Allen Recreational Fields

July 2, 2010

Among the many summer construction/renovation projects at Smith, is the replacement of grass with artificial turf on the portion of the Allen Fields used by the field hockey and lacrosse teams.  The improved field will allow more practice and competition time for the teams on a yearly basis, as well as eliminate the use of 900,000 gallons of water that irrigates the grass field.

This announcement led the Archives to look into the history of the sites named “The Allen Recreational Fields” (‘recreational’ was dropped when the 3rd and present site was opened).  Here’s what we found:

The first Allen Field was located in the area which now houses the Quad, between Paradise Road and Kensington Avenue.  It was a gift of Frank Gates Allen, a merchant and philanthropist in Illinois, who purchased the John Whittlesey estate along Elm Street and donated it to the College in 1904.  His wife, Minnie Florence Stephens was a member of the Class of 1883, and their daughter, Marjorie Allen (Seiffert), was a member of the Class of 1906.

Blueprint of Allen Field, 1904

Blueprint of Allen Field, 1904

The Allen Field included 2 basketball courts (middle), 13 tennis courts (middle, left), a volleyball court (upper right), and a field hockey pitch. (far left).  Allen Field was an extremely active site, as evidenced by the many images of sporting events found in student photograph albums in the College Archives.  In this image

Outdoor basketball game on Allen Field, 1904

Outdoor basketball game on Allen Field, 1904

the students are playing outdoor basketball.  The tennis courts can be seen to the far right.  The photographer is looking towards Dryads Green and Paradise Road.  Today, that photographer might be standing in the courtyard of Martha Wilson House.  As the student population grew at Smith, and more students were engaged in intramural sport activities (between classes and houses).  There was a growing need for more space.

In 1921, the College purchased 10 acres of land along the Mill River to the edge of West Street, and planned to build the “New” Allen Field there.  The Field eventually was located alongside and behind Scott Gymnasium and Sage Hall, both completed in 1924.  The original Allen Field was maintained until construction of the Quadrangle houses was started in 1922 and began to encroach on its use.  The new Allen Field had 26 tennis courts, an archery range, a field hockey pitch, and a running track.

Site of 'new' Allen Field, 1921

Site of 'new' Allen Field, 1921

The College started to refer to this field as the Athletic Field.  In his Annual Report of 1930-1931, William A. Neilson reported that ‘after many years of intermittent negotiation the College has finally succeeded in purchasing from the Commonwealth additional land for athletic purposes.  Over 21 acres on the other side of Paradise Pond…have been acquired…Space with be provided there for four hockey fields, for a baseball field, a soccer field, a bridle path and for some minor sports.” [pps6-7, Annual Report of the President, 1930-1931].

In October of 1931, the Lamont Bridge which spanned the ‘new’ Allen Field and the new Athletic Field was dedicated.  The bridge was a gift to the College of Florence Corliss Lamont, Class of 1893.  Her daughter, Eleanor Lamont (Cunningham), Class of 1932 and William A. Neilson are shown at the ceremony:

Eleanor Lamont, Class of 1932 and William A. Neilson at Lamont Bridge Opening, 1931

Eleanor Lamont, Class of 1932 and president William A. Neilson at Lamont Bridge Opening, 1931

William A. Neilson chatting with students at Lamont Bridge dedication, 1931

William A. Neilson chatting with students at Lamont Bridge dedication, 1931

A field house was opened in 1939, with $5,000 in contributions initiated by the students–the remaining $10,000 was financed by the Board of Trustees.   Professional architect, and Smith faculty member Karl Putnam designed the Field House.  Its open house was well attended by students, alumnae, faculty and the local community. Over the years improvements to the fields were made, including an up-graded running track, a refurbished tennis complex, a croquet court, and now the addition of artificial turf.  Historically, the Allen Fields (all 3 sites) have been utilized to the maximum by Smith students and the local community.


Bowling at Smith

December 4, 2009

A recent student Rec Council sponsored trip to the local bowling alley spawned the question:  did Smith ever have a bowling alley?  Research in the Archives can confirm that indeed, bowling has been at Smith for quite a while.

L. Clark Seelye, in his publication the Early History of Smith College, 1871-1910 notes that in 1879, “a temporary wooden gymnasium was built where Lilly Hall now stands.  The lower story had a bowling alley and music rooms for practice.”  [pg 53].  Unfortunately, the Archives does not have interior photographs that show the bowling alley of the old gym.  Perhaps L. Clark Seelye needed a little relief from his duties as president and rolled a few balls to release some stress?

Competition between classes and houses started up in the late 1920s/early 1930s.  A record book in the Athletics Records begins with the 1931-1932 tournament, but the entry gives the impression that the tournament was not the first.

Smithies Bowling in the 1930s

In a 1939 press release to a local Milwaukee paper, it was noted that several students from Milwaukee battled it out on 53 teams, including the Baldwin House Bruisers and the Morris House Miracles, to take home the championship.

Bowling in 1949

Setting up the duck pins, c1957

House competitions were based on individual scores.  A score sheet was kept near the lanes for students to record their activities.  Bowling at Smith was popular right through the 1940s when inter-class competition was the highlight.    Smith students played with duck pins and a smaller ball with no finger holes.  The duck pins had to be set up by hand.  The photograph below shows the precursor to the ‘automatic return’ (l) and ‘automatic setup’ (r) of  modern bowling lanes.

According to the bowling record book, the lanes were popular during the evenings and weekends.  Why bowling faded into obscurity at Smith is unknown.  If anyone out there has stories, please share them with us!