The facade of Wofford College’s Old Main Building features commanding twin towers which flank the entrance to this 1854 structure designed by Charleston architect Edward C. Jones. The history of the Spartanburg college predates the Civil War by more than a decade. When Methodist minister Benjamin Wofford died in 1850, he bequeathed his fortune, which he had inherited from his first wife, to the establishment of a liberal arts college in Spartanburg. Wofford stipulated that the school was to be operated by the Methodist church. The college’s first president, William Wightman, addressed a crowd of 4,000 in an 1851 cornerstone ceremony. By 1854 the Old Main Building was complete, and Wofford received its first class of students, consisting of seven young men.
The first buildings on the campus were constructed by skilled African-American carpenters from nearby Asheville, North Carolina, and the bell that peals in Old Main’s west tower hails from the Meneely Foundry in West Troy, New York. The college suffered setbacks during the Civil War when both students and professors were killed in battle and the trustees invested endowment funds in Confederate bonds, which the school still possesses in a vault. Though the future of the school seemed hopeless, Wofford College rebounded during Reconstruction under the guidance of its respected and beloved president, Dr. James H. Carlisle, a former mathematics and astronomy professor.
The college grew and evolved during Dr. Carlisle’s tenure and beyond, and the first women graduated from Wofford in 1901. By 1909 the school had chosen a mascot – a terrier named Jack – and though the school was still struggling financially, it survived via support from the Methodist church. Wofford recovered after the Great Depression, in part because many professors worked without pay. In 1941 the college was awarded a chapter of the honor society Phi Beta Kappa, making Wofford the first private college in South Carolina to receive this recognition.
Students again were deployed during World War II, with so many serving in the military that the United States Army took over the campus for training, temporarily displacing the few students who remained. These relocated temporarily to neighboring Converse College, a women’s school. Enrollment increased following the war, thanks to the G.I. Bill. The school admitted its first African-American students in 1964.
Today Wofford College remains one of South Carolina’s top independent colleges and offers 51 majors and minors. Wofford College also operates the Goodall Environmental Studies Center at the former Glendale Mill (seen above).
The building seen below is named for two of Wofford’s brightest luminaries who each occupied the house for decades. Mathematics professor Dr. James Henry Carlisle taught at the college from its opening year until he was named President of Wofford in 1875. Dr. Carlisle served as president until his retirement in 1902. Called “the most distinguished South Carolinian of his day,” Dr. Carlisle guided the school through the tumult of the Civil War and Reconstruction. He lived in the home from 1854 until his death in 1909.
Author, historian, and professor Dr. David Duncan Wallace resided here for more than forty years. He taught history at Wofford from 1899 to 1947 and published The History of South Carolina, a work in three volumes, in 1935. He also wrote The History of Wofford College, 1854-1949. Dr. Duncan died in 1951; the annual History Department Award is named for him. The residence continues to be used as housing for faculty and administrators.
The Daniel Building opened in 1910 as the Whitefoord Smith Library. It was the campus’ first separate library building and was a gift to the school from the daughter of one of the college’s original faculty members. Following the opening of the Sandor Teszler Library in 1969, this building was renovated for use as classroom space. The ROTC “Southern Guards” battalion is also housed here. It was renamed the Charles Daniel Building after an area businessman.
Old Main Building is listed in the National Register as part of the Wofford College Historic District:
Wofford College is a small liberal arts institution that is Methodist affiliated. Its 80-acre, 30-building complex has grown from the original campus of 35 acres containing the Main Building and five faculty residences. The college was opened in 1854 through the $100,000 bequest of a local minister, Reverend Benjamin Wofford. The historic district consists of the main building and six Georgian derived houses. The Wofford Main Building was designed by the Charleston architect Edward C. Jones in the Italian Villa style that had been popularized nationally by Alexander Jackson Davis. It is a three-story stucco structure with square giant order columns supporting a massive portico framed by twin towers. Large side wings abut the central section. The six two-story brick residences have wide central halls flanked by rooms to either side. They are in a vernacular style that was popular for southern homes. Four of the buildings date to 1854. All have one-story front verandas.
Leave a Reply