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East Campus (RG 121)

This photograph depicts a sign reading "Welcome to East Campus," an extension of Springfield College's main campus.

East Campus

East Campus refers to the pleasant wooded property bounded by Wilbraham Road and Lake Massasoit that lies to the east of the main campus of Springfield College. Presently East Campus is about 60 acres on Lake Massasoit, with a mile of shoreline. There are three structures on the property: Loveland Chapel (dedicated 1981), which now serves as an early childhood education facility, The Pueblo of the Seven Fires, a southwestern style building utilized for a multitude of events including social functions, but most importantly as an integral part of “freshman Camp” and the college’s summer day camp programs (Camp Massasoit), and, lastly, the retirement community presently known as Loomis Village at Reed’s Landing.

The acquisition of the property that makes up East Campus began in 1905, when Jacob Gerrish, a waterfront landowner, deeded a plot of land with a ½ mile of shoreline to the college. This property came to be known as Gerrish Grove. This land was located on the south shore of the lake across from the training school site. Following Mr. Gerrish’s death, it was discovered that he had bequeathed an additional 25 acres to the College. At this time the College, then known as the International YMCA Training School, was expanding its “Boys Work” program, in particular the outdoor recreation components of the program. Over the next twenty plus years the college acquired well over 150 acres around Lake Massasoit. By the mid-20s the school had moved much of its outdoor recreational and camping programs to the area abutting Wilbraham Rd that is now known as East Campus. Programs and activities that still take place on this land to this day.

During the late 1920s, the outdoor programs had grown to a level that it was decided that East Campus needed permanent structures. In 1930 the Board of Trustees approved the construction of the Pueblo of the Seven Fires. This was not the first structure on East Campus, though. The first structure erected was the Pukwana Lodge. Pukwana means “Smoke of Indian Peace Pipe.” Built as a trial run for the Pueblo to ensure that the materials used in building a Pueblo structure (structures typically built by Native Americans in the Southwestern United States using adobe mud bricks) in the Northeast could withstand the winter’s Frost, the Pukwana Lodge was a one room structure with an open fireplace in one corner. It was dedicated on November 18, 1931. The structure no longer exists. The Pueblo, the only authentic southwestern pueblo structure east of the Mississippi, was dedicated in 1932 and originally provided meeting space, activity areas, storage, and living accommodations for the East Campus caretaker. The 4,4000 square-foot structure follows a classic southwestern design, with walls 24” thick at the base, tapering to 16” at the top. The floors are made of brick and the original roof was constructed of oak planks lying beneath a tarred layer overlaid with two or more inches of sand and soil to provide both insulation and fire protection from potential forest fires. The interior of the Pueblo features seven fire places, including a large fireplace donated by 4-H clubs. The seven fires refer to the seven fires of youth: self-expression, universality, ruggedness, regret/humility, truth, comradeship and beauty. The Pueblo also has a large central hall, or “Crane Lodge,” an east wing called “Reed Lodge,” the west wing called “Post Lodge,” and the Robinson room. A full kitchen is on the first floor, and offices and residential space is on the second floor. Of particular interest inside the building are the murals in the “Post Lodge” created by Wo Peen. Wo peen, also known as Luis Gonzalez, was a famous Native American Artist known for his traditional murals and paintings. Edgar M. Robinson and Ernest Seton Thompson, both considered founders of the Boy Scouts, participated in the design of the building. In 1950, the Pueblo was officially designated the E.M. Robinson Pueblo of the Seven Fires, in honor of Edgar Monroe Robinson. Today the Pueblo is still used as it was originally designed, as a student learning facility hosting classes, camp groups and acting as a special function hall.

An important event that occurred early in the history of the East Campus was the Hurricane of 1938. The Hurricane left widespread destruction at East Campus, with over three hundred trees lost between the Pueblo and the shoreline. Amazingly enough only 1 tree of the “Cathedral of Living Trees,” a group of trees planted in the shape of cross, fell. It was decided that the fallen trees be used to construct permanent cabins and/or Adirondack style shelters. Hundreds of red pines were planted to replace the lost trees.

During the years of WWII, the college was used by the military as a hospital and rehabilitation facility and further expansion of programs and facilities on East Campus came to a halt. After the war, in 1944, the Executive Committee of the Board authorized President Best to dispose of land holdings on the South Shore of Lake Massasoit. This marked the first of many sales of the land originally obtained. The holdings amounted to about 80 acres and the committee set a price of $50,000. Over the next 4 to 5 years the property was sold under the leadership of President Limbert (1946-1952), including much the waterfront properties on the south shore. This resulted in additional funds for the College as well as a renewed commitment to the remaining acres of East Campus. Much of the land during the years of the war as well as immediately afterwards had been neglected and the added funds helped maintain the land that remained. In addition, a vision of the land being used as an environmental laboratory emerged with this commitment, expanding the traditional programs of camping and outdoor recreation to include developing and nurturing this unique environment through life sciences programs. Over time, plantings, conservation methods and maintenance of the area became a prime issue under the leadership of Dr. John Brainerd of the Biology Department.

Through a committee formed in the late 1950s and headed by Dr. John Brainerd the primary function of East Campus was outlined as being the education of students and faculty and included five subsidiary functions: education of the greater community, recreation for members of the faculty, protection of natural environment, living accommodations for students and faculty, use of campgrounds by outside groups. This committee also proposed a nature study center with a museum, library and laboratories. These proposals were further outlined in later proposal to include leadership development. Though not all these proposals, such as museum, library and science labs, were pursued, the concept of the greater good and the land’s use as a tool for leadership development continue to inform the development and running of East Camus to this day.

In 1980, East Campus and Springfield College came into conflict with the City of Springfield. The city was searching for a site for a new high school and the Mayor thought East Campus to be the ideal location. Although the College was opposed to the plan and the Board of Trustees overwhelmingly voted the “land is not for sale,” city officials pushed strongly to take the land. At the time, East Campus was selected as one of 12 sites in New England as an Experimental Geological Reserve by the National Science Foundation. This along with strong Community and College uproar, eventually led the new high school to be shifted to another location (becoming Central High School on land originally part of Blunt Park), and East Campus and its 80+ acres remained untouched.

A brief decade later, though, the property was again under intense attack. This time the attack came from within the Springfield College Community itself. And in spite of overwhelming opposition by students, faculty, alumni and neighbors, an agreement was reached under the leadership of President Falcone with Bay State Health Systems to lease 23.6 acres of East Campus for the construction of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) on East Campus. In January, 1990, the Board of Trustees approved a 75 year lease of the property. According to President Falcone, the lease would provide “income in support of the Springfield College mission.” This became what today is known as Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing, or just Reeds Landing when it opened.

Today, East Campus continues to provide outdoor education and camping experiences to students and summer day camp adventure to youngsters from the area. The amount of land has shrunk from well over 150 acres to around 60 acres. It, though, still provides a significant green space in the urban environment of Springfield for recreational and camping experience, as well as an area to hone leadership skills and have intense educational experiences.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

This collection contains information on East Campus development and history. Most information on the buildings on East Campus property are contained in collections specific to those buildings, such as RG 130 – Loveland Chapel Records, RG 131 – The Pueblo of the Seven Fires Building Records, and RG 139 – Reeds Landing Records, though information on this structures can be found in the collection. Specifically in the collection, there is a history of East Campus property and programs from 1905-1952 compiled by Dr. Charles Weckwerth in 1988, some pictures of the minor structures and the grounds of East Campus, various general, maintenance and topographical maps of East Campus, biology papers with pictures of the campus in 1957, planning and report documents from 1958-1964, and 1990’s assessment and planning documents including some drawings and floor plans for cabins and the Pueblo of the Seven Fires. Of particular interest are the materials in Series 3: Springfield High School Controversy, 1980. These materials include newspaper articles, mailings, correspondence and minutes of meetings, a report on East Campus being selected as an experimental ecological reserve, and information on the eventual High School site, Blunt Park.