Apart from Hoxton House, Episcopal’s front drive is the School’s most enduring landmark. For 180 years, the long, tree-lined approach to campus from Quaker Lane has stirred powerful emotions, no matter the generation of applicants, students, faculty, and alumni.
Though the School has updated its facilities repeatedly to meet the demands of modernity and education, the front drive remains immutable.
For some passersby, this entrance literally beckons. As a ninth grader at nearby St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, Lucy Whittle Goldstein ’97 applied to Episcopal to join the sophomore class. “I was enamored of EHS,” she remembered. Every day, when she passed the Quaker Lane gates as her mother drove her to St. Stephen’s, Lucy turned to look. “I would stare longingly up that long front drive, imagining myself as a student there some day.”
Marty Martin ’69 came to campus during his admissions visit in 1966. He vividly remembers that after his tour and interview, he looked down the drive from the porch of Hoxton House and realized “that I was starting my life’s journey on my own with no idea of where it would take me, but the promise of coming from a place like Episcopal.” After years of lobbying his parents, Marty had persuaded them to let him to go away to school. Now, the drive represented his future and all the opportunities presented by Episcopal.
For Regi Burns ’72, one of Episcopal’s first African-American students, the significance of his decision to attend Episcopal was impressed upon him during his ride up the front drive in the back seat of the family car, arriving as a new student. Regi’s classmates were excitedly yelling, “He’s here. He’s here!” Bewildered, Regi asked his mother, “Who’s here?” Regi’s mother held his hand, hugged him, and said, “You are, dear. You are.”
Rex Wilson ’68 remembers the drive as the scene of his aborted exit from school when he struggled academically during his transition to Episcopal. Rex made it through, thanks to the determined support of Patrick Callaway and other beloved masters of the 1960s, but early on, he decided to run away with his friend Gerald Train ’69. After steeling themselves for the escape by listening to the Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can,” the two set out, walking down the drive and out the front gate – a departure Rex believed would preserve their self-respect. Rex and Gerald made it as far as Winchester, Va., before tiring of hitchhiking and the cold. They called then-Headmaster Richard Porter Thomsen ’30, explained their predicament, and made their way back to Episcopal and the 100 demerits waiting for them.
After students enroll, the significance of the front drive changes somewhat as it becomes a hub of everyday activity. They run up the drive to train for sports, play Maroon & Black soccer on its fields, and practice the discus and other throwing events. On snowy days, they sled down the hill.
Perry Epes ’65 remembers the drive from his days as a student, but during his decades as a teacher, he began to see it as a metaphor for teaching. “The beauty of the front drive made a continuing impression, especially the stunning colors of the maple trees in autumn, about the time of Family Weekend. Every year at school is a fresh beginning, yet marked by the signs of the maturing year and the slow beauty of falling leaves. That’s an icon of what students do, maturing steadily while refreshing continually. Somehow added wisdom never abolishes the vigor of innocence and hope.”
Like Perry, Warner Blunt ’07, assistant director of admissions, has come to know the front drive as a student and as an adult member of the community. These days, the road is the homestretch of his daily walks on campus with his dog. “My favorite time of year to walk up the front drive is in the evening during the winter months,” he said. “It allows me to reflect on why I do what I do. First and foremost, I can see my office in Penick Hall pretty easily without the spring and summer growth on the row of trees. That is a daily connection to what our many applicants see on their way up the front drive. Next, I really enjoy seeing Hoxton House lit up and almost inviting you to come in that front door, especially when it is cold outside. Last, I love the fact that I know students and faculty are indoors getting ready for study hall, eating dinner, and building those important relationships that I remember so fondly as a student.”
Katharine Farrar ’07 has experienced the front drive in almost every possible role: daughter of an alumnus who also taught at the School, sister of a student, a student herself, an alumna, and, now, as assistant director of annual giving. “From my days riding in the backseat of the car up through my promotion into the driver’s seat, driving up the front drive has always provoked feelings of excitement, safety, and comfort,” she said. “But, most important, it has always represented a place full of opportunity and hope for the future.”
Awe, Yet Intimidation
The emotions sparked by the front drive aren’t always good ones. Larry VanMeter ’76 remembers dropping off his son John Thomas (J.T.) ’10 as a freshman in 2006. J.T. was determined to attend EHS, but his mother, Lucy, had deep reservations. Though she finally acquiesced, her misgivings did not abate after dropping off their son. Larry VanMeter recalled, “We left J.T. at the top of the front drive. I asked Lucy if she wanted a picture with J.T. The answer was a terse ‘No.’” As they pulled away, Lucy climbed into the back seat of the car and refused to speak for the next four hours. “The good news,” Larry added, “is that after a couple of years, Lucy stopped suggesting to J.T. that he could come home, conceding that EHS had been a great choice for him.”
Jonathan Lee ’01, an assistant director of admissions, is often the first person prospective families meet when they come to campus for their interview and tour. Jonathan had mixed emotions when he made that same trip up the drive years ago to visit campus. An Alexandrian, he had ridden past the Quaker Lane entrance many times and thought of this moment as his introduction to white, Southern culture. He was both awed and intimidated, but his fears melted away as an admissions officer, Bill Ellis, warmly welcomed the Lee family in front of Penick, albeit wearing a seersucker suit.
For Jonathan, the significance of the front drive evolved with commencement. “I was a little sweaty after cleaning up the last few things in my room. My dad gave me the option to sit or drive, and I chose to drive down the front drive myself. It was bittersweet: driving off campus in my parents’ car versus driving off campus for the last time as a student. The view of the front drive was just as amazing on the last day as it was on the first day!” Ultimately, the front drive is both the beginning and end to many students’ EHS experience. Students arriving to the School for the first time are welcomed at the top of the drive at Hoxton Circle. Years later, they will be wrapped in ceremony at that circle, surrounded by their community of family, friends, and faculty for commencement. Then, with their careers here concluded, they will leave, heading down the drive as graduates of Episcopal High School.