This spring, I was researching Longfellow Pond––once a natural pond, now the concrete fountain on the west side of Clapp Library––for @collegehallrevivalists, an Instagram account on Wellesley campus history that I started my senior year. My search for the pond in the Wellesley College Archives’ digital repository turned up one of the many letters by Eleanor Blair 1917 in its holdings. Since my senior year, I’ve read dozens of Blair’s letters for her engaging sketches of campus life at a pivotal point in Wellesley history, right before and after the destruction of College Hall.
In one of my favorite letters, Blair writes home about a mock wedding she and her friends held in February 1914, which “seemed just exactly like a real one […] until we giggled at an especially funny part in the ceremony.” In her scrapbook, also in the archives, you can see photos of Blair, the “poor married man,” in her “full dress suit” and fake mustache, and her bride, Alice, holding a bouquet of white paper roses made by the groom and which, “if I do say it myself,” writes Blair, “looked almost like the real article.” “Heaps of love, Eleanor,” she signs most of her letters. Out of familiarity, I had long since stopped registering the letters’ delivery address of Montour Falls, N.Y.
I paid real attention to that address for the first time when I read the letter that came up in my Longfellow Pond search. The pond, Blair writes in her first impressions of campus, is the “dearest place—all bordered with goldenrod—& purple, white & red flowers.” (No concrete here!) She goes on, “I think the great charm of the Wellesley campus is that things look as if they had just happened as they are […] You know I don’t like Watkins Glen [State Park] since they have fixed it up with so much cement & iron work. Well, Wellesley is just the opposite of Watkins Glen. That is the best way I can describe it.” Watkins Glen, I realized, was less than an hour’s drive from my apartment in Ithaca, N.Y., where I sat reading the letter. A quick search revealed that Montour Falls was only minutes farther away.
In April, I visited Montour Falls with my girlfriend––also, as it happens, a Wellesley graduate named Eleanor––who was the one to find Blair’s grave at the far edge of the city cemetery. Some artificial flowers had blown away from other plots, nearly down the steep side of the ravine that bounded the cemetery. I collected them into a bouquet and stuck it into the ground next to her headstone. From there, we walked around the center of town, without any real direction. Even in the early 20th century, when canal-based commerce vivified central New York, the town was too small for street numbers to be needed on mail, census records, or newspaper advertisements, so I didn’t know which of the storefronts along its ghostly main drag had been her father’s, or which of the houses farther down the street had been hers.
But being in her hometown made me feel even closer to Blair. She died six years before I was born, yet coincidence seems to keep bringing us together. In her first year at Wellesley, Blair was sent home on March 17, 1914, by the College Hall fire; my senior year, at another moment of crisis, Wellesley mandated that most students leave campus by March 17, 2020. Later in life, through what Blair describes in her 1974 book Wellesley Campus and Community as “snooping and sleuthing,” she recovered the pillars that now stand as a memorial to College Hall at the base of the Tower steps. The romance of that place––the salvaged ruins of College Hall, the old heart of Wellesley academic and residential life, in a new favorite student haunt––got me into the archives in the first place and keeps pulling me back.
Wellesley, for Blair, was the opposite of Watkins Glen. But this opposition no longer holds for Longfellow Pond, which is now fixed up with as much cement as Watkins Glen State Park. And the two places don’t feel that far apart to me, either, because Blair’s presence has folded this remote part of central New York into Wellesley. It’s like the page of her scrapbook where she put photos of a canoe outing on Lake Waban next to photos of college friends boating and picnicking on the shores of Seneca Lake––relationships extend the boundaries of campus. The trip to Eleanor Blair’s hometown felt like recovering Wellesley, hers of 1914 and mine of 2020. I’ll be visiting again to leave some white paper roses at her grave, or even the real article.
Margaux Delaney ’20 lives in Ithaca, N.Y., where she studies English literature.