Behind the Mather House move

There are some things that just don’t seem right. A house on wheels driving down Route 2 is most decidedly one of them. Yet, on Sept. 10, Mather House, former home of the Admissions Office, was moved approximately 1,000 ft. from its location near the Adams Memorial Theater to a new site on Stetson Court. The building was moved to make room for the upcoming expansion of Adams Memorial Theater.

The relocation began at 6:25 a.m., and by 7:45, the house had made it across Route 2. By 11:30 a.m., it had arrived at its new home on Stetson Court. In order to allow for the 180-ton, four thousand square foot structure to cross the street, traffic had to be re-routed both from the east and the west. While through traffic was simply directed around the immediate area, trucks were forced to go a considerable distance around the entire Williams campus.

In addition to disrupting traffic patterns, the girth of the 40-by-60 foot structure mandated the removal of signposts, lampposts, light poles, power lines and several trees along a portion of Route 2 and Stetson Court. The crew involved in this process included five members of Larmon House Movers, Inc., the company in charge of the move, approximately ten workers from the electric company, three from Adelphia Cable, five subcontractors and seven members of the Williamstown Police Department (WPD).

Also on hand for this exciting event was the Williams Outing Club (WOC), settled in for a long morning with hot chocolate, as well as several interested on-lookers. The event was captured on film for the College Archives by a Williams student, from his vantage point atop Adams Memorial Theater.

Preparations for the move began last January, and actual on-site work began in early August, when the Admissions Office moved to its current home in Bascom House on Stetson Court. Throughout the month of August, crews worked on Mather House, disconnecting the plumbing, electrical work and ventilation systems. All of this had to be labeled and recorded so it could be reconnected with ease. The house was raised on steel beams on August 14, and after an eight hour-long ordeal on Sept. 5, it was rotated to facilitate its move.

The house will now be lowered, and a new foundation built around it . The steel beams supporting it will be removed through the foundation, and interior renovation will be done to bring several items up to code. A small shed-like addition built in the 1970s was removed from the back of the building and will not be rebuilt.

The move itself, without including the expense of the new site, College employees’ time or payments to outside companies, cost about $80,000. An estimate of total cost is not currently available.

Mather House, which will be used as temporary offices during the construction to be done on Stetson, was moved primarily because of its historical value. It is debatable whether the cost of moving the house is greater than building one of a similar size, but the historical value is an intangible factor. This house was built in the early 19th century and was, at one time, home to a general store owned by Orin Kellogg and Ben Mather. Mather was related to Cotton Mather, the famous Puritan minister and author of the early 1700s. The house became the office of the Admissions Department in 1971.

At Williams, there has been a long history of moving buildings from one location on campus to another. This comes from a desire to maintain the historical ambiance of the town and the fact that the College has the resources to do so. Permits are required to demolish or relocate an existing structure and to build a new one. The town council has looked more favorably upon moving buildings than demolishing them and erecting new ones.

Hopkins Observatory, the oldest existing observatory in the country, was built in 1838 in the center of the Berkshire Quad. This 254-ton structure was moved to the south end of the quad in 1908 for aesthetic purposes, and then was moved to the north end in 1961 to allow for Prospect to be built.

Kellogg House was also moved multiple times after being built on the current site of Hopkins Hall as the President’s House in 1794. It was relocated to the north end of the lot facing west in 1872, in order to make the campus more visually pleasing, and was moved even further north in 1919 to accommodate the construction of Stetson.

Other buildings that have been moved over the course of the College’s history are Griffin Hall, Parsons House, Rice House, Hubbell and Sewall House. In fact, it seems that Mather House itself has been moved before, but the College Archives do not include the dates or locations.

Although it sometimes seems as if the College is playing musical buildings, the time, effort and expense of relocating these historic structures gives the town and the campus a unique history and appeal.