The independent Miller School of Albemarle, a co-ed, independent boarding and day school serving grades 8-12, is rich in history. For example, it was among the first institutions in the country to have electric lighting installed by Thomas Edison himself!
When building began in 1876 following the bequest of Samuel Miller, building materials were hauled the five miles from the Crozet train depot down the first hard road in Albemarle County, now Miller School Road, and up “The Hill” via a steep, winding road that has remained the school’s entrance road ever since. This road, never intended as a permanent entrance, is too narrow for safe two-way traffic—including school buses—with sharp side drop-offs reinforced with concrete posts. The idyllic 1,100-acre campus is criss-crossed with pathways—some paved, some graveled—that do double duty as both walking and driving spaces.
As part of its 2005 Strategic Plan, the Board of Trustees developed plans to finally move the school’s entrance to a long-envisioned, safer access point less than a mile further south on Miller School Road. After working extensively with Albemarle County on critical slopes, drainage, and the like, the contract was awarded to Brad Booker Excavating of Charlottesville. Work on the project got underway in early 2015, and is expected to be completed later this spring. The new, straight, two-way entrance road will climb more gradually up the hill and open up to a stunning view of the front of Old Main, the campus centerpiece which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, and the rare lotus pond with its imposing central fountain.
“The road could be paved tomorrow if the weather were warmer,” said Headmaster Rick France. “We need to wait for an extended period of warmth to lay the asphalt. The road will loop behind the baseball field and tennis courts to a student drop off point, then join up with the current entrance road, which will become exit only.” This will have the added benefit of reclaiming all the existing campus pathways so they can become pedestrian only. The new configuration will dramatically increase safety for students, faculty, parents, and visitors—both driving and walking. The new entrance will feature brick pylons that will complement the historic architecture of the school, a staffed gate house, and electronic gates that will be opened with a keypad code after dark (except for special evening events). There will also be lighting along the roadway. The total cost of the project, funded by investments and donations, is around $800,000. Expanded parking areas are also planned for the future.
Samuel Miller’s original goal was to provide an education to orphans and other needy children, which he had been himself before becoming, with his brother, a successful businessman. The school’s vision to educate students’ “Mind, Hands, and Heart” is still alive and well today. With a current enrollment of 189, of which 45 percent are girls and 45 percent are day students, the college preparatory curriculum provides students ample opportunity to design, build, and tinker, with electives in electronics, agriculture, woodworking, and fine arts. Miller welcomes students from 12 states and 16 countries, some of whom come to join the number one bicycling team in country, and the only high school team recognized by USA Cycling, sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team. All 36 members of the co-ed team learn to build, maintain, and repair their own bikes. The 14 miles of student-created mountain biking trails on the campus allow the school to host 20 major mountain biking events each year. A huge woodworking shop provides the tools and space students need to build their own kayaks, turn wooden bowls, and complete major projects such as turning wood downed in the 2012 derecho into tables to furnish the dining hall. Students are currently involved in building a solar charging station as well as restoring Edison’s original generator.