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By Eric Weld   Date: 7/20/10 Bookmark and Share

Stories of Smith Past Lurk Amid Central Stores Nooks

A 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 college.

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 Raffle Winner.”

“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 cool.”

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

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