The First Gymnasiums at Williams College

The First Gymnasiums at Williams College

Long time Williamstown resident Mike Miller maintains an email list to which he sends stories and remembrances of days gone by in Williamstown -- Williamstown: Reflections & Echoes -- that he has researched. 

You can email Mike and asked to be included on his email list here:

The following information on the first gymnasiums at Williams College is from a recent email from Mike Miller

For even more information on historic Lasell Gym read this story from 2010:

The First Gymnasiums (1851-1929)

Spurred by the development of the new gymnasium movement, and by alumnus David Dudley Field's prodding, Williams' first gymnasium was constructed in 1851 at a cost of $700. The students themselves raised the $500 to furnish the equipment: rings, trapeze, ladders, bars a horse, etc. The students also ran the establishment: "We let them manage it, which they do better than we could," said President Mark Hopkins. A frame structure located on the future site of the Lansing Chapman rink, the building sported a lean-to addition that housed student bathing facilities—actually tin-set tubs with cold running water. The gym burned to the ground in February 1852. Raised on the same spot, a second structure was also destroyed by fire in 1858.

Perhaps tired of fires that kept demolishing their facilities, the students next constructed a brick gymnasium. Located at the corner of Spring and Main streets, it was completed in 1859. Two years later, the College paid off the students' gymnasium debt and assumed ownership of the building. As soon as Goodrich Hall was built, however, the brick gym lapsed into use as a service building, and, for a number of years was also used to store the hose used by the student fire brigade. The gym was torn down in 1928 to make way for the addition to Lasell.

The Beers Atlas map of 1876 shows the N.F. Smith Drug & Book Store at the eastern corner of Main and Spring St. 



The Smith structure was moved south about 50 feet in 1879, in preparation for the construction of a new Williams Gymnasium.   In about 1884, initial foundation work was proceeding for the building.

(Griffin Hall is visible at the upper left, while the old Chapel/Goodrich Hall is in the background)














The construction material for the gym qwas obtained from the Bullock Quarry off of Cold Spring Rd., just a bit north of today's Coyote Flaco. The quarry provided dolomite 'dimension stone', of verylight color. Weathering turns the stone a light gray.

Lasell Gymnasium opened on May 26, 1886 with a 2:30 p.m. exhibition of boxing, wrestling, rings, horizontal bar, tumbling, and more.


This view is looking west towards Spring St. As electricity and gas lighting had not arrived in Williamstown at this date, there appears to be no provision for artificial illun=mination. The main gym floor required natural sunlightprovided by wall windows and a clerestory style upper roof.











As sports in general evolved over the next few years, the game of basketball would be invented nearby in Springfield, MA.  It appears that some Williams students formed their own team under the name of "Williams", but the college stated that there was no direct affiliation with this 1899 group.

North Adams Evening Transcript April 29, 1899




















Williams College adopted the game as a varsity sport during the 1900-1901 season. 


















The existence of the supporting pillars on the main floor created interesting obstacles to all players.  It was necessary to place mats around the lower portions to lessen the injuries during a collision with the supports.  One of the first contests was between the Williams team and nearby Drury High School.                                                    

Thursday, Dec. 6, 1900 


Monday, March 1, 1901 North Adams Evening Transcript

I'm not sure when the main gymnasium was first heated during the colder months, but a notation in the 1886 Gulielmensian quips about using the upper running track in January.



The gymnasium originally contained a 60 foot swimming pool, likely the one shown in the below photograph.  An enlarged facility would replace this unit at a later date