By Wendy Carlson
From my study window, there is a view of the lake and the mountain beyond, which is the delight of us all. The titles to that and water are in the hands of others. The contour of the mountains, contrasts of color which the seasons bring, the deep blue of the lake's surface, the play of light and shade upon the mountainsides, and the golden hues of the sunset– these are ours. Material possession belongs to others– ours is spiritual.
— Headmaster Walter Buell, 1925
Much has changed on campus since Buell penned those words from his oak-paneled office in Harris House. But the view of Lake Wononscopomuc and the rolling hills beyond remains the same.
From the beginning, Hotchkiss's setting has distinguished it from other boarding schools. Huber G. Buehler, the second headmaster, declared at a meeting on secondary education that the "best thing about The Hotchkiss School is its location among the mountains of Salisbury." Today, the School's natural surroundings are as vital to the Hotchkiss experience as they were more than a century ago.
Before the School was built, with the exception of some furrowed fields, stone walls, and the town cemetery, the land was largely untamed. One of the School's early landscape designers, Ernest Bowditch, began a decade-long task of manicuring the grounds. He created a nursery on campus for seven thousand trees and shrubs and a thousand white pine seedlings. Today, the oldest trees on campus, including more than a dozen rare American elms, stem from the ones grown in Bowditch's nursery. Surrounding the campus is a 60-acre golf course, built in 1911. With its undulating fairways and greens that overlook the lake, the course has enhanced the pastoral feel of the campus.
Beginning in 1923 with the acquisition of Beeslick Brook Woods, a tract that now includes more than 200 acres, the School's boundaries expanded beyond the well-kept campus lawns and walkways. Throughout the next century, the School continued to acquire land and build athletic fields, dorms, and academic buildings, while focusing on environmental stewardship. In 2004, Fairfield Farm, formerly a 260-acre cattle farm, was partially acquired through a gift from Jeanne and Jack Blum '47, increasing the School's property to 827 acres.
The surrounding woods, lakes, streams, and farmland have inspired students to connect with nature through visual arts, English, the sciences, history, and more recently, with the completion of the new observatory, astronomy. Not surprisingly, countless alumni have developed a lifelong interest in the environment. Erik Grafe '92, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the nation's first and largest nonprofit environmental law organization, said his interest in nature flourished at Hotchkiss.
"I spent all my free time in the woods, riding my bike around Lakeville's country roads and riding horses and mucking out stables up the road from the School," said Grafe when he was featured as Alum of the Month in August 2016.
"Being in that part of Connecticut touched my appreciation for the country, and English class literature, nature writing, and poetry served really as a genesis for this developing interest in all the different ways we interact with the natural world."
Even alumni whose lives and careers took them far from flora and fauna cherish their memories of being immersed in nature at Hotchkiss. Marcela Ximena Johnson '09, a criminal defense investigator with The Bronx Defenders and recent Alum of the Month, developed a love of running at the School and, through it, a connection with the land.
"I now fondly look back on the brutal runs up Cardiac Hill," she said. "I'll probably never run regularly in such a beautiful and pristine part of the world again. It was a gift."
Her appreciation for nature reaffirms Buell's observation: "No one," he said, "could live among these scenes of beauty and remain untouched. They are a part of the heritage of all Hotchkiss students."
This story appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Hotchkiss Magazine.