Up in smoke: students bid farewell to gazebo

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A memorial held for the gazebo Sept. 29 honored both the gazebo and the work that had been created within. MADELINE MONROE / THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary’s Wildflower Refuge gazebo, adjacent to the nature trails and shortcut to Earl Gregg Swem Library, was taken down in early September, according to university officials. Students held a memorial service in its honor Sept. 29.

The College’s Wildflower Refuge was established in 1974, with its corresponding amphitheater in 1977. From its sign near the walkway to the Sadler Center to the end of its brick paths, the area is protected by a resolution passed by the Board of Visitors in 1976, which mandated that the Refuge be kept in its natural state and no construction take place there.

While the exact construction date of the gazebo is unknown, College spokesperson Erin Zagursky said that according to an individual within Facilities Management, the gazebo was built before 1993.

“Many of the posts holding up the roof were rotten or rotting, and so it was taken down as a safety precaution,” Zagursky said in an email.

“Many of the posts holding up the roof were rotten or rotting, and so it was taken down as a safety precaution,” Zagursky said in an email.

Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction Jeff Brancheau said that while there are no plans to replace the gazebo, its replacement could be funded in the future.

“Our Grounds Maintenance team determined the structure to be deteriorated to the degree of the facility being unsafe to occupy,” Brancheau said in an email. “Unfortunately, replacement was not included in this year’s budget but there may be an opportunity to fund it in the future via programmed budgeting or philanthropic means.”

The gazebo, which was decorated with scrawlings of notes, poetry and art over the years, was a critical creative space for students, according to Julianne Cook ’21, who hosted the memorial. Cook said that other students she had talked to were surprised to see it gone and wondered why it had been removed.

“For a lot of people that I saw, [the gazebo] was a place to sit peacefully along the butterfly sanctuary and everything,” Cook said. “It’s always been an emotional place where I can go and just chill or whenever things got rough, like classes or social stuff, and so it’s an odd feeling to feel that place has been taken, because it was my favorite spot on campus.”

Cook, who created written pieces and artwork while she spent time at the gazebo, felt that the gazebo told a story about students at the College.

“It’s one of those spaces where it’s like because people add to it, it adds to its story and that’s what makes it fun, even though there was some dumb stuff written on that thing,” Cook said.

The Refuge, according to Cook and Williamsburg Native Plant Rescue, needs maintenance. WNPR, which helped establish the Refuge, took care of the area until 2010, helping to remove rampant English ivy and trash. In 2012, WNPR said that the site needed some maintenance. Cook agreed, noting that some spots along the brick path needed help as they were overtaken by trees.

“Anyone who cared enough to know it was here loved it, Cook said. “So, it means that somebody cared enough to take it away. … So, they can’t take care of those parts, but they can get rid of the gazebo and that’s why I’m like, I wish it was consistent.”

At the memorial, Emory Magner ’19 said that in the midst of construction projects around campus, the gazebo served as a point of neutrality which students could engage with and make their own.

“It’s just one of the few places on campus that was really student created, and especially with everything that’s getting shifted around and renovated with whatever grand plans the administration has for campus, there’s just not a whole lot of evidence of student culture,” Magner said. “There’s the blackboard wall over by the new ISC, but that’s kind of a little more official and … there’s some things you can’t really write there. It’s not like some place out in the woods where you go out and you have a weird, cool moment with your friends and you write something to remember that.”

In the past, mosquitoes caused Magner to not stay long when she did visit the gazebo, but she enjoyed walking the trails and visiting the gazebo on occasion to see what was new.

“… [I]t was always interesting coming around every couple of months and seeing what new things had been written,” Magner said. “I never really knew the people, but I got to see their weird thoughts at 2 a.m.  whatever they thought was worth inscribing.”

“… [I]t was always interesting coming around every couple of months and seeing what new things had been written,” Magner said. “I never really knew the people, but I got to see their weird thoughts at 2 a.m.  whatever they thought was worth inscribing.”

While Madeline Myers ’20 agreed that College officials had not been visibly maintaining the trails, she said that she liked the trails and the gazebo the way that they were.

“I always liked just wandering through parts of campus that were a little bit less off the beaten campus, and this is definitely one of those places,” Myers said. “The administration is not super on top of keeping the trails as we’ve said, but it was kind of nice in its own way, because it was here and it was OK on its own. It didn’t need to be constantly maintained to be a good place to be interesting, and I kind of liked that about it.”