The Log at Williams College is an architectural tale of commerce and community over more than two centuries of small town life. Located at the end of Spring Street in Williamstown, the site has evolved and been transformed over the years in both form and function.
The Log occupies the former property of 18th century town resident Lyman Hunt, who operated a luncheonette and store which sold watches, jewelry, and musical instruments. In 1941, architect and Williams College class of 1916 alumnus Kenneth Reynolds created a design that incorporated the existing structure into an Alumni House with lodging for college staff above. The design featured elements of the original structure, such as hand-hewn timbers and wide plank flooring. In 1946, Reynolds returned to create the Dodge Room – an addition constructed of salvaged lumber from the nearby Green River Grist Mill, which had ground the region’s grain from 1859 until it was damaged by flood waters in 1927. The mill owner, also a Williams alumnus, had previously donated the mill stone, which continues to serve as a hearth base for the building’s main fireplace.
In 1952, as College enrollment and programs continued to evolve, another addition was built, this time using lumber salvaged from the nearby historic West College Hall building, which had been extensively damaged by fire on New Years Day in 1951. West College had been the oldest building on campus, having been constructed in the 1790s. Fortunately, College planners had the ingenuity to find the silver lining in its destruction by reclaiming some of its beautiful materials for use in The Log, where they continue to invoke an atmosphere of warmth and history today.
The architectural style of the original Log and its subsequent additions is a true representation of its history. Its primary neo-colonial style alludes to the formal language of the street’s residential structures, which represent a variety of revivalist styles popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the subsequent additions present a more playful design, celebrating creative timber framing, utilitarian details, and harkening to the atmosphere of a colonial tavern. It was in this amalgamated form that the Log endured through six decades – primarily as a college bar and then as a special event space. Despite the numerous small renovations that were employed during this time, little had been done to address the aging structure and building systems until this most recent and most extensive work. The building was in rough shape, but cherished.
In the summer of 2014, C&H Architects was engaged to revitalize The Log. The project goals were to preserve the historic character of the place, engage the general public with a full service restaurant, and employ the best practices in building technology for energy, systems, safety and access. In the fall of 2015, construction began after the selection of Cummings General Contracting, led by Christina Cummings and fourth generation local carpenter Albert Cummings, IV.
The rehabilitation, restoration, and addition to the Log enhance and expand the function of the building to serve as a restaurant and event space open to both the academic community and the general public. Beyond general restoration, the project included a new commercial kitchen, a new bar, deck, new service spaces, accessible toilet rooms, and complete upgrades to access, mechanical systems and life safety features.
Throughout the design and construction process, care was taken to preserve the unique features of the building – from wall murals depicting college and local history, to the numerous names and sentimental messages carved by generations of students into benches, tables, and paneling.
The interior finishes of the building were maintained while a new exterior shell was built around them, and mechanical systems woven within. The original exterior walls were un-insulated planks and the roofline had several differing geometries as well as some structural problems. A new roof system was built over the existing spaces without disturbing them. This work was accomplished within the scope of extensive and ambitious sustainability upgrades, including the addition of a 15 kw photovoltaic system to provide a portion of the building’s electricity.
Early in the design process, strategies were identified for salvaging and preserving historic elements and artifacts for reinstallation. Historic light fixtures were cleaned and refurbished with low-energy LED lamping. The exterior of the building was outfitted with a super-insulated envelope integrated with historic details, materials, and finishes. New, triple glazed high-performance windows with historic casings compliment the historic façade both inside and out. Small additions are inserted to accommodate the expanded food services and were proportioned to maintain continuity with the scale of the building and the surrounding streetscape.
I’ve been told there was a saying before the renovation- “If you want to get warm at The Log, go out on the porch.” The Log is now open to the public, and hopefully when you visit — if you’ve been there before — you won’t notice the change. Except for being warm.