The Land ... two humble yet powerful words at St. Stephen’s.
When Bishop John Hines and the Rev. William Brewster began their hunt for a campus in Texas to fulfill their vision for an Episcopal school, their hunt whittled down to two locations. The finalists were a decommissioned army base named Camp Swift in Bastrop and an overgrazed goat ranch west of Austin. Perhaps swayed by the beautiful vistas from the Austin location, they chose St. Stephen’s current home. What our visionary founders did not understand is that the exhausted land was unsuitable for their goals of grazing dairy cows and farming. However, the provincial, scenic setting was uniquely suited to their aspirations for a racially integrated, co-educational boarding school, “dedicated to the recovery of humans.”
More than most institutions, St. Stephen’s identity is inextricably linked to its physical place in the world. In the lore of the school, it is told that the campus chose our mascot for us. The tough, minimalist, ancient Spartan warriors were the self-evident choice, as early students looked upon their isolated, rustic campus and virtually ascetic environs. The bones of the school are rooted in the land. That is not a metaphor. The original buildings were built from stone quarried on campus. Today, St. Stephen’s is not nearly as provincial or isolated as it once was, and life on campus is not nearly so Spartan.* However, our fierce attachment to our 370-plus acres on the Balcones Escarpment overlooking Lake Austin is no less diminished.
With more than 370 acres of land and more than 370 vertical feet of elevation change, St. Stephen’s is home to a wide variety of topography, soil types and ecological diversity. From the moisture- and vegetation-rich bottom of Devil’s Canyon, to the verdant, alluvial flatland along St. Stephen’s Creek, up to the dry, scrub-covered hilltops, we are blessed with wildly different ecological worlds, all within walking distance of each other.
The land means many things to many people in our community. It is a classroom, a laboratory and a place of recreation. It is a chapel and a place of quiet reflection. For many it is home. For all of us, the land is uniquely St. Stephen’s. I hope you enjoy this photo essay of the land, and I hope it inspires you to explore the beauty of our campus that begins where the pavement ends.
*According to former coach David Paschall, after installing air-conditioning in the gym, we should no longer have called ourselves Spartans.
—Charlton Perry, history instructor and director of Devil’s Canyon Wilderness Project;
photos by Chris Caselli ’82, photography instructor