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Posts Tagged ‘Amherst College’

Three apples from “Apples of New York,” by Spencer Ambrose Beach.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association summer conference takes place this weekend at Hampshire College.  One of the first seminars was “The Full Skinny on Healthy Orcharding” with Michael Phillips from Lost Nation Farm in New Hampshire.  Yours truly was there, learning about fungal duff management and other good things .

As it happens, the seminar was held right down the street from the site of Professor Edward Tuckerman’s little home orchard, which he called Applestead.  Tuckerman and his wife, Eliza, built Applestead over the period of a few years in the 1850s, beginning not long after they moved to Amherst from Boston.  The house was of stone – built to last, Eliza said in a letter to her sister Mattie.   Eliza’s letter also suggested that the house was designed by Edward Clarke Cabot, a well-known architect and, again according to Eliza, an old friend of Edward’s.

It was a beautiful house, and Edward put a lot of effort into designing the grounds, for in addition to his many interests, including botany, religion, history, and genealogy, he was also a zealous gardener.  After he scoured the seed catalogs and planned the garden beds for beans and potatoes and peas, he envisioned many fruit trees.  The modest plan for his orchard — “Preserve carefully” he wrote on the front — is now in the Cushing-Tuckerman-Esty Papers at Amherst College.  There, among the pears and cherries, an observant orchardist will see that he has planned for several fine apple varieties, namely Rhode Island Greening, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Red Astrachan, Sops of Wine, Porter, and Gravenstein, shown in a detail here:

Most of these apples are still available to plant today – I have a few (okay, most) of these myself.  Part of the lure of heirloom apples is the names, and for some budding apple growers it’s hard to resist buying an example of every curiously-named apple.  It’s nice — probably very wise — to have a selection in your orchard of modern, disease-resistant apples such as Liberty, Enterprise, or Freedom (what bloody boring names, though), but it’s far more addictive to track down heirloom varieties such as (to list a very few) Razor Russet, Cornish Gilliflower, Hubbardston Nonesuch, or Westfield-Seek-No-Further.  How can you resist?  The Tuckermans didn’t resist.  They planted their orchard.

 

Detail from a larger photo, showing the Tuckerman orchard in early spring.

 

The Tuckerman’s mature orchard in 1921, when Applestead was a fraternity. Note the train running past the house — the track was added only a few decades after the Tuckermans built Applestead.

Detail from map of Amherst, 1873, by F. Beers. “G.F. Tuckerman” should read “E. Tuckerman.”

The property and the orchard only lasted about 70 years.  In the 1920s Amherst College administrators decided that the athletic facilities should be improved, and that the Tuckerman property would be the site of the “Amherst College Base Ball Cage.”  The map at left shows the three properties along “Broadway” (now South Pleasant Street) that would be torn down in order to erect the Cage.  In a few pages devoted to this project in Stanley King’s “Consecrated Eminence,” the destruction of Applestead received only one sentence: “The stone house, known as the Tuckerman house, then standing at the site, was taken down.”  The orchard is long gone, but somewhere — even as pieces or pebbles or dust — that indestructible stone is brooding over the razing of Applestead.

Detail from a photograph in the Buildings and Grounds Collection showing the Cage and its grounds. The Tuckermans’ property would have been to the right of the train tracks.

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Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Daguerreotype of Charles Thompson by Chandler Seaver, Jr., of Boston, ca 1855

Charles Thompson, custodian at Amherst College for more than 40 years in the second half of the 19th century – do you know him?  Have you seen photographs of him before, perhaps in an old Olio yearbook?  For over 40 years Amherst students graduated and left town with a photograph of Charles Thompson in their copies of the yearbook.  Thompson was deeply connected with the College, and with the students’ experience of it, and there is no doubt that those who knew him remembered him fondly.

Most of what we know about Thompson’s life comes from a volume written to raise money for Thompson’s old age by President William Augustus Stearns’ daughter Abigail Eloise LeeI’ve looked at the book many times over the years, both for the purpose of learning about Thompson’s life and to find details about the College and town during those days.  Recently I looked at it again and this time I happened to focus on a passage in which Lee mentions Thompson’s experiences as a sailor.  I’d never noticed this information enough to wonder about it, but this time I did.

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The exceedingly well-dressed citizens of Amherst agree on a college

The exceedingly well-dressed citizens of Amherst agree to found a college

Last week Peter Nelson wrote about Samuel Williston, who provided funds to Amherst College in 1840 when the institution was in danger of financial ruin, and who continued to donate to the College over the course of many years. Because of Williston’s timely donations, the College considered whether it should change its name to Williston College.

However, before Amherst had to make that decision, it had already confronted more than one identity crisis.

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Minutiae ahead

A recent trip along the byways of a new acquisition, the Daniel and Tammy Dickinson Family Papers, reminded me of the pleasure of new discoveries, especially unexpected ones.  In this case, the discoveries came while processing an unassuming little collection about the family of Daniel Dickinson, a fourth cousin twice removed (I think…) of poet Emily Dickinson (although Daniel wouldn’t have understood this claim to fame), and his wife Tammy Eastman, member of another widespread local family.  This branch of the Dickinsons lived in North Amherst, where Daniel farmed the land his father had farmed before him, raised a family, and helped start the North Amherst Congregational Church.

Daniel had several brothers, among them Baxter and Austin, who are more well known today, or at least more easily discovered, than Daniel.  Both brothers were clergymen, and both helped found Amherst College – Baxter with some of his modest salary, and Austin with efforts to obtain a charter.

Baxter and Austin Dickinson

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The topic of tax-exempt status has been much in the news lately—who gets it, what they do with it, and what IRS hoops they have to jump through in order to secure it. In spring 2013, news outlets revealed that the IRS had singled out some conservative and liberal groups’ applications for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(4) for extra scrutiny, sometimes allowing their applications to languish for years. Political wrangling over tax exemption is nothing new. The case of the Charles E. Merrill Trust provides an interesting mid-20th century example of the way political influence was leveraged to change the tax code.

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908)

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908), Founder of Merrill Lynch & Co.

Charles E. Merrill (AC 1908), founder of Merrill Lynch & Company, attended Amherst College for two years. Even though he left before graduating, he remained devoted to Amherst College, attending many reunions and donating large sums of money, including paying the tuition of more than 300 Amherst students during his lifetime, funding the construction of on-campus faculty housing, and hosting the Amherst College Merrill Center for Economics at his estate in Southampton, NY. Merrill was equally generous to Amherst College in his will. In his will, Charles Merrill established the Charles E. Merrill Trust, which would exist for twenty years and distribute his estate (a large portion of which was his personal stake in Merrill Lynch & Co.) to various institutions and charitable organizations.

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Today we’re taking a peek into the medically and scientifically obsolete. As home to many scientifically minded faculty and students throughout the nineteenth century, Amherst College acquired a significant collection of literature from now defunct practices.

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The first decades of photography were a period of continual innovation. One of the more curious inventions to come from that time was the stereograph or stereoview. Invented in the 1840s and first presented to the public in 1851, the stereograph was the first time three dimensional perception was created using two dimensional images. Stereographs gained widespread popularity in the United States beginning in 1859 with invention of an improved viewer, or stereoscope, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and remained popular through the early 20th century. A stereograph is composed of two photographs taken with two cameras an eye’s width distant from each other and presented side by side, one to each eye, thus simulating binocular vision. As Keith Davis describes in his The Origins of American Photography, 1839-1885, “the result is a compelling, if slightly curious, sense of visual depth in which objects appear as flat cut-outs occupying discrete planes in space”. This new way of seeing distant places and people was very appealing in a time when travel was difficult and photography the main medium for learning about the world. By the 1870s, tens of thousands of stereographs were offered for sale by various photographic firms in the United States. The visual interest of the medium is such that it is still used by some fine artists and there is even a recently developed smartphone app using the same principles.

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