This post is about Rev. A. S. Watson, my great-grandfather. His daughter said he went by “Bert” – so that’s how I’ll refer to him. Since I covered much of his life in my post about his wife, Jessie, I’ll focus here instead on some of the lesser-known things about him. The sort of tribute-y stuff found in college yearbooks, small-town newspapers, and the like.
But first… One day in September 1990, I took an odd little road trip back and forth across the breadth of Massachusetts. We headed out of Somerville in the morning, passing towns called Greenville and North Adams, and made our turnaround at Williamstown – a beautiful little town with a prominent college, a distinguished theater festival, and an amazing art museum. I loved it instantly.
Over the years, as I researched my Watson ancestors more and more, that journey became more and more noteworthy. North Adams was the home of Bert’s uncle Jeremiah Husted Watson, and several generations of his descendants. Jeremiah’s wife died in Greenville. And Bert, as it turned out, spent four years in and around beautiful Williamstown, part of the 105th graduating class of Williams College in 1899.
Now then… Bert was born Adelbert Seymour Watson on August 4, 1874 in New York City. He attended school in Brooklyn and the Troy Conference Academy in Poultney, Vermont, and Williams College. He earned his way through Williams by preaching in local churches, mostly filling in for others during illnesses or vacations. He pops up often in the village and neighborhood columns of the North Adams Transcript between 1895 and 1899.
“The reception was held in the Sunday school room and was attended by over 100 people. A musical program was rendered consisting of piano solos by Misses Margaret Heap, Daisy Hull, Julia Prindle, and Bessie Hall, and vocal selections by Watson, ’99, and James Gibbs.”
“The entertainment at the church under the direction of our pastor, Mr. Watson, passed very pleasantly with a good audience… It is evident that Mr. Watson is very capable in acting as well as in the Sunday sermons.”
And – my favorite – he is listed among the cast of an operetta called “The Fairy Grotto” playing the role of “The Miser”.
In his final year at Williams, he was chosen to read his dissertation (“Force and Liberty”) at commencement exercises.
His senior yearbook, “The Book of Ninety-Nine”, was a terrific find and included a whole bunch of fabulous factoids. For one, he stood 5 foot, 5-1/2 inches tall, and tipped the scales at 125 lbs.
At the Ballot Box, he was voted Most Handsome (“The fuzzy beard of Watson captured a baker’s dozen and the prize mirror.”), and received ten votes, enough to win something called the Class Cup.
And then, there were his responses to the requisite battery of questions:
WHY CAME TO COLLEGE: To make the most of myself.
WHY WILLIAMS? Most advantageous.
FAVORITE BOOK: Cooper’s Spy [“The Spy” by James Fenimore Cooper]
FAVORITE POEM: Across the Bar [Since he didn’t drink, this was most likely Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”.]
IDEAL WOMAN: Educated, sweet, affable.
ARE YOU ENGAGED? Folks think so.
IF NOT, WHAT ARE YOUR PROSPECTS OF BEING? Fairly good.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN LOVE? I presume so.
The circumstances of his proposal to Jessie and their time in Chile were covered in the earlier article. But I had to mention the South American adventure if only to justify including this photo, which I love.
His time back in the US was spent mostly as a teacher. And you know what that means: yearbooks!
He worked for fifteen years in Methodist schools in Iowa and Missouri: principal of Cornell College Academy, ten years as a teacher in Epworth Seminary, four years in Missouri as Dean at Missouri Wesleyan College. When Epworth Seminary was turned into a Military Academy, Bert took the ROTC course of study and obtained a captain’s commission. When the military academy closed, Bert’s teaching career ended.
For seven years while teaching at Epworth he had also been pastor of a church at Dyersville, going there by train each week for the Sunday services. When the teaching gig ended, he was appointed to pulpits in Lamont and Aurora, and then Plainfield in Bremer County. He suffered a major heart attack in 1933, from which he never quite recovered. He died October 24, 1934.
Finally, I offer Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Bert’s favorite poem (at least in 1899), and a lovely way to wrap up this tribute.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.