Windham College sign heads home, to Landmark

Wednesday June 19, 2013

PUTNEY -- The old marble Windham College sign has had a long and mysterious life.

For most of the time Windham College was open it stood at the entrance of the college on the corner of River Road and Route 5, just north of the village, on the grounds where Landmark College is now located.

Then, after Windham closed in 1978 and the college's property was about to be auctioned off to help repay its debts, the sign disappeared.

Nobody has come forth to claim responsibility.

The auction was held, Landmark College opened on the Putney Campus, and then about 10 years later the huge marble sign appeared one morning on the front lawn of Putney Town Hall.

Again, if anyone knows where the sign was stored or how it ended up at Town Hall, they're not talking.

For another decade or so the sign was chained to a radiator in the front hallway of town hall while countless Windham College alumni walked past it, smiling a heady smile of remembrance of the good times spent on the small liberal arts college.

Through the years attempts have been made to move the sign back to the campus up on the hill, and one rainy day last week Landmark staff came by to bring the sign back home.

Landmark College President Peter Eden, who has been in Putney for about two years, said he saw the sign when he was in Town Hall taking care of some businesses.

"I thought someone was moving it and that it was in transition," he said. "I couldn't believe that it had been chained to a radiator for all these years. My immediate reaction was that it should be back on campus."

Barbara Taylor, who works in Putney Town Hall, says it remains a mystery how exactly the sign disappeared and then showed up one day at Town Hall.

Dr. Walter Hendricks and his wife, Flora, started the Vermont Institute for Special Studies in their home on Kimball Hill in 1951.

The school grew, eventually became Windham College, and by 1967 $4.3 million in federal funding had helped finance the Edward Durell Stone-designed campus where Landmark College still holds many of its classes.

By the late 1970s the college was in financial trouble, and on Dec. 16, 1978, the school closed with about $8 million of debt.

An auction was scheduled for May 31 through June 2, 1979 by Vermont National Bank to cover about $215,000 the bank said it was owed.

Among the 1,925 items up for auction were an FM radio station, a Steinway grand piano, hundreds of folding chairs, an extensive rock collection and the marble Windham College sign.

At some point before the final gavel fell that weekend, the sign disappeared.

The story of the stolen sign remained a part of Windham College's colorful history, and the tale grew even longer when it showed up one morning on the front lawn of Town Hall.

Taylor could not remember exactly when it appeared, but for at least the past 10 years it has been chained to a radiator in the hallway.

For one reason or another Landmark College staff never got around to bringing the sign home, but last week Landmark College finally sent a truck and a few staff members over to pick it up.

Now, after all these years, it is back on campus.

Karen Gustafson is chairwoman of the Windham College Alumni Association and she said without a campus it is hard to keep track of former students and teachers.

Knowing that the sign is back on the old campus will help keep the memories of Windham College alive, she said.

"It's wonderful to think that it is going back home," she said as the sign was being wheeled out of Town Hall.

Even though there are no formal connections between Windham College and Landmark, Eden said Landmark inherited much more than a physical campus when it opened its doors in 1985.

Eden says Landmark College has a growing archive collection and he said the sign might be displayed at Landmark to help visitors understand the history of Landmark and of the land there where students have been pursuing education for nearly 50 years.

"I want Windham College to be remembered and celebrated," said Eden. "We are in a place where people have been experiencing education for a lot longer than the 28 years that Landmark has been here. This is a part of our past."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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