The Williamstown Historical Museum not only collects and preserves artifacts related to Williamstown; they share with the public the information they unearth when delving into the town's past.
And as part of the Museum's lecture series, Rita Watson, a member of the Museum's board, will give a talk, "Spring Street Then and Now," on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 11 a.m. in the David & Joyce Milne Public Library.
With Watson as a guide in a virtual tour, attendees will see Spring Street evolve from a dirt road to the commercial center of Williamstown.
Following the talk, the WHM will open the new exhibition curated by Watson and co-curated by board member Dusty Bahlman. A reporter for over 20 years, Bahlman wrote the text for the exhibit.
"Spring Street was a challenging topic. It was a big project, and we worked on it for months," Watson said. "Many stores moved from one side of the street to the other and many are gone. The hard part for me was how to sort it out. The only way was building by building."
And that is how Watson will tell the public about Spring Street: building by building.
"I will begin with Spring Street's humble origins," she said. "It was a narrow lane that townspeople and (Williams College) students originally went to get their water supplies."
There was a spring on the street (hence the name) and water was made available to townspeople and students in the earlier years of Williamstown.
On a map of Spring Street in 1894, houses are identified by the owners' names, such as Danforth, Gales, W.O. Adams and J. Austin. In addition to that map, Sarah Purcell, director of the museum, created maps of Spring Street in 1940 and as it is currently.
"When the Ephporium was moved in 1887 to Spring Street from where the Congregational Church now stands, it was the first real business on the street. Ephporium was a book store, public baths, post office and drug store at one time," Watson said. Now, the store is a deli and carries a small selection of groceries.
"In the early 1900s, Cabe Prindle first opened a billiard parlor and bowling alleys on the east side of Spring Street. After nine years, the bowling alleys were burned out, and Prindle moved the business across the street where it remained for many years."
Between 1926 and 1977, that space had been occupied by a printing company. The printing company has changed hands a few of times, and when George Elder bought the business from Samuel McClelland, he retained the McClelland name. "Elder and his sons, Jack, Tom and Bill ran the business and still do," Watson said. "The Elders moved the presses to North Street in 1977. The presses had to be taken out of the second floor windows with a crane."
There are not any drug stores on Spring Street now, but in the 1940s there were two: the college's and Hart's. Walter Hart, founder of Hart's Pharmacy, started the business in 1927 on the west side of the street in the space now occupied by Ruby Sparks, a women's clothing store. Then Hart moved his store to the other side of the street, where it still stands. Eventually, Hart turned the business over to his son Phil. "Phil was a chemist and taught at Williams. He really had no interest in being a pharmacist, but there are many who are glad he took over his father's business," said Watson.
In later years, under the ownership of Edward Conroy, it became too hard to compete with large chain stores. Not long after Conroy retired, the new owner eliminated the pharmacy, and "Pharmacy" was removed from the sign above the store. Now, Hart's is a variety store.
Watson mentioned that in what is called Eph's Alley on the east side of Spring Street, there was at some point a meat curing house. As part of the meat market there also was a wooden cold storage building, and the Water & Sewer Department used the bottom floor.
From 1929-69, McMahon & Son's had a Chevrolet Car Dealership on Spring Street. They also were coal and oil dealers. "Tom (the father) gave a Chevy to Williamstown High School for their Driver's Education Program," said Watson.
And Ken O'Neil probably was the object of gratitude the day in 1996 stores were closed due to a severe snowstorm, except for Ken's Market. He used a snowmobile that day to deliver groceries to customers.
"Going south on the east side of the street," Watson said, "We come to the Log. The original part of the Log building was the home of Lyman Hunt, there was a jewelry store in part of it, and later Mrs. Imy Fells had a lunch room there." The building now has many uses and is a gathering place for Williams College department lunches and a coffee and lunch house for students.
"On the west side of the street there was shoe repair shop, an eatery and a pizza place on the street floor of a building. Williams had bought that building and another one nearby, had them demolished in 1984, and built a much needed parking lot, which it loaned to the town."
The House of Walsh, Williamstown, established in 1937, was also on the west side of the Street. "It was run by Carry Walsh, a nephew, for many years. Then Jim Hunter bought the store and ran it for several years," said Watson. "Finally, the store was closed and Harrison Gallery is now in that building."
In 1998, fire destroyed a building that housed the Cobble Café, Colonial Pizza and The Williams Co-op. A new building was finished in 2003 and is now the Thai Garden and Spice Root restaurants.
When Watson gives her talk on Feb. 23, photos of people or buildings she is referring to will be shown on a screen.
Many photos are displayed in the "Spring Street Then and Now" exhibit.
The exhibit is divided into several sections, including "Bottom of Spring Street" and "People and Memorabilia." Among the items in the memorabilia section is a tuxedo shirt from the House of Walsh, men's underwear from the Williams Co-op, a rolling pin, a pill box, and a dentist's samples of dentures.
Standing at a display case containing construction photos, Watson explained that Spring Street "was widened in 1892 and again in 1959. The latest remodeling was done in 2001. Much of the necessity of this work was due to old under-structure of the street. I think it is fair to say even though there have been many changes, many things remain the same. Williamstown is still a bucolic community where houses and cars are not locked with regularity; interviews are still done in a coffee shop or a restaurant."
The Williamstown Historical Museum's lecture series and the "Spring Street Then and Now" exhibit are open to the public free of charge. The Museum is in the rear of the Milne Public Library, 1095 Main St.