In 1791, the Williamstown Free School opened with 15 students. The Free School was converted into a tuition-based one two years later and the name changed to Williams College.
Williams had financial trouble in the early 1800s—and growth was slow to come. By 1815 the college still had only two buildings and 58 students. As a result, President Zephaniah Swift left Williams with 15 students in 1821 and became Amherst’s first president. The college struggled to find firm financial ground for much of the 19th Century. The 20th Century was a time of change and evolution for the college; compulsory religious exercises were eliminated in 1962, and in 1970 women were first admitted.
Today, Williams has grown to nearly 2,000 undergraduates and is one of the nation’s most well-regarded liberal arts schools.
Williams’ 450-acre campus is located in Williamstown, MA, in the Berkshires. The student center, library and administrative buildings are centrally-located; athletic facilities are in the southeast corner of campus.
The Paresky student center is definitely the most popular place for students to hang out on campus. Not only is it centrally with modern architecture and an atmosphere conducive to socializing and studying. Students can grab a quiet alcove to study and read on comfortable chairs, while others catch up with friends on the first floor couches or Snack Bar area.
There are three prime places outside for students to hang out, especially when the weather is nice. The Paresky lawn is a perennial favorite; even as dusk settles, students continue to relax in the lush grass covering the lawn. Frosh Quad is also a popular place for students to hang out regardless of the weather. There are park benches along the quadrangle where students can relax, playing the guitar or just conversing amongst each other. The grassy area behind Poker Flats is also popular: people play Frisbee, soccer, or rugby, and a lot of students simply hang out on the patio area adjacent to the fields.
Although Schow is technically a building devoted to science, its atrium is a popular place for students to escape studying for a few minutes. The area also hosts the Eco Café, where many students grab coffee or cookies during study breaks.
Williams College is located in Williamstown, MA, in Berkshire County’s Purple Valley. It’s in Massachusetts’ northwest corner, on the border of Vermont and New York, and is home to fewer than 10,000 residents. Still, this quaint town offers up a variety of diversions for students.
The sole coffee store in town, Tunnel City, is the ultimate off-campus college hangout for students. The store is famous for its creative cookies and is a regular spot for students on casual dates. The combination of the comfortable environment, delicious food, and intimate setting puts Tunnel City on the map as the top off-campus spot.
Along Spring Street, there are many local restaurants with a diverse array of cuisines for students who want to venture off campus for a meal. Sushi Thai is popular among students out with friends and is also a good date spot, especially for the sushi sampling during the weekends. Spice Root, next to Sushi Thai offers Indian cuisine ranging from specialty naan to different biryanis. The décor is festive with multicolored walls, plates, and tapestries, and the plasma-screen TV constantly plays various Bollywood movies. There is definitely a sense of intimacy as the atmosphere is very warm and informal, encouraging students to hang out in a casual setting.
There are two pubs in town that are often frequented by students: the Red Herring and the Forge, which are definitely crucial to the college experience at Williams. The Red Herring is consistently popular among students on the weekends, and people often host birthdays and other events there. The Forge is much further away and requires a 30-minute drive, but has its regulars as well. They have is a diverse array of beers, and students can earn a special card for drinking 50 different ones in a year. The Forge tends to be more of an upperclassmen hangout.
The Williams football team has a very quirky tradition after Homecoming games each year. The team parades down the main street in town, Spring Street, after the game. Fellow students and alumni generally surround the football team, as the members make their way from the field. Afterwards, the entire team crowds into a small, local barbershop famed for its cheap, but usually horrible haircuts. The seniors then each pick a freshman to give a strange and unflattering haircut to in the barbershop. The freshmen are then presented in front of the students and alumni, standing awkwardly as the crowd cheers and jeers.
Just off of Route 2, the main road in Williamstown, is the Green River. During warmer weather, many students take the 10-minute walk to the river to go swimming. But during the winter, there are polar bear swims each month at 10 pm!
Another popular tradition is to climb onto the roof of the Schow Science Center, especially to watch the stars on clear nights. Not only is it a romantic spot for stargazing, but it is also a great place for students to hang out with friends and enjoy the beautiful view of campus at night. There is just something enticing about breaking the rules to sneak onto Schow roof.
Steve Case (1980) founded America Online.
James A. Garfield (1856) was the 20th president of the United States.
Edward McPherson (1967) is President George W. Bush’s undersecretary of education.
Sonia Nazario (1982) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Los Angeles Times.
Stephen Sondheim (1950) composes Broadway musicals.
George Steinbrenner (1952) owns the New York Yankees.
Alexander Lee-Hom Want (1998) is a singer, songwriter, and actor.
Williams’ sports teams, the Ephmen (or Ephs), compete in the NCAA’s Division III and the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). Williams’ skiing and squash teams compete in the NCAA’s Division I.
Since 1994, when Williams began competing in the NCAA, the Ephs have won three titles in men’s tennis, three titles in women’s crew, two titles in women’s tennis, two titles in men’s cross country, two titles in women’s cross country, and titles in men’s basketball, women’s indoor track and field, and men’s soccer.
Williams also offers 13 club sports, from ultimate Frisbee to horseback riding. Williams’ student body is athletically-oriented: more than half of students play a sport and many hike, ski, and swim in the surrounding Berkshire area.
Sixty percent of the student body is involved in a varsity, JV or club sport. As a result, students are extremely interested in both participating and watching sporting events. The most popular teams include football, soccer, basketball, and baseball.
American sculptor Richard Serra spoke at Williams’ 2008 commencement.
In 1821, Williams’ president, Zephaniah Swift, left Williams with 15 students and became Amherst College’s first president.
Biology professor Joan Edwards has a Guinness World Record for discovering the fastest blooming plant, the bunchberry.
Allegedly, Washington Gladden of Williams’ class of 1859 wrote the first undergraduate-composed alma mater song (“The Mountains”).
Williams College’s freshman housing is distinct from the sophomore and upperclassmen housing.
The housing for freshmen is clustered in two areas of campus – Frosh Quad and Mission. Approximately 300 students live in the two residential buildings of Williams and Sage, two L-shaped dorms that form a grassy quadrangle in the center of campus. Students spend time in the Frosh Quad area throughout the year, playing Frisbee, doing homework on park benches, or engaging in competitive snowball fights. The 200 students residing in Mission Park are further away, down a small hill on the edge of campus. There are four main areas within the building: Armstrong, Pratt, Mills, and Dennett with four floors each. Although Mission is more secluded, it has its own dining hall in the basement along with spacious areas for students to hang out, watch TV, and play pool.
Upperclassmen housing is scattered across campus, but divided into four distinct neighborhood clusters. The Odd Quad is home to students in the Currier cluster and contains Fayerweather, Currier, Fitch, and Prospect along with metal eye sculptures dotting the periphery of the residential buildings. Dodd neighborhood consists of smaller houses with around ten students each, which tends to foster a more tight-knit community among residents. Spencer is famous for its centrally located residential buildings, including Morgan and Spencer, as well as it spacious rooms. Wood has the old fraternity houses, which are great for large social functions, but its dorms are also the farthest from the rest of campus.
For the lucky seniors who are able to snatch a high enough pick number for the housing lottery, co-ops are a great way to gain more independence without completely living off campus. The college-owned co-op housing requires students to cook and clean for themselves as a preview for life after college. Many co-ops are centrally located on campus, allowing students to stay in contact with friends still living in college residential buildings.