The Gunston Farm School: 1910-1950’s
In response to the disabling effects of polio on their daughter Emilie, and their refusal to accept that she receive anything but the highest quality education, The Gunston Farm School was founded in 1911 by Sam and Mary Middleton on their farm along the Corsica River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Middleton’s held a strong belief in rigorous academics, coupled with the development of character as the two essential elements of a child’s education. In addition, during its early years, Gunston placed a great deal of emphasis on the communal aspects of living and learning together, and the traditional curriculum focused on reading, writing, geography, and arithmetic. Annual Shakespeare plays were a feature of campus life. French, the language of diplomacy, was considered an essential subject, and each year the students would present plays in French at holiday time and at graduation.
The athletics program was almost exclusively focused on horseback riding, and this activity was considered crucial to the development of important character traits. As Sam Middleton was known to say: “One always re-mounts after being thrown by one’s pony or horse, no matter what the damage incurred in the fall.” Students were responsible for the upkeep of “The Big House” (the current day Middleton House), and all students were responsible for helping to maintain the facilities and grounds in good working order.
When Samuel Middleton died in 1929, his wife Mary took over as sole Headmistress. A formidable woman with exacting standards, “Aunt Mary” (as she was known to all) led the school for the next 35 years, developing Gunston from small tutorial school into one of the renowned girls boarding schools on the East Coast. According to one alum: “The pedagogical approach was firmly structured, and exposure alone to the subjects was not an acceptable substitute for a thorough familiarity with and learning them. As a result, the general conversation of the school included frequent reference to classical thought and historical events.” Under Aunt Mary’s guidance the ethos of teaching the whole child was firmly embedded into the school’s culture. Another alumna wrote about Aunt Mary: “Mary Middleton was not a woman who expected accolades. She was a doer, not a talker. She had character and backbone. She was bold and formidable. She was a fighter and a peacemaker, a diplomat when necessary.”
The Gunston School for Girls: 1950’s-1990’s
Gunston became an all-girls school in the 1950’s. When Aunt Mary formally retired in 1964 after more than five decades of leadership, the school’s Headship passed briefly to Mrs. Okie before she was succeeded by long-serving Headmaster Paul Long, whose tenure lasted nearly two decades. Under Long’s leadership, the school experienced significant growth in terms of enrollment, physical plant, and academic reputation. Dormitories and a dining hall in the Brick Building which had been started under Mrs. Okie were expanded as enrollment grew, as talented young women from around the nation were attracted to the school’s warm environment, strong academic program, and emphasis on riding.
During his tenure, Mr. Long also inaugurated some of the school’s most cherished traditions, among them the dramatics surrounding the yearbook delivery and Green and White Day. Thus, each year the yearbooks are delivered by a different and unique means, once delivered by airplane, once by fire truck, and once even by parachute. Green and White Day is a twice-yearly event where the student body is divided into Green and White teams to compete in athletic and academic games in pursuit of a cherished silver cup. Once a community member is appointed to the Green or White team, they, along with any future family member, remains on that team until the end of time.
The 1960’s saw Gunston receive its designation by the State of Maryland as a certified secondary school, and the 1970’s and 1980’s saw continued facilities growth. In 1971, as a result of its new, more encompassing mission, the Long Academic Building, with modern classrooms and lab space, was built. At this time Gunston School was also fully accredited by MSACSS and NAIS. In 1980, the Blackwood—Duffey Library and Auditorium were added to Brick Building, and in 1982 the Vest Fine Arts wing was added to the Academic building. Finally, in 1989 under then Headmaster J. Temple Blackwood, the construction of the Field House was completed, thus allowing the significant expansion of Gunston School’s athletic programming.
Gunston Day School: 1995-2011
In 1991, with Peter “Stick” Sturtevant, Jr. serving as Headmaster, Gunston’s era as an all-girls boarding school came to a close. In response to a nationwide decline in single-sex education and the growing population on the Eastern Shore, Gunston was reincorporated as a co-educational day school. Since its transition to a day school, enrollment has boomed, and the school now draws students from six Maryland counties and Delaware. During Sturtevant’s time at Gunston, the school began its renowned Bay Studies program devoted to experiential learning within the Chesapeake Bay region.
The first decade of the 21st century saw the school continue to grow in enrollment and reputation under the leadership of Mr. Jeffrey Woodworth. Woodworth oversaw the renovation of the Middleton House, the original school building used by Sam and Mary Middleton, which had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Its refurbishment and remodeling was completed in 2007 and the building once again takes a central place in the school as the Admissions and Administration building. Woodworth also guided the school through an extended period of financial stability, added a crew program, and began Gunston’s international student recruitment effort that brings talented students from Europe and Asia to study on Gunston’s campus. Woodworth passed away tragically in 2009, and the crew shell “Jeffrey C. Woodworth” is named in his honor.
Mrs. Christie Grabis, longtime Assistant Head of School, served as Interim Headmaster in 2009-2010, and in July of 2010, Mr. John A. Lewis, IV was installed as Gunston’s 8th Headmaster. In 2010-2011, Gunston celebrated its Centennial with a comprehensive series of alumni and community events, and begins the planning process for the school’s second century. At the end of the school’s centennial year, Gunston said goodbye to Preston (“Tony”) and Sarah Everdell, whose combined years of teaching at Gunston spanned seven decades, and whose steadfast presence and superior teaching impacted generations of Gunston students. Also in 2011, the school completed its Master Facilities Plan, and was certified by the State of Maryland as a Maryland Green School.
The Gunston School: August 2011-present
In August of 2011, Gunston Day School was reincorporated as “The Gunston School.” Having been the Gunston Farm School, The Gunston School for Girls, and for the last fifteen years, Gunston Day School, the school decided it was time to unify the school’s hundred-year identity under the word beloved by all those who have studied here: Gunston. As former Headmaster Stick Sturtevant noted at the celebration honoring the career of long-time teachers Tony and Sarah Everdell, “The word ‘Day’ in our school’s name was always meant to be temporary,” and he argued that the term was needed during Gunston’s transitional years in the mid-90’s when we were still universally recognized as a girls’ boarding school. Yet as that the school’s identity and reputation have evolved both regionally and nationally, the name change sought to embrace the entire arc of its history as a farm school, a boarding school, and a day school.
As we move through the second decade of the 21st Century and our second century as a school, our campus continues to be a dynamic place with a strong focus on each individual student. The school’s mission was rewritten in 2012 to emphasize the importance of global and environmental learning; our enrollment now tops 180 students; our rowing program is receiving national recognition; the school now has a new Gunston Tennis Center—a six-court, USTA-designed facility, and a first-class waterfront complex that includes a restored “living” shoreline and the spectacular Molly Dock.
Perhaps most significantly, the Gunston community recently came together to plan and execute the largest capital campaign in school history. Known as the The Second Century Campaign, the school raised over $4 million to substantially enhance the school’s core teaching and learning facilities. In 2012, the fully renovated Long Academic Building was rededicated, and in 2013, the building formerly known as “Brick” was rededicated as Everdell Hall, in honor of legendary teaching couple Tony and Sarah Everdell. This state-of-the-art and energy-efficient facility now houses three extraordinary new spaces: The Alice Ryan Library, the Susie Konkel Atrium and Student Center, and The Vest Fine Arts Center, housing both visual and digital arts.
In 2015, the school’s strategic plan launched a bold institutional goal: to become a regional and national leader in environmental teaching and learning. Since that time, the school has enhanced the Bay Studies program, created professional development courses for educators, acquired 3.5 additional acres of campus property, in 2018, Gunston launched the Chesapeake Watershed Semester—an innovative educational program that immerses students in the study of environmental science and public policy. Gunston’s environmental education office is now housed on the second floor of Heron House, the former Headmaster’s Residence that in 2018 was transformed into both a waterfront athletic and environmental education center.
If Samuel and Mary Middleton were to drive up the tree-lined Gunston Road today, they might well be astounded by the size and diversity of the student body, the breadth of the school’s athletics program, the absence of horses, and the prevalence of computers and other technologies. However, the physical campus has retained its beauty, and they would certainly recognize in the school’s culture the original principles of the school’s founding: academic and character education taught by dedicated teachers in a format devoted to preparing the whole child to serve as scholars, citizens, and leaders in our world.
Thus, the 21st Century Gunston experience remains deeply rooted in the 20th Century Gunston experience one best captured by our alumnus William Hafer (Class of 1928): “Translated into modern psychological terminology, the credo of Gunston is to attain self-actualization, to fulfill one’s highest potential. And although the remarkable couple who gave life to Gunston School no longer guide it, their philosophy that one’s reach should always exceed one’s grasp remains part of the modern Gunston experience, which continues to protect its students from complacency and self-satisfaction and helps them to distinguish dross from true gold.”