of Smith Past Lurk Amid Central Stores Nooks
century-old potato scale. A chair that once supported President
Laurenus Clark Seelye. A rusted metal turret that
long ago capped the College Hall clock tower. A once-functional
chariot fashioned from wood.
These and other miscellaneous
relics are leftover orts from the 135-year history of Smith,
each piece having once meant something to someone at the
Long since worn and corroded,
filed away in the college’s subconscious backlog,
this odd collection of Smith lore now occupies various corners of Central Stores,
a warehouse space in Facilities Management where items of some and no importance
often end their days.
You never know what you'll find in Central Stores, say
those who work there.
A chariot, once featured at Rally Day, hides among the
Central Stores rafters.
Jim Smith, 30-year Smith employee, displayes a bucket
full of alumnae reunion signs.
They’re everywhere in the warehouse, peering from darkened
niches, looming quietly in rafters aloft, hinting with their quirkiness and back
stories at the utility and pertinence they assumed at one time.
Crowds of Smith
graduates once smiled and cheered as they held high a sign
proclaiming their membership in the Class of 1919. A winner
of a past prize drawing once parked happily in his or her
space guarded by the sign saying “Reserved for United Way
“There’s no telling how old that thing is,” says Jim Smith, a 30-year Smith employee,
who repairs the college’s numerous vacuum cleaners among other machinery. He
points to an ancient wooden scale standing starkly in an empty basement room
like a forgotten prisoner in a cell. A faded stencil, “The Harvard,” proclaims
its brand. “It was used for weighing potatoes, or something,” Smith guesses.
Smith is the ideal employee
to lead a tour of Central Stores, and down the college’s
proverbial memory lane. In his years as a custodian, boat and canoe mechanic
in the boat house, and repairer of many things, he has been involved in more
aspects of Smith College than most who are still here.
“I love working down here,” Smith says about his office and workspace tucked
in an obscure recess deep in the lowest level of the Facilities Management building
on West Street. “I’m a Northampton history buff.”
As such, Smith knows the stories
behind many of the odds and ends scattered about his area.
There’s the old strands of thick rope, for example, once used as fire
escapes in campus residences. Every year when they arrived, Smith recalls, students
would gather to train climbing down the ropes, which hung during the year at
the ready from their houses in case of fire.
An old wooden chariot once starred
during Rally Day festivities, when the event featured mock
chariot races. A faded sign, “Winter Craft Fair,” welcomed attendees (not so long ago) to the annual
Staff Council event.
“There’s a bunch of stuff that’s been in there forever,” says Jennifer Marcotte,
facilities systems administrator, who oversees Central Stores. “It’s kind of
Just last week, Marcotte explains,
she came across cases of oversized safety pins once used
(post-WWII?) to hold skirts together. She gave them to housekeeping
for laundry bag fasteners.
Since arriving at Smith about
two years ago, Marcotte has supervised a clearing out of
Central Stores in preparation for converting the facility
from a warehouse space—in which items are miscellaneously stored
by offices and departments on campus—to an inventory space, to store useful items
purchased in quantity then distributed to campus users.
“We still have a lot to do,” she says. “It’s definitely a work in progress.”
Meanwhile, Jim Smith remains
surrounded by Smith history.
“You never know what’ll end up down here,” says Smith, who is 56, as he works
the wheel of a 1930s Singer industrial sewing machine that he still uses to repair
vinyl awnings. “A lot of this stuff is older than me.”
Photos by Roberge