Myths surround President's Webster Avenue residence

by Jennifer Garfinkel | 11/8/05 6:00am

During freshman orientation, most Dartmouth students stroll up the president's driveway, shake hands with College President James Wright and Susan Wright and spend the evening eating barbecued chicken with fellow freshmen while enjoying some light jazz.

But few Dartmouth students ever explore the inside of the president's house, and many students remain skeptical about whether or not the College's first family actually resides behind the red-brick facade.

According to James Wright, the couple does, in fact, live in the Webster Avenue residence full-time and has done so since they sold their Etna, N.H., house when Wright assumed the Dartmouth presidency in 1998. Although the two still enjoy visiting their summer home, James and Susan Wright consider 1 Tuck Drive their home.

Perhaps students are surprised the Wrights choose to reside on rowdy fraternity row. The president, however, said he enjoys living among students.

"We don't have problems with our neighbors," Wright said. "I don't mean that I enjoy every sound, but it's not as intrusive as you'd think."

The couple said they do not have many problems with students trespassing and that the Tuck Drive dormitory construction project has cut down on the amount of people who try to trek across the property because "there's no place they can go."

But Wright recalled an incident during which the couple awoke to find an audacious student on their recently reseeded lawn with a golf ball and club.

"Susan had to put the runs to him," Wright said.

The house, a 1926 gift to the College from Edward Tuck, has been home to every Dartmouth president since Ernest Martin Hopkins, who led the College from 1916 to 1945.

During the presidency of John Sloan Dickey, Hopkins' successor, Mrs. Dickey decided to record the legacies of each president in needlepoint, creating a dining room chair seat to commemorate each administration. Other artists continued the tradition after Dickey's presidency, and all 15 chairs are displayed in the President's formal dining room.

"I've never thought about what my chair would look like," Wright said.

But the current College president had a few ideas about what aspects of his presidency would be preserved through this Dartmouth tradition. Wright cited the immense amount of construction on campus right now as one concrete legacy he will leave behind, but he was unsure how the rest of his tenure could be captured.

Wright said he believes he will be remembered for intangible accomplishments including the quality of a students' experiences at Dartmouth and the school's strength as a residential college.

"How do you capture having the finest undergraduate education in the country?" Wright asked.

One of Wright's favorite things about living in his Webster Avenue home is that he finally has a house that is big enough to accommodate his own pool table. The president, however, refuses to play with students, he said, because he is afraid of the outcome.

Out of all of the rooms in the house, the former history professor thinks he likes his study best of all.

"I have a lot of history books," he said. "And I finally have a room big enough for all of them."

But Wright's sitting room off of the house's kitchen comes in a close second, because it is where he can relax with a book, read a newspaper or watch his favorite baseball team.

"I can't watch the Red Sox in my study," he said.

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