The storied history of the Joseph Family Spa

by Ethan Schuler

Everyone at Colby has been to the Spa at least once, and most students go to get a quesadilla, fries, coffee, or a bagel pretty regularly. Officially called the Joseph Family Spa, this popular campus meeting space has a little-known history.

In the past seven decades, the Spa has existed in four different locations and served a variety of purposes. The owners, culture and customers have changed a great deal over the years.

While most buildings on campus are named for donors, alumni, or past administrators, the Joseph Family Spa is named for the family that owned and ran the Spa for decades. The Spa first opened in 1947 and was originally owned by Joseph M. Joseph, a former Army veteran from Waterville, and his business partner Gubby Carter, Sr. Its original location was in “Miller Street,” the basement of Miller Library, which then was home to most of the College’s administration offices.

In 1954, Joseph died from injuries from his time at war, and the Spa was taken over by his brother John. When John took over in 1954, Colby had only 750 students. John Joseph was the owner and manager of the Spa from 1954 to 1985, and a well-known face around campus. His brother, Pete Joseph, joined him in the Spa operations in 1960.

During the time of the Joseph family’s ownership, the Spa was a hub for professors, administrators and students. Lines for coffee were long before the Spa had even opened in the morning, and though it was not owned by Colby, students from the College were often employees behind the counter. 

In an October 12, 2007 Echo article, John Joseph, who was being interviewed at the age of 87, said he remembered former Colby President J. Seelye Bixler frequenting the Spa during his tenure in the 1950s and speaking to students there every day. Faculty would come in and talk with students as well, and students would often play bridge with their professors. According to the article, the Colby Eight would come to the Spa to give spontaneous concerts. Because the Spa was located in the library, it was often an easy distraction for students, and common Spa customers were known around campus as “Spa Rats.”

The Joseph family was lenient about payments and allowed students to keep a tab for their entire college career. If a student was out of money, they could write their orders down and pay the Spa back any time before they graduated. In addition, the Joseph family sometimes even lent students money for daily expenses such as rent and laundry. Overall, the family was known for their friendliness and was appreciated all around campus.

In 1978, the Spa moved from its Miller Street location to the Bobs basement, where the Echo office and studio for WMHB radio are currently located. It merged with what we now know as the Pub, adding a bar to serve beer and wine. The Joseph family continued their ownership and management, but the new location and atmosphere changed the Spa’s culture. Faculty largely stopped frequenting the space and it became more popular as a late-night destination for students.

Seven years later, in 1985, the Spa moved to the second floor of the newly-opened Cotter Union. At this time, the Joseph family decided to hand Spa ownership to the College. After 38 years of family ownership and 31 years of individual ownership, John Joseph retired and Spa management was given to dining services. In honor of the Josephs’ decades on campus, the Spa was officially named the “Joseph Family Spa.”

Under dining service management, the Spa felt different to many students. Many missed the effort the Joseph family made to get to know the people on campus, as well as the ability to put their payments on tabs. In addition, many did not like the second floor location, considering it out of the way, and felt the food was overpriced. Soon after the Joseph family left, the Spa began losing money.

A decade later, Cotter Union was given a major renovation and the Spa’s location moved for a fourth time, not to a new building but to the first floor of Pulver Pavilion, an addition to Cotter Union, in a more central area. The new Spa attempted to regain some of its original “snack bar” atmosphere. Today, it no longer contains a bar and the Pub offers a student bar on the second floor of Cotter, but it remains a popular late night destination for students after the dining halls are closed. Though we rarely think about its past, the Joseph Family Spa has long been a center for students on campus and a major part of the Colby culture.

Leave a Reply