For many in Colonial Beach, the building that sat atop the hill was more than just a school. It was a place to foster friendships, it was a place to work, a place to learn, a place to grow. It was a place to see the future develop before your eyes, a place for first dances, last classes, and basketball games. It was a second home, an historical landmark, an icon and a building filled with memories that will not soon be forgotten.
“It was a very sad and emotional day to hear the news and physically see the news,” Coach Steve Swope said of the fire that burned the beloved high school/elementary school in Colonial Beach.
For Swope, like many others, the school was a second home. He went to school there, graduating in 1973 and returned in 1979 where he taught until last year. Swope spoke fondly of the building, describing it as picturesque and pristine up on top of that hill. He said it may not have been as great looking as other schools, but the quality of education was. “It shows you the moxy of Colonial Beach all these years…to be so proud to have their own school system. Kids have grown up in this school and gone on to be great, doing the things they always wanted to do.”
Swope said some of his favorite memories were of playing basketball in the Cracker Box. He described how people would come and see the gym and say there was no way you could play a high school basketball game on such a small court. “The Cracker Box was a favorite part of that place. Games with all the schools in the Northern Neck were played there. Hundreds of points were scored there. It was very exciting for everyone to be a part of. Memories of playing basketball were incredible to me.”
As a kid, he said he remembers when the old Mayfair Theatre burned down and the Colonial Beach Hotel was taken down. Like those landmarks, this was another tragic loss for Colonial Beach. Not knowing what will come of the building and its spot on top of the hill, Swope said it will be a big empty void sitting up there, a reminder, although on a smaller scale, of what New Yorkers had to go through when the Twin Towers were gone, but will pay tribute to what used to sit there. “Once you’re a Drifter, you’re always a Drifter,” he said.
Besides the Cracker Box, Swope also spent a great deal of time in his famed ‘dungeon’. “I remember the first graders, some scared to go down the steps because of the dragon and others who couldn’t wait to get down there to see where the dragon was.”
Many of those kids still cherish memories of Swope’s dungeon and his dragon. When speaking to many who went to the elementary school there, this was the first thing they mentioned.
A former student, Jaime Trowbridge, shared some of her memories of the school including how Swope had an office downstairs called the dungeon and convinced them all that he had a dragon down there. She also reflected on attending her first school dance and decorating her first locker there. “One of my best memories of the school is the gathering in the Cracker Box gym before school started. We would all hang out there until the first bell rang to go to class,” she said.