The University of Mary Washington amphitheater, a much loved feature of the Fredericksburg campus, is preparing for its second act, thanks in large part to a $1 million challenge gift from Robert S. and Alice Andrews Jepson ’64.
Originally constructed in 1913 and officially dedicated in 1923, the amphitheater – located in a grove of trees near Sunken Road – has been home to many UMW traditions at various points in its history. The amphitheater hosted commencement ceremonies from the 1930s until 1958, and Mary Washington’s unique Devil-Goat Day through the 1970s, in addition to May Day celebrations, numerous concerts and theater productions. And, on nice days, some professors have been known to relocate their classes to that area.
In 1997, the Board of Visitors allocated $40,000 to make the area safe, but not to modernize it. In recent years, the amphitheater has fallen into disrepair, yet it remains a cherished part of campus. Consultants recently examined the site, and concluded that the amphitheater must be restored now or it could be lost forever. They estimate the restoration to cost $3 million.
“Students continue to enjoy the amphitheater, even in its current state, and they also care about preserving the history behind it,” said President Richard V. Hurley. “I am absolutely thrilled that Bob and Alice Jepson have agreed to help support this important restoration initiative.”
The restoration would return the amphitheater to its 1952-1953 appearance by repairing and reconstructing damaged and missing pieces. It would provide seating for approximately 600 people on weather-resilient benches and chairs while incorporating accommodations for ADA accessibility.
“I can’t wait to get back to see all the things that have happened since I was there and to take time to walk through the amphitheater,” said Alice Jepson. “When President Hurley told us that students still love the amphitheater, we decided our money would be well invested in helping to restore this area of campus that holds so many special memories for alumni and students alike.”
In addition to the gift from the Jepsons, two other couples have made significant gifts to support the amphitheater restoration: Elmer Morris Jr. ’50 and Marceline Weatherly Morris ’50 of King George, Va., and Laurie Mansell Reich ’79 and Henry E. Reich Jr. of Kittanning, Pa.
Architectural renderings projecting the amphitheater’s appearance after restoration were prepared by Train & Partners Architects of Charlottesville, Va.
“Currently, the amphitheater is just sitting in the woods degrading more and more every day. The longer it sits, the more difficult and more expensive it will be to restore, and that’s a shame,” says Design Architect Kirk Train.
A timeline for restoration and additional fundraising opportunities will be available in the coming months.