Sewanee is the familiar name of The University of the South, a liberal arts college and Episcopal seminary, which was chartered in 1858 and opened its doors just after the Civil War. It’s also the name of the unincorporated village that contains, besides the college, several churches, a handful of shops, one stoplight, and about 2,500 residents. And it is the name of the “Domain” that surrounds both village and college, 13,000 acres of woods, caves, lakes and streams, sitting atop the Cumberland Plateau about 2,000 feet above sea level. One of its early graduates, the poet and memoirist William Alexander Percy, claimed that “there is no way to tell of youth or of Sewanee, which is youth”—but then went on to make this attempt:
"It’s a long way away, even from Chattanooga, in the middle of woods, on top of a bastion of mountains crenellated with blue coves. It is so beautiful that people who have once been there always, one way or another, come back. For such as can detect apple green in an evening sky, it is Arcadia—not the one that never used to be, but the one that many people always live in; only this one can be shared."
In Percy’s time Sewanee was a college of about 300 male students, still presided over by the ghosts of the Civil War veterans who taught the first classes. Now it enrolls about 1,600 men and women, who rarely encounter ghosts but regularly encounter the faculty and facilities that make it one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Thanks to Interstate 24, which passes just four miles away, Chattanooga, Nashville, and even Atlanta are now easy drives, but its beauty and sense of wooded seclusion, along with Percy’s nickname for it, “Arcadia,” still linger. Its elevation, and the relatively cool temperatures that come with it, have made Sewanee a summer destination since the 19th century.
Physically the University looks, as some visitors have remarked, like a college in a movie. It is an architecturally coherent collection of Gothic buildings, built of locally quarried sandstone, some more than a century old, others built just yesterday. In between are expansive greens, ancient oaks and hickories, quiet streets and faculty houses. A traffic problem, most likely caused by somebody braking for a dog, squirrel, or undergraduate, is defined as having to wait a few seconds to turn left. And yet summers here can be pretty lively, thanks to such institutions as The Sewanee Summer Music Festival, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference, and the Shakerag Workshops at nearby St. Andrew's-Sewanee School.
Sewanee’s location makes it an excellent place for study and writing, but it’s also—especially in the summer—a good place for families. Prospective students with spouses and children should know that the Domain offers plenty of recreational activities for adults and children. For kids and teenagers, there are Tennis, Soccer, Basketball, Cross-Country, Lacrosse, and All-Sports camps, all operated by the University Athletic Department. And the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference has offered workshops in creative writing for high school students since 1994. Adults can also brush up their backhands at Adult Tennis Camp, led by the University’s Men’s and Women’s tennis coaches. The campus includes a golf course, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and the Robert Dobbs Fowler Sport and Fitness Center with its exercise rooms, indoor track and indoor pool. The Sewanee Summer Seminar offers mini-courses and lively discussions, led by Sewanee professors, on a variety of topics. And the whole family can enjoy the aforementioned Sewanee Summer Music Festival, now in its 57th year, which offers intensive music instruction for some 200 students, and over 30 concerts during its six-week session, to music-lovers throughout the community. Finally, the 4th of July in Sewanee is a slice of small-town Americana that any family will enjoy: games, crafts, dog and cat shows, a parade, fireworks, and a concert of American music offered by the Summer Music Festival.