Attached to Duckett House, an 1810 residence in Northampton that is now a Smith College dorm, is the Mary Ellen Chase House, another dorm named for a Smith College professor and author. Chase House was built in 1827 (or perhaps as early as 1810) as a residence by Elijah Hunt Mills (1776-1829), a lawyer and politician. After Mills’ death, the house was owned and occupied by Thomas Napier, originally from North Carolina, who was a slave-auctioneer and anti-abolitionist. The house later passed through other owners until 1877, when it was sold to Miss Mary Burnham to establish a school for young ladies (the Northampton Classical School for Girls). The objective was to provide better academic preparation for young women wishing to attend the new Smith College. A new rear wing was soon added to the house to accommodate the school, as well as a central tower (later removed) and a Mansard roof (which remains). The Burnham School later moved out of Northampton and Smith acquired the house in 1968.
Smith College did not originally have a chapel because its founders wanted students to be part of the Northampton community and attend local churches. Finally in 1953, an alumna from the class of 1908 named Helen Hills Hills (her maiden name was hills and she married a husband named Hills) offered funds for a college chapel. She stipulated that the building should strictly follow the design of traditional New England meeting houses of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Designed by William and Geoffrey Platt (sons of Charles Adams Platt) of New York, the nondenominational Helen Hills Hills Chapel was completed in 1955. The interior of the Chapel (123 Elm Street, Northampton) has recently been modified to create a more flexible space: the old fixed pews have been removed in favor of 300 custom-made oak chairs that can be laid out in different configurations.
Sessions House is a colonial residence at 109 Elm Street in Northampton that is now used as a Smith College dormitory. It was built around 1710 (or perhaps as early as 1700) by Captain Jonathan Hunt (1665-1738) and was the first house in Northampton to be built outside the early settlement’s protective stockade. The house has a staircase that was originally designed as a secret passageway for the family to hide in during Native American raids. The house passed to the Henshaw family by marriage and was later owned by other families. Eventually, around 1900, it passed to Mrs. Ruth Huntington Sessions, who ran it as off campus housing for Smith College students. Born in Cambridge in 1859, Ruth Huntington moved with her parents to Syracuse, New York when her father, Frederic Dan Huntington, became Episcopal Bishop of Central New York. In 1880, her family sent her to Europe, where she studied piano under Clara Schumann. In 1887 she married Archibald Lowery Sessions and moved with him to New York City. A social activist and writer (her memoir, Sixty Odd: A Personal History, was published in 1936), Sessions (d. 1946) spent her summers at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House in Hadley, given to her by her father, and her winters in Northampton. She sold the Northampton house to Smith College in 1921. Read More
Duckett House is a dorm on the campus of Smith College in Northampton. The house, located at the corner of Elm Street and Bedford Terrance, was built as a private residence for the Clark family about 1810. It was sold to Mary L. Southwick in 1886, who ran a boarding house for Smith students in the building until 1918. It was next owned by the Alumnae Association and in 1921 became part of the Burnham School for girls. The building was acquired by the college in 1968. As a dormitory, it was named for Eleanor Shipley Duckett, philologist and medieval historian, who was a Smith College professor and author of such books as Alfred the Great and his England (1957) and The Wandering Saints of the Early Middle Ages (1959). Additions to Duckett House were constructed in 1973 and the mid-1990s. Both of these modifications included connecting Duckett to neighboring Chase House, another c. 1810 residence (with later mansard roof) that is now a Smith College dorm. Chase House was named for Duckett’s lifelong companion, Smith College professor and novelist Mary Ellen Chase. Chase House had also served as the main building of the Burnham School and was known as Burnham House.