coal, wood, kerosene etcetera were kept, and it was always ill smelling. One day, an alumnus who had formerly occupied our room called, and congratulated us upon having a coal stove to keep us warm, instead of the fireplace, then bricked up. He told how heavy wood had to be brought up the three flights in his day, and that only partially heated the rooms. The drinking water was usually kept in a large brown pitcher. This was replenished usually by a freshman going across the Eastern quadrangle to the well. The bathing water was kept in an ordinary wooden pail filled from a cistern at either end of the building. Then it had to be carried up two or three flights of stairs. The hardship connected with this procedure, especially on cold, stormy winter days when the ice had to be broken, tended to limit the use of water. A few students had hot water tanks made to fit on the back of their stoves.

The Chapel, revered by every Son of Hamilton, externally appears as when we were in College. Woe to anyone who dares to change it! The interior has been very materially improved and its seating capacity enlarged.

The exterior of the old library building has changed only little. Although the collection of books was impressive to the freshman, the library was unheated and little used. During the year 1881-2, a furnace was installed and the building was open afternoons. The books had been donated and were not particularly appealing to the average undergraduate.

The old gymnasium was a barn like structure with an undulating floor. There was no physical director and little equipment, only a pair of horizontal bars and a few Indian clubs, which had been contributed by various classes. Its chief use was in the fall when a band of iterant musicians were engaged for dancing, although many boys came from homes where it was frowned upon. After the faculty members were supposed to be in their beds, lamps were taken out of the chapel chandeliers and placed about the room. Although the light was dim, the dancing was fast and furious due to frequent trips to the keg of beer, which served as refreshment! Those who took ladies’ parts were distinguished by handkerchiefs tied on their left arms. This “gym dig” was a pleasant change from the monotony of our daily work. But what a contrast to the formal dances of the present time!

Instead of the present Chemical Laboratory we had a small wooden building containing a well equipped laboratory and lecture room. The freshman classroom was located on the East side and between the two halls of Middle College. The sophomore classroom was similarly located in North College. In these two rooms all the lectures and recitations were held for these classes.

Fifty years ago Litchfield Observatory stood at the North end of the Western Quadrangle. Its interior was a mystery to underclassmen. Once every year Dr. Peters invited the young ladies of Houghton Seminary to inspect the Observatory and to look through the telescope. On one such occasion, as the girls were about to get a view of the wonders of the heavens, a dense cloud of smoke arose between the observatory and the moon. There was no mystery about that, for the freshmen had gathered a pile of wet leaves and started a bonfire so that the girls saw nothing through the telescope. Old Twinkle rushed out to tell the boys what he thought of their outrageous conduct. In his excitement his English failed him and he spoke in German. It was said that he could command a much choicer selection of expletives in German. Dr. Peters was a very distinguished astronomer and added much to the renown of Hamilton College. By the year of 1882 he had discovered and located 41 asteroids. Besides this Professor Peters did much important work in locating various longitudes especially that of the Western boundary of our state. As a teacher, he was not such a great success although we should in justice recall the fact that he taught only one class each year and that for the shortest term of the year. As there were no optional studies until senior year everyone was obliged to take the course and the time was too short to accomplish much. The mathematics bothered many. It was springtime. The Junior classroom was on the ground floor in the north end of South College.

In the warm weather when the windows were open often some of the students, after having answered to roll-call, would jump out of the window. “Twinkle” was so near-sighted that he could not tell who had left. One day, to find out the culprits, he called the roll again only to hear “present” as each name was called. Once, he remarked: “You might just as well go out the door,” but the wily juniors knew better because then they would pass so near the professor that they would be recognized.

We were fortunate, indeed, in having a faculty composed of men devoted to the College and especially trained for their work. The faculty and the students were then as now what gave to Hamilton College its character and reputation.

We hold gratefully the memory of those illustrious men who composed the faculty of 50 years ago. “Old Greek,” as Professor Ed North was called, gave us an appreciation not only of the beauties of the Greek Language but also of its great contribution to the English Language. This was especially valuable to those of us who later pursued professional studies.

“Cube” Root was particularly dear to the Class of 1882 because our class was the last one he took through the mathematical course. These were the days of few electives. Whether possessed of mathematical ability or not, every man was obliged to take the full course extending through the long fall term of junior year. We remember Dr. Root as a genial, kind-hearted professor, with a profound knowledge of mathematics such as few of us ever expected to attain. He insisted upon oral examinations. Although he seemed to draw the names by lot, as well as the questions, strangely enough they seemed to fit the student’s ability to answer. His wisdom and insight into human nature was shown by his giving the course in Conchology which he gave the first three weeks of our sophomore year when our time was largely taken up with hazing. In concluding this course, he said, “I do not know how much of this you will remember but I hope you have enjoyed it as I have giving it. The next time we will meet in your classroom and take up the serious work of the year in mathematics.” We were profoundly thankful that his health permitted him to complete the mathematical work of our class.

Professor Hopkins taught Latin. He was a strict disciplinarian who required good work of the students but was always ready to help them.

Professor Chester was a distinguished chemist of his time. So enthusiastic was he, that whenever a student expressed repugnance at the evil smells of the laboratory, in disgust he would remark, “Gentleman, remember science knows no filth.”

Professor Kelsey taught Physics. The laboratory had a limited amount of more or less antiquated apparatus, which he used for demonstration. There was a model of that wonderful new invention the telephone. Professor Kelsey explained the principles of its operation, but concluded by saying, “This particular instrument is not just now in working order, but you see how it should work.”

In the January 1882 number of the Hamilton Literary Monthly there was an editorial titled, “Shall We Have A Telephone!” In this the writer made a strong plea for an organized effort to secure a telephone on the Hill. His concluding sentence was, “It will be for the great benefit of those who are on the Hill both students and faculty.”

In the teaching of public speaking and English literature Hamilton’s reputation was second to none. Professor Frink proved himself a worthy successor of the renowned Manderville, and the reputation of Hamilton’s work in this department continued to spread. As the College library was deficient in books recently published, Professor Frink secured a sum of money with which he purchased those he though needed for his literature classes. Those books were kept in his apartment in South College so they would readily be accessible to the students.

In a personal letter recently, Judge Amidon wrote this, “For my own part, I feel grateful to the College for the training it gave me in English and public speaking and its introduction to the world of literature. Those have been the facts that have contributed to my success and joy.”

During the Fall Term of our senior year, the Class of 1832 received a severe shock when, in our classroom, Dr. John Mears was suddenly stricken with an illness which soon caused his death. He was the Albert-Barnes Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, and instructor of modern languages and librarian, according to the catalogue. He really was professor of intellectual and moral philosophy first. Then when the College could not afford to pay a new man to teach French and German, he willingly undertook to supply the need. Then, too, he was the College librarian. Our class, as others, took advantage of this good nature and love for the boys so that order was not the best in his French classes. But when, as seniors, he taught us in his chosen field of philosophy we began to appreciate the profundity of his learning. As far as the Class of 1882 was concerned his difficulties in discipline were over. With deep sorrow and tender affection we watched the downward course of his fatal illness. The following extract from resolutions adopted by the Class of 1882 at the time of Dr. Mears’ death expressed our view. “Resolved that the Class of ’82 mourn the loss of one whose gentleness, forbearance, and self-sacrificing spirit endeared him to all. But it is with sincere sorrow that we see the College deprived of a talented and efficient professor, the community of a noble and Christian man, and the Church of an eminent divine.”

Fifty years ago ended the first year of Dr. Darlings’ administration as president of the College. In appearance and manner he was the typical Presbyterian minister of that time. Tall, slim and erect he always conducted himself with dignity. He was an ardent fisherman and fond of the Adirondacks. When engaged in talking about them he seemed more human. During the first year he changed some of the customs of the College. One was the abolishing of the annual Cane Row.

A College education in our day was restricted largely to those who contemplated entering one of the learned professions. Four-fifths of the students came from rural sections and were less sophisticated in social customs, but they were earnest in purpose and eager in ambition. The fact that the College offered no social program and very little opportunity for the mingling of the sexes made the appearance of a young lady on the campus the signal for the barbarous custom of yelling “Heads Out,” which echoed from one College to another until all windows framed the picture of excited youth.

In 1882 only two of the seven fraternities owned their own houses. Sigma Phi had a modest but well adapted house well down on College Street. The Alpha Delta Phi’s had a small stone house at their present location which was the first on the campus. The other fraternities rented lodge rooms, usually located downtown, and each had its own boarding house which provided a room where the men congregated after dinner for an hour of sociability. This to a certain extent made up for the lack of a fraternity house.

These fraternity boarding houses were located one at the top of Freshman Hill, one at the foot, three others in the valley below, all on College Street. The students in fair or stormy weather had to walk from their dormitory on the campus to their respective boarding house for breakfast and carrying their lunches with them walk back up the hill in time for 8:30 chapel. Usually one or two of the fraternities boarded on the Hill but neither fraternity house furnished meals.

This system was not altogether to be deplored because the eating together and the social time following dinner strengthened the ties of the fraternal friendships, and the fact that men of the various fraternities were rooming in the same dormitories made for broader acquaintances and better appreciation of their fellow students. The memories of those happy days have kept us coming back here year after year in search of old friends. Were those four years profitable to the great majority of the students? The records of these men in theology, in law, in medicine and many other fields of activity give us the answer.