The recent restoration of the University of Mary Washington’s century-old amphitheatre has been recognized by the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, Inc. (HFFI). The nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting historic downtown Fredericksburg honored UMW with the E. Boyd Graves Preservation Award of Excellence.
HFFI recognized John Wiltenmuth, associate vice president for Facilities Services; Rob Johnston, assistant director of capital outlay; and Gary Hobson, capital outlay program director, with the award during its annual meeting on Sunday, March 10. Johnston accepted the award on behalf of the university.
“One of the University of Mary Washington’s greatest contributions to sustainability in our environment is the preservation, restoration and continued use of historic structures, some of which date back to the university’s beginning in 1908,” said Johnston, who was the point of contact for design and construction. “UMW truly appreciates being recognized for its commitment to preserving a piece of legacy for all of Historic Fredericksburg. Receiving this award is also a recognition of the teamwork and collaboration of many contributors to make this project a success.”
Nestled in a woodsy nook off Sunken Road, the amphitheatre was originally dedicated in 1923. Throughout various points in UMW history, it has been home to commencement exercises, May Day ceremonies, concerts, theater productions, study sessions, outdoor classes and even weddings. But over the years, conditions had deteriorated due to age and weather damage.
Faced with the possibility of losing the amphitheatre forever, the university launched a $3 million restoration campaign. After breaking ground in 2016, Richmond firm Glavé & Holmes Architecture spent the next two years working with the UMW Facilities team to renovate the site, following the guidelines set by the Secretary of the Interior. UMW Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Historic Preservation Michael Spencer contributed to the collaboration on historic guidelines and review with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Gulf Seaboard, a general contractor from Ashland, completed the rehabilitation of the amphitheatre in August 2018.
According to HFFI, noteworthy elements of the restoration include “conservation of concrete, re-casting the destroyed cast-stone columns and balustrade, maintaining the integrity of setting by trimming trees rather than complete removal and refraining from installation that could have diminished appearance.” The site was also made ADA accessible and restrooms were installed behind Trinkle Hall.
The Heslep Amphitheatre was re-dedicated and named in spring 2018, thanks to generous campaign gifts from alumni. The namesakes are longtime UMW supporters Donald B. and Josephine McPherson Heslep ’56, who contributed $1.25 million to the restoration project. The site’s Morris Stage is named for 1950 graduates Marceline “Marcy” Weatherly Morris and Elmer “Juney” Morris Jr., who made a substantial gift to the campaign.
Since 1988, HFFI has presented the E. Boyd Graves Preservation Award of Excellence, named for a founding member of the foundation, to significant historic preservation projects completed in the previous year, which respect the Fredericksburg area’s rich history and historic resources. Past projects that have received the award include Gari Melchers Home & Studio at Belmont, St. George’s Episcopal Church and Hyperion Espresso.