Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Campus and Arboretum

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Wofford College
Original/Historic Place Name: Campus
Location on Campus: 429 N. Church St. Spartanburg, SC 29303-3663
Date(s) of Construction:
1851-1854original construction Jones, Edward C.
n.d.landscape design Dirr, Michael A. Webel, Richard
Designer: Edward C. Jones, original architect; Michael A. Dirr and Richard Webel, Jr. (contemporary landscape designers)
Type of Place: Building group
Style: Italianate (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Function:
ca. 1851-present (2006)master plan (landscape)
ca. 1851-present (2006)master plan (campus)
 

Narrative:
When Benjamin Wofford died in December 1850, he left a simple and direct will appointing a board of trustees to obtain a college charter, provide for a campus with appropriate land and buildings, and hire the administration and faculty. Almost the only restriction he placed on the use of his bequest of $100,000 was that college had to be located in Spartanburg District.

The trustees chose to locate the college on a high ridge that overlooked the Spartanburg courthouse and surrounding village. They encouraged architect Edward C. Jones of Charleston to take advantage of this high ground, and he did so by planning a Main building with two Italianate bell towers. Installed in the west tower, the college bell could be heard all over the village, summoning students to class or chapel, and marking significant community events. As "Old Main" neared completion in the fall of 1854, construction began along the crest of the ridge on four faculty homes and a president's mansion (the only original structure that is not in present use).

Two unpaved streets were laid out to connect the town to the college. "Church Street" started at the east end of the courthouse square, passed by the Central Methodist Church and a surrounding residential area, and ended almost at the front steps of the Main Building. It was the scene of much excitement during the formal processions that characterized commencement and other special events at colleges of that era. College Street was a promenade along the ridge so that students, faculty members, and villagers could enjoy the view of the village below on their evening strolls, and was soon extended westward to a new "female college."

The beautiful potential of these village streets and the hilltop campus was never to be realized. The Civil War swept away the college's endowment and a generation of students. Wofford barely survived, but was one of a handful of Southern academies and colleges to continue operations without interruption. Throughout the nineteenth century, old pasture fences and furrows of abandoned cornfields were obvious on the campus, and the grounds were allowed to grow up in native pines, shrubs and grasses. The nights were so dark in the thick forest between campus and village that students trying to take a short cut occasionally lost their way, and the noise and smoke from more than ninety stream-powered trains rumbling through Spartanburg each day must have been incredible. Even so, alumni speakers of the era eloquently described their happy days at "the college among the pines."

Professor E.H. Shuler noted the disadvantages when he joined the faculty in 1912, but added that "the Wofford campus impressed me with its potential beauty. While not spacious, it was just in the correct proportion for its buildings. It had two elements of charm that are rarely matched on a campus its size: seclusion and scholarly atmosphere." Over the next several years, Shuler's engineering classes laid out paved campus sidewalks and roads suitable for operating and parking automobiles. Professor D.A. DuPre angered the old grads by thinning out the cherished pine trees and planting fast-growing water oaks (many of which still stand in good health and beauty).

As President Henry Nelson Snyder wrote in his 1947 autobiography, the outcome of these efforts was very successful when viewed in the context of vehicular traffic. He wrote, "A highly intelligent and widely traveled woman said that every now and then she just had to drive through the Wofford campus to enjoy its old mellow beauty; that here she was not only seeing a college, but feeling one at this seat of ancient culture." Nevertheless, the original vision of a promenade past classical buildings and formal gardens had been sacrificed, and little could be done to address the issue during the hard economic times of the twenties and thirties.

Following World War II, a series of new buildings in various architectural styles was erected to serve a growing student body. Remodeling, including major exterior alterations, accompanied the gradual conversion of three of the four original faculty homes to other purposes. Rain water, which once had flowed naturally downhill during heavy rains, carved unsightly gullies near the new buildings, or was trapped under the foundations of older ones. As part of a 1960-1961 restoration of "Old Main," a new, north-side portico was added facing a tree-lined mall that sought to entice visitors to enter the campus from Evans Street.

In 1974, parts of the Wofford campus were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and with that development came a new concern in the appearance of the campus drive and the nineteenth century buildings bordering it. The 1987 Master Plan, "To Improve Quality," translated this new sense of urgency into specific projects. For example, the Papadopoulos Building and the Franklin W. Olin Building, both of classical design using white stucco, were hailed as the college's new front door. Butler Circle, with its distinctive "trident" fountain, and Charles Parks' sculpture "Light" in front of the new library were also praised. Near the new Gibbs Stadium and the Richardson Physical Activities Building, great efforts were made to cultivate a variety of trees and shrubs that offer four-season appeal.

In the late 1990s, another round of landscaping improvements at Wofford was undertaken, including:

1. Improving the ecological health of the campus by replacing aging and diseased plants with a variety of trees and shrubs that would make it attractive year-round.
2. Rerouting the campus drive to make it more direct, and removing parking places that obstruct campus vistas. Bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians found their pathway much more inviting.
3. Re-designing and replacing worn-out and cracked pavement, curbs, and sidewalks.
4. Installing state-of-the-art drainage and irrigation systems to maintain the malls approaching the porticos of Main Building, and adding landscaped plazas at the east and west wings.
5. Developing and implementing plans for landscaping around the new science building, located south and west of "Old Main."
6. Creating unobstructed views of Main Building that reaffirm this distinctive, historic structure as the emotional and physical center of campus.

(Landscaping improvements were implemented by Michael A. Dirr and Richard Webel, Jr.. Michael A. Dirr is considered by many to be the nation's most influential and respected expert on urban ornamental trees and shrubs. During his twenty-nine years as a faculty member, first at the University of Illinois-Champaign and later at the University of Georgia, he won more than twenty awards for research, writing and teaching. He trained more than thirty masters and doctoral students and wrote more than three hundred articles and seven books. He is best known for his masterwork, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Richard "Rick" Webel Jr. is the current managing partner of the renowned landscape architecture firm of Innocenti & Webel, founded in 1931. The firm's work is founded on traditional designs and seasoned practices, and seeks value not from novelty but from predictability and permanence.)

In 2002, the 150-acre campus was designated the Wofford College Arboretum. The arboretum mission statement is as follows:
1. to enhance the natural beauty of the campus through continuous planting of a diverse selection of plant material
2. to promote environmental consciousness through the preservation of plant diversity and the restoration of an urbanized ecosystem
3. to educate and inform visitors about "noble trees" native to the Carolina Piedmont region
4. to provide updated mapping and labeling records of all the trees on campus

While Wofford students and alumni have for many years celebrated the location of the campus "on the city's northern border," this lyric from the alma mater never has been more true than it will be in the first years of the twenty-first century. For many years, downtown Spartanburg has been oriented on an east-west axis, US Highway 29 (Main Street). In recent years, however, the emphasis has shifted to US Highway 221 (Church Street), which runs from the northeast to the southwest. It serves such important centers of community activity as the arts center, the post office, the new public library, restored Morgan Square, the new Spartanburg Marriott Hotel at Renaissance Park, and a renovated Memorial Auditorium and conference center. Wofford College and the twin towers of Main Building anchor and overlook this important traffic artery and commercial center, just as the founding Trustees anticipated. The futures of the college and central Spartanburg have been, are, and always will be, closely linked.
 

References:

Borders, Matt, and Ryan Gilreath. The Wofford College Arboretum: A Self-Guided Walking Tour. Spartanburg, SC: Wofford College, 2002.

Brabham, William H. Wofford College Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1974.

Wallace, David Duncan. The History of Wofford College, 1854-1949. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1951.

 

Contact us / About Site / About CIC
© 2006
Council of Independent Colleges
Washington, DC
All rights reserved
Last update: November 2006