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Grécourt Gates, West Street and Elm Street Project to Begin

Campus Life

Drawing showing the new steps leading to College Hall

Published May 6, 2015

In late May, the college will begin a six-month project to significantly improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians approaching the intersections of West and Elm streets.

Among the changes are:

  • Installation of a retaining wall to allow the widening of the existing sidewalk on the west side of Elm Street from four to six feet
  • Addition of a five foot grass buffer between the new sidewalk and Elm Street
  • Creation of a pedestrian plaza on the west side of the Elm Street and West Street intersection for pedestrians waiting to cross West Street
  • Repair of masonry surrounding the Grécourt Gates
  • Refurbishing and repair of the historic Grécourt Gates and historic iron fence
  • A new bluestone walk and plaza at the Grécourt Gates
  • Removal of overhead utility lines and poles, to be replaced by underground conduits

The project, which will begin at the end of May, after Smith’s second reunion, will cause disruptions for pedestrians on the west side of Elm Street in front of College Hall. While sidewalks or single lanes may be closed temporarily for construction by either Smith College or utility companies, the project will maintain accessible travel in all directions at all times.

  • During the months of June and July, the crosswalk at the West and Elm Street intersection will be closed to pedestrians. Pedestrians will need to travel on the east side of Elm Street and use the crosswalk at the Fine Arts Center or travel on the east side of West Street and use the crosswalk near Forbes Library.
  • The driveway between College Hall and the Brown Fine Arts Center will be closed for much of the summer.
  • Should work at Stoddard Hall close the sidewalk on the east side of Elm Street temporarily, provisions for alternate routes will be put in place.
  • The eastbound and westbound vehicle lanes of Elm Street may narrow at times for construction, but travel in both directions will be maintained throughout the project. Police details will be on hand at all times when vehicle access might be affected.

Among the more visible changes during the construction will be the temporary removal of the Grécourt Gates, which will be absent from campus from late May through early in the fall semester. The gates, which have lost both castings and ornamental details due to rust and rot, will be completely refurbished to their historic standards. The work will be done by DeAngelis Iron Work, a South Easton, Mass., company that has fabricated the iron work for much of the college’s signage.

During the construction, which is expected to last until mid-fall, some 10 parking spaces along West Street will be reserved for contractor access as needed. The college will reimburse the City of Northampton the full parking fees otherwise generated by those spaces.

Updates on the project are available on Facilities Management’s website via a new online map.

About the Grécourt Gates

The Grécourt Gates have stood as a symbolic entrance to Smith since their installation in 1924. Built in honor of the Smith College Relief Unit, the gates memorialize Smith graduates who went to France in 1917 to rebuild areas of Somme destroyed in World War I. In the midst of their work, the German army forced an evacuation that the unit helped organize.

The Unit remained through 1920, completing the rebuilding process before returning to the United States.  In 1919 the Union des Femmes de France (a French branch of the Red Cross) awarded the women the Medaille de Guerre in recognition of their work in the evacuation of March 1918, and in 1920 the French government awarded the Unit the silver medal of Reconnaissance.

In 1924, William Allan Neilson, Smith’s third president, erected the Grécourt Gates, so called because they are a replica of the gates of the Chateau at Grecourt where the Unit had its headquarters, to commemorate their efforts.