You Could Feel Your Heels Sinking In
I went to the groundbreaking at the North Campus. It was bizarre. It was Halloween 1968. We were taken out by buses. There was nothing there; it was a swamp. Rockefeller was there, and later he said that when he stuck his shovel in, he hit water. You could just feel your heels sinking into the ground.
In the meantime, there were all these big plans: The new campus was going to be developed. It was reportedly the biggest building project since Brasilia. There was nothing comparable to it in the state. For example, the Ellicott Complex consists of six interconnected buildings—but there were going to be thirty of them! Money was no object, because during the Rockefeller years money was just pouring in—I mean pouring in. One plan was that there’d be a rapid transit system running around the campus, so you’d never have to wait more than two minutes to go from building to building.
Rockefeller used the same spade that was used in the ceremony for the opening of the Main Street campus in 1920. The newspaper headline for the Amherst opening read, “Silver Spade Links Two Campuses.” I remember thinking that the symbolism was apt. I had seen the news accounts and photographs of the 1920 groundbreaking. There were skeptics at the time who said that the Main Street site was much bigger than was needed, and too far on the outskirts of the city. The university leadership lacked the resources to develop the site, but acted on faith that the need for a great university in the region would ensure that these resources would eventually materialize.
Shonnie Finnegan served as university archivist from 1967 to 1995.