History Spotlight: The Joseph Family Spa

On any given day, one can walk through Pulver Pavilion and see groups of students gathered around the small round tables in front of the Joseph Family Spa.  The Spa is a campus staple for many students here at Colby.  Whether it be to socialize, do work, or grab a bite to eat, Colby students always seem to congregate at the Spa. Despite its massive popularity, not many know of its origins.  The Joseph Family Spa is actually rich in history.  In fact, the Spa is tied to the opening of the most iconic building on campus: Miller Library.

In 1939, Colby College laid the foundation for their newest project.  Miller Library, named after Dr. Merton Miller of the Class of 1890, was to begin construction.  According to the October 4, 1939 issue of the Echo, Colby faculty assembled a box of significant items to be buried beneath the foundational granite that “some thousands of years in the future may help identify the Miller Library to archeologists and historians who are seeking evidences of past civilization and culture.”

Unfortunately, the construction took longer than anticipated.  Mostly due to World War II, many of Colby’s construction plans  were postponed.  However, by the spring of 1947 part of Miller Library was ready to be opened. The building served as much more than just a library.  Classrooms, offices, and lecture rooms all found a cramped home inside the open part of Miller.  Among these academic spaces was a place for students to purchase food and drinks. As stated in the January 15, 1947 issue of the Echo, “The latter part of January is the time proposed by College authorities for the opening of the College Bookstore and Spa to be located in the Miller Library on Mayflower Hill.”  Even though the article was entitled “Colby Bookstore-Spa Move to New Library”, the opening of the Spa may have flown under the radar compared to the other projects happening at Colby.  “The installation of this store will begin this week, and we hope to have it ready to open at the same time as the Roberts Union”, Professor A. G. Eustis, Treasurer and Business Manager said about the construction of Colby Bookstore, failing to mention the Spa.

In March of 1947, the College Spa opened its door.  It was operated by Millard Trout, a man who Earl H. Smith described as “strict and efficient” in his book, Mayflower Hill: History of Colby College. The Spa quickly became a staple of Colby campus.  One student described the Spa—just a month after its inception—in the April 2, 1947 issue of the Echo: “At the end of class, Colbyites storm the counters, causing confusion that disturbs the calmness of the most sympathetic clerk.”  This article asked students to be more respectful of the staff working the Spa.  In a time period where the Echo contained Camel Cigarette advertisements and half a page dedicated to “Greek Life News”, this student had a particular concern, and one which the Spa does not face today:  “A moment’s thought would make one realize that the students who stand behind the soda fountain are working hard during the moments when the rest of us are relaxing.  They have done, and are doing a great job.  A little courtesy would encourage them and would keep relations from becoming too strained.  It is still noticed that some students throw cigarette butts on the floor despite the request of management that cigarettes be discarded in the receptacles provided by them.”

Upon its inception, Joe Joseph and Gubby Carter Sr. were given the management contract of the College Spa. After Joseph’s death in 1954, his brother John took control of the Spa.  In 1960, Peter, a third Joseph brother, joined John and the two became the faces of the College Spa for decades.  In 1974, Colby even implemented an annual Spa Day to celebrate the spring season and appreciate the Joseph brothers.  As the May 8, 1975 Echo issue explains, “Spa Day is a tribute to John and Peter Joseph, who have been catering to the Colby crowd for two decades now. It would be especially good for them if students would take the responsibility tonight to pay off their ever-growing Spa bills.”

Even after more buildings were made to house offices and classrooms, the Spa continued to remain in Miller Library until 1975.  Since that time, it has found its current home in Pulver Pavilion, and has been renamed after the brothers who ran it so effectively all those years.  So when ordering those late night quesadillas, it’s important to reflect back on the history of this little snack center, and thank the Joseph family and all those involved for keeping the Spa a staple in the Colby community.

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