Picturesque Popodicon

SHEPHERDSTOWN — When Suzanne Shipley arrived at Shepherd University midway through 2007, her first home was a dorm. With workers installing air conditioning in the school president’s official residence, it would be weeks before she could move into the Southern-style mansion.

Suzanne Shipley, a Texas native, became Shepherd’s 15th president nearly five years ago.

But since she and her husband Randy Wadsworth settled in at Popodicon, they’ve warmed to the enchanting, 17-room campus landmark built in 1907.

The red brick, three-story house on Shepherd Grade Road has been part an official part of Shepherd for more than four decades. The state of West Virginia bought the home and surrounding land to expand the school’s campus, which then measured just 35 acres.

The history of Popodicon dates to 1879, when a civil engineer from Pottstown, Pa., came to Shepherdstown to help with the design of the Norfolk and Western Railroad.

Here, Henry W. Potts met a local girl and after their 1881 wedding at Shepherdstown’s Trinity Church, the pair began to plan for a home with views of the valley, the Blue Ridge and the Potomac.

The Pottses gave their new estate the same name as the family mansion back in Pottstown, a home in the 1830s and listed in records as “Popodickon,” after a Native American leader Popodick. Little is known about the chief, except the legend that he’s buried under a majestic chestnut tree on the grounds.

The Shepherdstown Register on June 18, 1908, included a writeup of Popidicon, under the headline: “A Handsome New Home.” The story includes detailed descriptions of the dwelling’s large porch, three bathrooms (each with hot and cold running water) and its setting, about which the writer gushes: “One should never be lonely with so fair a prospect to gaze upon, for in the length and breadth of the ever-beautiful Shenandoah Valley there is not a more charming scene.”

The estate remained in the Potts family until the state purchased it in 1964.

Of course, living in a large, lovely home offers all kinds of perks, but Shipley says what she likes best is the fact that her presence at Popodicon puts her in the center of day-to-day campus life.

“I feel so privileged to live here,” Shipley said. “I love being around students – they make the job so much fun. I get to be around these young people when they’re more optimistic, more hopeful than they may be their entire lives. I get to see them come in as freshmen and take in all these experiences and learn so much and leave actually having become different people. It’s amazing and wonderful to be a part of that.”

She also expresses gratitude for Shepherdstown, which this year is marking the 250th anniversary of its founding. To draw attention to the town’s importance to Shepherd, Shipleyreveals that the university will award the 2012 President’s Award not to a person or a couple, but to the Town of Shepherdstown.

“During spring commencement, we’ll make the formal presentation to Meredith Wait [a key Shepherdstown 250 organizer] and Mayor Jim Auxer,” Shipley said. “We felt this was perfectly fitting, as a way to show much the town has meant to our school.

“We have a great symbiotic relationship.”

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