Weston Field revels in 138 years of rich tradition

For the past 138 years, Weston Field has served as the heart of the College athletic community. A central feature of campus life, Weston Field has outlasted 14 college presidents, two world wars and perhaps most telling, dozens of uniform changes. With very few renovations in the past century, Weston Field is widely respected for its tradition and constancy at a College that is always progressing, striving and succeeding.

In 1884, the College purchased the land of the present-day field site from the Sherman family on Meacham Street. Over the next two years, the College attempted to construct athletic fields but struggled with drainage issues and did not have the financial resources to properly fix the problem. In 1886, ex-Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Byron Weston donated $5300 to the College. This money was used directly to help the grading and drainage of the complex.

For his philanthropic efforts in donating the funds for the field and track, Weston was awarded an honorary degree from the college in 1886. While not a graduate of the College, Weston was a remarkably successful businessman who founded the Weston Paper Company, a large corporation that eventually merged into today’s Crane Paper Company.

Weston’s investment was hugely successful. By 1893, Weston Field encompassed 13 acres and included facilities for baseball and football. Weston went on to contribute another $2500 over the course of his life to help fund the creation of an athletic track and the construction of the original grandstand in 1897. The track, which lasted until 1988, was an uncommon one-third mile cinder circuit that encircled the entire complex – football and baseball fields alike.

“The track was a rectangle with somewhat longer sides on the east and west sides, but nearly square, with short curves on the four corners,” Cross Country Head Coach Pete Farwell ’73 said. “It surrounded the baseball field, with the grandstand behind home plate and the cinder track running right in front of it.”

Farwell was a student at the College before the renovation and competed on the track during his four years as a student-athlete. “I was surprised when I arrived at Williams that it was such an oversized track, but we enjoyed doing workouts on it, and it was kept up well for the meets,” Farwell said. “Cinder tracks were not uncommon at that time, but certainly much rarer by 1987.”

Weston Field became a central feature of the rivalry between Williams and Amherst after its construction. The first win over Amherst on Weston Field came on Nov. 20, 1886, when the Ephs trounced the Jeffs 30-0. The men collected their 500th victory in the history of the football program when they defeated Wesleyan 28-23 at Weston Field on Nov. 7, 1992.

Over the first part of the 20th century, Weston Field saw few changes in its overall configuration. In 1901, the Bob Peck Grandstand was constructed to overlook the baseball field, which achieved national fame on April 18, 1923, when Columbia visited Weston Field and started its ace, future Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, against a formidable Williams lineup. In one of the most memorable baseball games in both colleges’ histories, Gehrig went on to strike out 17 batters, an Ivy League record at the time. While the Ephs eventually won the game, Gehrig’s incredible performance caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who offered him a contract only two months later.

The first major renovation of Weston Field came in 1988, when the current aluminum bleachers were built on the east side, along with a three-story press box. A new, quarter-mile track was constructed, and the baseball field was refurbished and repositioned further south. This new project was dedicated in memory of Anthony J. Plansky, who served as track coach from 1936-78. George M. Steinbrenner ’52, former owner of the New York Yankees, spearheaded fundraising for the reconfiguration.

The latest Weston Field project will undoubtedly be the greatest renovation of the complex in 138 years. With an estimated cost of $22 million, the endeavor will include new facilities for track, lacrosse, field hockey and football. Despite the transformation, the College is working hard to maintain the character of the current Weston Field.

“The new Weston Field is an exciting endeavor for the college and the athletics program,” Football Head Coach Aaron Kelton said. “The improved facilities will allow us to continue to attract the best student-athletes. The project calls for new fields and additions, but in keeping the historical gateway and the Peck Grandstand as part of the project, it will preserve some of the great history.”