Public Art at Williams

Public Art at Williams

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    Haystack Monument
    American, 19th century
    erected 1867 (reinstalled 1928)
    bronze and marble
    Photo by Megan Cross

    In the spring of 1806, Samuel J. Mills matriculated at Williams. The son of a Connecticut clergyman, Mills was eager to spread Christianity throughout the world.

    One Saturday afternoon in August 1806, Mills and four other students gathered for one of their regularly scheduled prayer meetings. On this particular day, it is said that the skies opened up and the students sought refuge in the shelter of a large haystack. While gathered at the haystack, the students conceived of the idea to found an American missionary movement focused on spreading Christianity worldwide, particularly to the East.

    In 1854, the Hon. Byram Green, one of the haystack meeting attendees, returned to Williamstown and marked the location of the haystack next to which he had prayed forty-eight years earlier.

    A group of Williams College alumni purchased the land to commemorate the prayer meeting in 1855. In 1857, Williams President Mark Hopkins founded the Mission Park Association with the intention of preserving the land and “placing thereon suitable monuments … to commemorate the origin and progress of American Missions.”

    In August 1866, the Hon. Harvey Rice, Class of 1824, decided to make a donation for a suitable monument to mark the meeting’s spot. The twelve-foot tall marble monument, quarried and crafted in the Berkshires, was dedicated by President Mark Hopkins on Sunday, July 28, 1867. The monument, on which it is written “The Field is the World,” is topped by a three foot diameter globe and adorned with a representation of the famous haystack and the names of the founding missionaries who sought shelter there.