Imagine 18th Century frontiersmen drinking and cooling themselves in the waters of a familiar Centre College landmark known as the Sinking Spring when this area was first being explored and settled by Europeans, as well as native Americans before them. It almost certainly quenched the thirst of subsequent generations of Centre students.
In recent years, however, the spring has suffered from neglect, despite efforts by many in the campus community. But now, thanks to significant funding of nearly $12,600 from Centre’s Student Government Association (SGA), Sinking Spring is being reclaimed in large part due to the leadership of two recent graduates, former SGA President Hunt VanderToll ’16 and Gray Whitsett ’16.
During Whitsett’s time as chairman of the SGA campus improvements committee, he knew that rehabilitating the Sinking Spring was a project he wanted to tackle. So in 2014, with the help and encouragement of First Lady Susie Roush and Beautification Committee Chair and Professor of English Milton Reigelman, the enterprise became more strategic and plans were made to take the necessary steps to restore the spring’s natural beauty.
“The work we did shaped the direction of the project over the next two years,” Whitsett says. “I believe that the most recent SGA involvement, both politically and financially, has been largely motivated and influenced by the work we did in 2014, just as we were picking up where many others, notably John C. Walkup Professor of Chemistry Preston Miles, left off.”
“[Hunt and Gray] were invited by Milton Reigelman to attend a committee meeting,” Roush says. “They explained that students were interested in seeing the Sinking Spring area of campus improved and that SGA would possibly be able to assist with funding. At that point, a sub-committee of the Beautification group was formed and began soliciting estimates and renderings for the reclamation of the Sinking Spring area.”
After years of planning, the amount contributed by SGA fully funded the construction of the recently completed limestone wall, the most expensive portion of the hardscape reclamation.
“Their interest, enthusiasm and follow-through were greatly appreciated,” Roush says.
The spring originates at the west end of a tree-lined declivity on the lawn in front of Old Centre, and its water winds eastward for 50 yards or so before disappearing underground, hence a “sinking” spring. In 1819, early Danville resident and landowner John Cochran deeded seven acres to the yet-to-be-formed Centre board of trustees for the establishment of Centre College, receiving a sum of $400. Those original acres included the spring.
Legend has it that the late Centre trustee and philanthropist Jane Morton Norton believed so strongly that the legendary Daniel Boone had visited Centre’s campus and the Sinking Spring, she commissioned the wooden sculpture of Boone that stands today in the stairwell of her namesake Norton Center for the Arts.
In the early 1970’s, the area around the spring was landscaped as a memorial garden for a Centre student who died in Alaska. Since that time the wall behind the spring has fallen into disrepair, the plantings have deteriorated substantially, and the sinking spring area was no longer known as a place to go for quiet contemplation.
This past winter, a facilities management crew lead by Grounds Supervisor Clay Contini, rebuilt the spring box using limestone. The box captures the water as it drops into the ground, creating an attractive pool.
“We are very grateful for their time and effort during the coldest months of the year,” Roush adds.
Thanks to the diligence of students, faculty, staff and friends, the Sinking Spring will once again be an attractive, inviting place of natural and historical importance.
“I can’t express enough to incoming students how incredible it can be to leave your mark on a campus that gives you so much,” Whitsett says. “Opportunities present themselves often, you simply must take hold of them.”
by Cindy Long
July 14, 2016