Campus is so beautiful right now, painfully so because it is also so empty. This path is one of my very favorite on campus and I was drawn there early in the morning last week.
I wanted Rachel Lilley, super duper Public Services Archivist, to find this picture because I love how small the tree is!
It turns out this one was a real stumper! She still has some questions, so please do message us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have answers…
Just off the path bisecting McNary Field, and roughly stationed at the point where all three paths meet, you’ll find a roughly-hewn stone bench. Edged in moss, and softly pitted from over a century of Oregon weather, the bench sits invitingly beneath what is now a massive deciduous tree. The plaque on the backrest reads:
Two roads diverged in the woods, I took the one less traveled “with you” and that has made all the difference.
The quote, of course, is a slightly altered line from Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, first published in The Atlantic Monthly in August 1915 and later included in his collection Mountain Interval (1916).
Referred to as the “Campus Seat” in a photograph captured the year it was installed, the stone bench was a gift of the class of 1903. In an article in the Orange Owl in October 1926, “Historic Monuments Found on Our Campus,” Professor of Geology D. C. Livingston stated the seat was carved out of a rock that was deposited by a glacier in Oregon’s prehistoric past. How the Class of ’03 came by this massive stone is uncertain.
Humorously, by 1920 the bench had earned a moniker a bit more salacious than “Campus Seat” – the “Fusser’s Bench” (fussing was a term used in the 1920s to mean “necking,” or “making out”). In fact, the bench, situated on what was once called “Old Administration” path, seems to have had a long history as a place of romance and assignations. The February 1928 edition of the Orange Owl jokes that on the “bench on lower campus there is a sign that reads: ‘Class of ’03.’ Something must be wrong because you seldom see more than two there.” As a senior, Frieda Linder, Associated Women Students President, wrote with fond nostalgia of the bench: “We can visualize the stone bench of ’03 drenched in blue moonlight, and recall with amusement the mad rush to reach home by closing hour on starry nights.”
Perhaps not as romantically but more momentously, the class of 1927 buried its “will” and the “class prophecy…exactly one yard in front of the right leg of the stone bench,” unearthing it 25 years later in 1952.
The dedication on the backrest, however, sadly remains a mystery. A search for “bench” in Oregon Digital, though it revealed additional information about the bench itself, surfaced no information about the plaque, or the two people whose initials are inscribed there. Keeping in mind this was a gift of the Class of 1903, the initials could belong to two students who graduated that year and who later paid for the installation of the plaque. No two students with those initials graduated in 1903, however. In 1916, a year after The Road Not Taken was published, Harley R. Shields and James A. Straughan graduated from Oregon Agricultural College. But so too did James A. Sathers.
This correspondent chose to abandon the search for matching initials in the yearbooks of the 1930s, but perhaps one of our readers will take it up. All our yearbooks are digitized as a set, and are available on Oregon Digital. From the digital collection’s main page, you can click on “Decade” along the left side of the page to narrow your search.
Do you know the identities of the “H.R.S” and “J.A.S” on the Class of 1903 bench? Please reach out and let us know (seriously, it’s killing me)!