Today is the day Hotchkiss freshmen will whitewash "H" as part of traditional Homecoming festivities. At 9 a.m., prior to painting, a group of volunteers and Hotchkiss alumni will begin efforts to reconstruct the hillside letter, which measures roughly 25 feet in width and 100 feet in length. Over the years the emblem of Bulldog pride has undergone a patchwork of repairs, but time, weather and dynamiting have left it in rather sad shape.
Carl Clay, a 1961 HHS graduate, recently formed a task force to rebuild the H. He and others met with some of the project's stakeholders, including the Town of Hotchkiss, the Hotchkiss-Crawford Historical Society and the Hotchkiss Booster Club. All of the partners are very supportive of the efforts, said Clay.
According to a website on mountain monograms, the "Big C" constructed at the University of California, Berkley, in 1905 was the first mountain monogram. Seen as a symbol of school pride, colleges began vying for the biggest monogram, and annual whitewashings have become a tradition. Monograms are now found throughout the country.
A history of the H was published in a 2014 DCI article by Kathy Browning. Clay recalled that the "mountain monogram" or "hillside letter," started in 1951 as a trench dug in the steep hillside of what has been dubbed "H Hill" as an initiation of freshmen Johnny Hotchkiss, Ed Ramey and Dan MacKen-drick into the lettermen's club, the "H Club." In 1954, white rocks from Raymond White orchards on Rogers Mesa were hauled chain-gang style and placed into the trenches.
In 1959 an effort by H Club members to pour concrete into the trenches was unsuccessful, as the concrete "oozed" downhill. In 1960 a more structured effort involved pouring cement from trucks parked atop the hill and "all means possible" were used to keep it in place.
In 1962 the lower portion of the north leg was dynamited by two students from rival Paonia. To this day that section is crooked. For a number of years the H was whitewashed by students each spring on "Red and White Day." That tradition now belongs to incoming freshmen and is performed during Homecoming week festivities. Clay said that the earliest whitewashings of the H were done with alkali pigment, which is considered caustic. These days they use paint.
Fixing the structure will involve more than just a good paint job. Clay said the concrete has slowly disintegrated over the years, held together by a few patch jobs and roof bolts.
Clay said the task force is considering fundraising for a full-on restoration project, While they don't yet have a plan in place or cost estimates, one idea under consideration is construction of a frame which can be filled with crushed rock. A more immediate project to preserve the structure and prepare for a more permanent project involves directing water away from the concrete to control erosion.
The group meeting today will shore up some of the concrete pieces and replace soil where it has eroded from under concrete. When that's done, freshmen will do the honor of putting on a coat of whitewash.
Carl, who is chair of the Hotchkiss School Alumni Fund, said the group welcomes volunteers. Bring shovels, pry bars and good work gloves. In the event of rain the project will be moved to Thursday morning
Clay said he wants the H to remain a source of school and community pride well into the future. But, he said, "If we're going to have it there, we'd better display it properly."