History of Colleges Matter
Our nation’s colleges are steeped in history – the history of freedom and a peoples’ attempt to live up to high ideals. From the first colleges founded on the shores of Colonial America, to colleges who saw battle during the Civil War, stood up in the face of segregation, or those founded out west as land-grant institutions, every college has a unique story that is woven into a tapestry of history we call America. We have many colleges and universities that are designated as National Historic Landmarks or Districts due to their stunning architecture, notable architects, famous founders, and each school’s place in the story of America. Selected colleges for this list had to hold an official designation by the government as a National Historic District or have a considerable amount of buildings on the National Historic Register, have at least five buildings or structures on campus, and also have a significant contribution to American history. Most of the information gleaned for this article was taken directly from the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
The ranking was created based on the following criteria:
- The size of the historical district – 50%
- Historical significance – 25%
- Access and availability to the public – 25%
50. McDaniel College
Photo By: Patron Vectras
Founded in 1867, McDaniel College is a private, four-year liberal arts college located in Westminster, Maryland. The college was known as Western Maryland College until 2002, when it was renamed McDaniel College in honor of an alumnus who gave a lifetime of service to the college. Western Maryland College Historic District is situated on the campus and includes six of the college’s earliest surviving buildings and structures: Alumni Hall, Carroll Hall, Levine Hall, The President’s House, Little Baker Chapel, and the Ward Memorial Arch. These structures are the oldest surviving architectural links with the nineteenth century beginnings of the college. Levine Hall is a brick structure built in the Colonial Revival style and is the oldest college classroom building still standing. The original eight-acre campus was often used by the citizens of Westminster a public meeting area and picnicking area. Referred to as “Old Commons,” the campus was the center of annual Fourth of July celebrations, political rallies, and during the Civil War, it was utilized by Union troops to protect the arrival of artillery that came on the nearby Western Maryland train. Steeped in history, the Western Maryland College Historic District holds an important piece of our nation’s story.
49. Western Michigan University – East Campus
“Old East” is the original campus of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Since 1990 the area has been designated at the Western State Normal School Historic District. Though the total acreage is 688, it is the original 20 acres and nine historic buildings that make up “Old East.” The majestic buildings sit atop Prospect Hill, a flat area that between 1907 and 1949 when a trolley brought students up and down the hill. Beautiful red-brick buildings built between 1900 and 1950 stand out most, with the earliest buildings being East Hall, West Hall, and North Hall; all typify the Neo-Classical Revival. Development continued into the 1940s, but after WWII the school shifted most operations to the West Campus and the site fell into disrepair. In the last 10 years there has been some development, partial demolition of the East Hall (proposed demolition of West and North) and the rise of some groups to preserve and adapt the use of “Old East” for WMU. Currently the University plans to demolish some buildings, restore as much as can be, and build an alumni center, parking lot, and revive the landscaping in order to reestablish the spectacular view from Prospect Hill.
48. Huntingdon College
Relocated in 1909 to Montgomery, Alabama, Huntingdon College is one of the state’s oldest institutions of higher learning, placing emphasis on the liberal arts. The campus retains the design of the Olmsted Brothers Firm; and Flowers Hall, its main administration building, is one of the finest examples of Collegiate Gothic architecture in the state. The original 61-acre campus only had an administration building, two dormitories, a student social center (known as the Hut), two faculty residences, and a row of housing for the black employees in the early 1920s. The campus was originally a large pasture that produced an annual hay crop of 700 to 800 bales. On the site of the current heating plant was a dairy barn. In 1923, the Board of Trustees moved to dispose of the cattle and eventually the barn was razed. Huntingdon’s campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Huntingdon College Campus Historic District. The district contains thirteen contributing buildings, built in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles, and one site.
47. Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College is known as an outstanding model of campus planning and the Collegiate Gothic style of architecture. Founded in 1879, the college is home to several sites that contribute to the Bryn Mawr College Historic District. Although there are three distinct styles of architecture that combine to form the “academic village” atmosphere at Bryn Mawr, the earliest style is attributed to Addison Hutton, a prominent Quaker architect who designed the main administrative and classroom building, a dormitory, and a red brick gymnasium. The Historical District is comprised of ten buildings: Taylor Hall, Merion Hall, Radnor Hall, Denbigh Hall, Dalton Hall, Pembroke Hall, Rockefeller Hall, the Thomas Library, the gymnasium, and Goodhart Hall. Bryn Mawr’s historic and suburban campus is located 11 miles from Philadelphia, and is home to a world-class faculty who guides and challenges 1,300 undergraduate women and more than 400 graduate women and men from 45 states and 62 countries.
46. Athens State University
Photo By: Dpepper73
Situated on a level campus shaded by ancient oaks, the Athens State College Historic District comprises the original campus as it existed in 1924. Within the district are four examples of institutional architecture constructed between 1842 and 1924, and four adjacent houses/buildings which have, or have had, connections with the college. The focal point of the district is the massive Founders Hall. Built in the Greek Revival style, the building and its various additions face a large lawn of huge oaks and pines. Designed by Hiram Higgins, who was a prominent local architect, Founders Hall is one of Higgins most admired designs surviving as one of the few examples of his “free-spirited interpretations” of the Greek “in antis” portico. The Athens State College Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places on February 14, 1985; Founders Hall is also individually listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. Athens State University is the oldest institution of higher education in Alabama’s state educational system. The University was founded in 1822 by local citizens who purchased five acres of land, erected a building, and began Athens Female Academy. Today, it has grown into Athens State University, a two-year upper level university offering 33 different majors to junior and senior students.
45. St. Lawrence University
Photo By: Ross P. Robinson
With the oldest building of the eight contributing properties built in the 1850s, the St. Lawrence University Old Campus Historic District is significant for educational and architectural reasons. Founded in 1856 by Universalists, the school is now a top, private, liberal arts school with about 2500 students. The architectural significance is displayed in Classical Revival, and late nineteenth and twentieth century revival styles. Built in 1925, Gunnison Memorial Chapel is perhaps the most beautiful building in Twentieth Century Gothic Revival. White rusticated limestone from New York adorns the work, with typical Gothic features: exterior buttresses, stone tracery, pointed arches, and an interior displaying stained glass. The interior wood work comes from old ships’ timbers from Maine. The chapel has a wonderful organ with 2000 pipes in the main bank and 450 in the echo bank in the tower. The tower was burnt in recent days, but has been reborn with the voice of the bells ringing once again. Herring Library, the second oldest building (constructed in 1870) continues to play a central role in the campus, as well as the historic heritage; a room in the Herring contains Revolutionary War artifacts. The university stands dedicated to the preservation of the buildings and district well into the future.
44. North Dakota State University
North Dakota became a state in 1889. One year later, the state legislature established a “people’s college” and experiment station for the sons and daughters of North Dakota farmers at Fargo in 1890. The state legislature was anxious to take advantage of the 1862 Morrill Act, which made it possible for new western states to establish colleges for its citizens. North Dakota Agricultural College was established, and today is home to a 36-acre historic district on campus. Although the name has slightly changed throughout the years, the University began with a focus on agriculture in the Midwest, and continues to conduct ground-breaking agricultural research today. The Agricultural College is associated with pioneers in scientific farming to which the historic buildings on campus attest. Henry L. Bolley, professor of biology from 1890-1946, was a pioneer in breeding disease resistant plants by exposing successive generation of flax to flax wilt in his plots at the Experiment Station. Having conquered flax wilt, Bolley went on to prove his theory that potato scab was caused by a parasite which could be controlled. In 1897, he recommended four treatments to control wheat smut. Bolley was appointed State Seed Commissioner. He is just one example among many of scientists and researchers who have made great strides in the history of agriculture at North Dakota State.
43. University of New England
The Westbrook College Historic District is centered on the campus of former Westbrook College, which was founded in 1831 as the nation’s first coeducational boarding school. In 1996, the college merged with the University of New England. The six buildings of the Westbrook College Historic District are grouped pleasantly around a green. All of the structures are educational facilities and were originally built for this purpose, except for the Westbrook College Library which was originally a Universalist Church. The Westbrook College Historic District is an excellent example of a nineteenth century rural college with architectural styles ranging from the Federal to the Colonial Revival. At the time, it was the only coeducational boarding school in the country; Westbrook College was established as the result of a proposal put forward at a meeting of the Kennebec Association of Universalists in 1830. It was then determined that a “classical school” be founded at Stevens Plains in Westbrook. The charter for Westbrook Seminary, as it was called for nearly a hundred years, was signed in 1831 by Maine Governor, Daniel E. Smith, and the first term of classes began in June of 1834. The first building occupied by the Seminary was the present Alumni Hall, newly built with a tower taken from the Portland Market House which stood in the present Monument Square in Portland, Maine.
42. Mars Hill University
Founded in 1856, Mars Hill University started as the French Baptist Broad Institute, and later changed its name to Mars Hill in honor of the hill in ancient Athens where the Apostle Paul debated Christianity with skeptics. During the American Civil War, the university was closed for two years, but reopened after the War. From 1897 to 1938, the university saw substantial financial and physical growth under the leadership of Dr. Robert Moore; this was a time where the character of the Mars Hills College Historic District was shaped. Eleven of the major academic and residential buildings were either erected or planned during his presidency. During this period, the school assumed a physical presence and identity in the town as a college campus, distinct from the surrounding residential community and the businesses. There is no overstatement in defining the personality of the campus as Mr. Moore’s legacy. In fact, he is the single individual most responsible for its cohesive appearance. He focused his attention on the historic quadrangle and its immediate precincts when he set about adding buildings. The size of the campus nearly doubled in 1901 with the purchase of a six-acre parcel which carried fully along the south and west sides of the old quad. This embodied work is what visitors enjoy today.
41. Winthrop University
Photo By: Graysick
About 25 miles southwest of Charlotte and 71 miles north of Columbia, South Carolina, is Rock Hill, home of Winthrop University. Winthrop is a public liberal arts college serving 6,000 students. A quick fly over of the campus shows “…a rich architectural blend of neo-Georgian buildings…Behind its state façade you’ll find top-notch academic facilities, enhanced with SMART technology. An attractive recreational area surrounds Winthrop Lake.” The Winthrop College Historic district consists of about 60 acres, with 17 buildings, and 1 structure, with beautiful green spaces, tree-lined walkways, and pergolas connecting buildings. Some of the featured architectural styles is Neo-Georgian, Gothic Revival and Romanesque. The oldest and most famous building, Tillman Hall, is Richardsonian Romanesque. This building was completed in 1895 and listed as a historic building in 1977. The gorgeous three-story T-shaped brick building has many semi-circular arches above windows and the main entrance. Prominent to visitors is the clock tower and open belfry. The Gothic Revival Withers Building is also worth noting with its pointed arches and E-shaped three-story brick building, now home to offices and the new gymnasium.
40. Wofford College
Photo By: Bill Fitzpatrick
Wofford College is a small liberal arts school established in 1854 with about 1600 students. The University is one of the few (less than 200) in the southeast that was founded before the Civil War and operates on its original campus. The Wofford College Historic District was designated in 1974 with 80-acres and seven buildings. In 1992, the entire 170-acre campus was designated as the Roger Miliken Arboretum. As for the buildings, the Wofford Main Building, designed by Charleston architect Edward C. Jones in Italian Villa style is a three-story stucco structure with columns and a massive portico. The other six buildings are in Georgian style, popular for southern homes at the time, which are all one-story with a front veranda. The buildings are now used for administrative, office, or residential purposes.
39. Auburn University
Photo By: Rob Hainer
The Auburn University Historic District occupies 14.5 acres in the northeast part of the campus and is located on gently rolling wooded land. The structures encompassed by the district are primarily late nineteenth and twentieth century revival styles. The architectural focal point of the district is Samford Hall, a Neo-Romanesque structure with a four-sided clock tower. The buildings were all built between 1846 and 1951; other distinct buildings include the Lathe, Langdon Hall, the Music Building, Broun Engineering Hall, Mary E. Martin Hall, Biggin Hall, and several others. Auburn University was the first land grant college in the south that is separate from a state university. During the early years, the institution placed a focus on classical and literary education, however, the early directors recognized the importance of conducting agricultural experiments and established a college farm of 16 acres and began experimenting with cotton and corn, gaining historical significance for what was to become Auburn University.
38. Voorhees College
Photo By: Bill Fitzpatrick
The significance of the Voorhees College Historic District in Denmark, South Carolina is architectural, social and educational. In spite of considerable adversity, the school was founded for young African Americans by humanitarian Elizabeth Evelyn Wright. She was mentored by Booker T. Washington and with the help of the philanthropist Richard Voorhees. Her work endured and to this day represents her achievement in the history of freedom in our country. As for architecture, the style is sophisticated for an African-American college in the early twentieth century; of the 13 contributing properties in the district, six are outstanding. Booker T. Washington Hall, originally a hospital and the first in the area, was built in 1905. The two-storied structure displays Tuscan columns supporting a porch across the façade, dentil molding, and leaded glass fanlight. The two and half story Blanton Hall is brick, with curvilinear gables, tracery windows on the dormer, arcaded portico, and corbeled chimneys and is now used for offices. Most notably is the fact that many of the buildings were built by the young African Americans at the school, which reflected Elizabeth Wright’s vocational emphasis; furthermore, the buildings weren’t simply utilitarian but reflected an admiration for architectural design and a desire to display master masonry techniques.
37. Lincoln University
As Missouri’s oldest historically black university, Lincoln University played a central role in the education of the African-American population in the era of segregation. Founded in 1866 with the contributions of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry regiments for the education of Missouri’s African American population, Lincoln University has contributed enormously to the educational heritage of the state of Missouri. In 1879, the University became a state-supported school when Governor John Phelps supported legislation that would grant the school $15,000 once the school’s buildings and land were deeded to the state of Missouri. In 1921, the University made another advancement when Missouri’s first black state representative, Walthall M. Moore of St. Louis, sponsored legislation to change Lincoln Institute’s status to that of a four-year college; the name of the school was changed to Lincoln University. The new Board of Curators was authorized and required to reorganize Lincoln University to afford black youth the same opportunities furnished white youth at the University of Missouri at Columbia. So then, Lincoln University has played a pivotal role in working toward equal educational opportunities for African Americans in Missouri. The Lincoln University Historical District contains 10 buildings that not only reflect the architecture of the time, but the significant history of the university.
36. Baldwin Wallace University
Photo By: Pwojdacz
There are two historic districts found at Baldwin Wallace University, the Baldwin-Wallace South Campus Historic District, and the Baldwin-Wallace North Campus Historic District. Founded in 1845 as Baldwin Institute by Methodist settlers from Connecticut, the college boasts an interesting history. The settlers who founded the college moved west after their homes were burned by the British in the Revolutionary War. One of these settlers was a man named John Baldwin, who founded the Baldwin Institute. He had a strong sense of equality, which led the school to accept any student regardless of race or gender, making it one of the first institutions to do so. The college merged with German Wallace College in 1913 to become Baldwin-Wallace College. Each of the historic districts on campus include 14 buildings, featuring a variety of collegiate, religious, and residential buildings in a campus setting. Each building has fascinating historical significance, one notable building is the First Congregational Church which was originally known as the First Congregational Church of Berea. Dedicated in 1872, the building is the oldest standing structure used as a church in Berea and the original Middleburg Township.
35. University of Florida – Gainesville
The University of Florida at Gainesville played a key role in providing the citizens of Florida with the opportunity for advanced education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The notion of co-educational, racially integrated colleges and universities is largely a post-World War II approach to higher learning. With the passage of the Buckman Act in 1905, the state of Florida recognized its obligation to address the educational needs of all of its citizens, and the University of Florida Historic Campus District remains a physical embodiment of the fulfillment of that obligation. The University of Florida Campus Historic District comprises 19 Collegiate Gothic academic buildings and dormitories constructed between 1906 and 1939. The historic district occupies a small portion of a much larger modern campus. The Collegiate Gothic style of the historic buildings in the district is rooted in the ideal of medieval English universities where students and masters lived and studied together. The style was favored by architects and academics in the first half of the twentieth century because it recalled these ancient traditions of learning and suggested the permanence of the university as an institution.
34. Gallaudet University
Gallaudet University, founded in 1864 as the National Deaf Mute College, has been the only institution of higher learning in the United States devoted specifically to the education of the deaf. The college opened in September 1864, with 13 students. In 1894, the name of the college was changed to Gallaudet in honor of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a notable figure in the advancement of deaf education. The historic district consists of most of the original campus which was planned in 1866 by Olmsted, Vaux & Co. This prominent late nineteenth century landscape architecture and planning firm felt that since the college’s students lacked the ability to hear extra care should be taken so that “the senses of sight and smell are gratified in a most complete and innocent way.” Chapel Hall is one of finest examples of post-Civil War collegiate architecture in the United States and is the focal point of the campus. It is a picturesque, brownstone, High Victorian Gothic Revival building. The building was consciously designed to be a symbol of the national importance of the institution—the only collegiate institution for the deaf in the United States. Today, Gallaudet University remains an important piece of American history as well as a leading force in deaf education.
33. University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh’s main campus comprises approximately 132 acres located in Pittsburgh’s historic Oakland neighborhood. Much of the campus, including its centerpiece 42-story Cathedral of Learning, falls within the Oakland Civic Center/Schenley Farms National Historic District. The University owns 16 contributing buildings. The campus is known for its impressive architecture, and contains an eclectic mix of architecture that includes Greek revival, Neo-Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and modern. Once a Dairy Farm, part of the great Schenley land holdings, Schenley Farms became, after 1904, the residential portion of F. F. Nicola’s Civic Center Plan. The district contains 154 contributing buildings, 31 of which are cultural or institutional buildings, and 123 of which are residences. Known as an example of community planning and development, following the City Beautiful movement of the late 1800’s, the campus is an array of boulevards, parks, and civic buildings in the beaux-arts style.
32. Stetson University
Stetson University was founded in DeLand, Florida in 1883 and now has about 4400 students. The school seeks to “serve future generations with compassion, significance, and respect” by preparing students “ready to create a better world.” The Stetson University Campus Historic District is set on 22 acres and features 11 buildings. Though many different architectural styles are exhibited, the Colonial Revival dominates with three halls: Elizabeth, Chaudoin, and Conrad. Elizabeth Hall was constructed in 1892 and is three and half stories feature a hip roof and dormers, carved fater ends, and multi-paned double hung sash windows. French doors open onto the third story balcony, which features small classical columns. Rising like the sun in the middle of the building is a four-story tower topped by a large white cupola surrounded by a balustrade. Also of note is the beautiful German Beckerath 2700-pipe manual organ in the south wing chapel. This chapel seats about 800 people and was and is used as a lecture and concert hall with many famous people crossing the stage: William Jennings Bryan, Robert Frost, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. Stetson is the oldest, continually operated private university in Florida, is still located on the original site, contains intact buildings in good condition built between 1884 and 1934 of exemplary styles, hence it comes as no surprise that is was easily recognized as a historic district in 1991.
31. Blue Mountain College
A village preacher before the war, General Lowrey was a man of vision who saw the importance of providing an education for women. The General felt that the South’s recovery would be enhanced by the educating of its young women. He and his two oldest daughters, Modena, known as “Mother Berry,” and Margaret, comprised the first faculty at what was then Blue Mountain Female Institute. The Blue Mountain College Historic District includes fourteen buildings on the campus of the Baptist College for women in northeast Mississippi. Although a variety of architectural styles are represented, the district nonetheless exhibits visual cohesiveness. The majority of buildings are of brick construction and are well placed in their environment, which consists of undulating terrain rising up the slope of Blue Mountain, a physical feature to which buildings are adapted by construction of high basements and a varying number of stories. There is no doubt that this historic district tells the fascinating story of the history of the village preacher who wanted to educated the women of his time and leave a legacy in northeastern Mississippi.
30. Bennett College
Since its establishment as a primary and secondary school in 1873, Bennett College has been one of Greensboro’s most significant black institutions. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was one of the few schools in the city that provided education beyond the primary grades for black children. The founder, Albion W. Tourgee was an activist who championed the cause of racial inequality. On February 11, 1958, civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the school; he was prohibited by the city from speaking publicly anywhere else in Greensboro. Delivered to an over packed audience at Annie Merner Pfieffer Chapel on campus, his speech was entitled, “A Realistic Look at Race Relations.” Today, it remains one of the only black women’s colleges in the country. Bennett’s beautiful campus was primarily developed in the early 1920s and from 1934 to 1941 and remains a place of great historic significance in the nation.
29. Texas Technological University
The Texas Technological College Historic District features the Mission Revival Style throughout 29 contributing properties on 110 acres. Inspired by the Spanish missions of the Franciscans in California, the Mission Revival Style of the late nineteenth century exhibits the enclosed courtyard, massive adobe walls, low-pitched roofs with wide eaves and clay roof tiles, thick arches on piers, and exterior walls coated with white plaster. The Texas Technological College Historic District Administrative Building (1925) is perhaps the most famous and conspicuous structure in the district. Beautiful twin bell towers, three floors, double wings, and a courtyard are featured as well as the Victory Bells within the towers, donated in 1936. Another interesting feature of this building is the north façade, which shows off the history of Texas. The seals of Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, the United States and Texas are all contained on the north façade symbolizing the six nations that have had sovereignty in Texas as well as ten portrait medallions of historical figures such as Columbus, Robert E. Lee and Sam Houston. This district and buildings have gone through many different stages all telling TTU’s story. Texas Tech University is now a large public university with over 35,000 students.
28. University of Minnesota
Photo By: Ken Wolter
Although the University of Minnesota was officially established in 1851, it didn’t really start to flourish and grow until 1884 under the leadership of the second president of the university, Cyrus Northrop. Under his vision and leadership, the University expanded and developed into a full-fledged university with schools in the arts, law, medicine, agriculture, engineering, education, and other subjects. The 13 buildings that comprise the University of Minnesota Old Campus Historic District were built to house many of these programs. Each building has an individual style and expression, and reflects the University’s physical development. Many architectural styles are represented including Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Neo-Classical Revival, Renaissance Revival, and Jacobethan. Today, this historic district is well-known in the city of Minneapolis, and tours are available through the city at various times throughout the year. In addition to the Old Campus Historic District, visitors may also take in Soudan Underground Mine State Park, a National Historic Landmark where scientists from the University of Minnesota began to develop the mine as a site for sensitive physics experiments during the 1980s. It is known as Minnesota’s oldest, deepest, and richest iron mine and boasts a fascinating historic look at the science and research conducted by the university.
27. Principia College
Photo By: Stannate
Principia College is a private liberal arts college that was founded in 1912. Although it has no official affiliation with the Christian Science Church, students and staff are practicing Christian Scientists, Christian Science is known as the “cornerstone of life on campus,” and it is the only college in the world dedicated to the needs of Christian Scientists. The 2,500-acre campus is designated as the Principia College Historic District. The school is set on spectacular limestone bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The campus is laid out as an English village that follows the landform of the hills. The college buildings include 11 structures designed by Bernard Maybeck of San Francisco, and a number of other structures designed by Maybeck’s chosen successor for the college work, Henry Gutterson and other San Francisco architects who worked in Maybeck’s office. In addition, there are six buildings designed by the St. Louis architectural firm of Smith-Entzeroth during the 1970s. The principal planner and landscape architect was Butler Stevens Sturtevant, a graduate of the University of Southern California and the Harvard School of Landscape Architecture. His best known commissions had been Normandy Park, Washington, and the new rose gardens, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia. Eleven of the original Maybeck buildings now survive.
26. Alabama State University
Photo By: Spyder_Monkey
The origins of Alabama State University date back to the late nineteenth century. The dissolution of the plantation system and the abolition of slavery after the Civil War resulted in a new chapter in African American history. Alabama State University was established in 1866 as the first state public African American institution of higher education in Alabama and functioned as the only state supported university for African Americans for many years. The period of significance from 1920 to 1948 represents three decades of rebuilding beginning with the construction of Bibb Graves Hall in 1920 and concluding in 1948 with the building of the North Dining Hall, Trenholm Hall, and the bus garage. The ASU Historic District represents African Americans’ efforts to overcome segregation and the “separate but equal doctrine” resulting from the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. There is no doubt that Alabama State University holds great historic significance today.
25. University of Mississippi
Photo By: Srgragg
Like many colleges in the south, the University of Mississippi has great historical significance due to the role it played during the Civil Rights Movement. On October 1, 1962, James H. Meredith, who was an African-American military veteran, was enrolled at the University. This caused riots on campus, both by white students as well as outside segregationists who came from around the state. This tumultuous event marked a decisive turning point in the federal government’s enforcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools. Demonstrators merged at The Circle to prevent Meredith’s registration inside the Lyceum building. Despite the efforts of President Kennedy and United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to maintain peace and order, protests exploded. On September 30, 1962, an unruly mob estimated at 2,500 Klansmen, White Citizen’s Councilors, students, and agitators turned Ole Miss into a war zone. Chaos erupted, and before long, two lay dead, 160 marshals were wounded, many civilian and military vehicles were destroyed, and several hundred rioters were arrested. The Lyceum-The Circle Historic District includes eight buildings and several monuments lining University Circle, and is also designated as a U. S. National Historic Landmark.
24. University of Missouri
The historical center of the University of Missouri is known as the David R. Francis Quadrangle, or “The Quad.” This comprises the center of the University’s Red Campus, named due to the red brick construction used throughout, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its structures stand as memorials to the people of Missouri. The Francis Quadrangle is the oldest, most monumental expression of the quadrangle type of campus planning in the state. It symbolizes the historic significance of the University of Missouri as the first state university established west of the Mississippi River. Six of the quadrangle structures also stand as intact, well-preserved examples of the work of Missouri’s institutional architect, Morris Frederick Bell. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson’s original tombstone stands on the east side of the quad. The plaque on the gravestone reads “This original marker, placed at the grave of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, Virginia in 1826, constructed from his own design, was presented July 4, 1883, by the Jefferson heirs to the University of Missouri, first state university to be founded in the Louisiana Territory purchased from France during President Jefferson’s administration…” With all of these historical landmarks, the University of Missouri definitely stands out.
23. Bethune-Cookman University
Notable because of its namesake, Mary McLeod Bethune, the Bethune-Cookman College Historic District contains eight contributing properties associated with the historic development of one of Florida’s most prominent historically black colleges. Born on July 10, 1875, Mary McLeod was the fifteenth child of former South Carolina slaves. Through determination, perseverance, and intelligent resolve, she rose from modest beginnings to become one of America’s foremost educators. Not only is she known as a renowned educator, she was also a national political leader, and founder of the National Council of Negro Women from 1943 to 1955. She was one of America’s most influential black women. The Mary McLeod Bethune Residence is a two story frame house was built in 1925. The house, called “The Retreat” by Bethune, now serves as a museum honoring her legacy; it was listed in the National Register in 1974. Other contributing buildings include Allen Chapel, Cookman Hall, Curtis Hall, Faith Hall, Harrison Rhodes Hall, Ranslow Hall, and White Hall.
22. Washington and Lee University
Photo By:Bryan Pollard
Without doubt Washington and Lee University Historic District is a history lover’s utopia. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, a distinction reserved for about 2500 places, and containing history tracing back to two of the most beloved figures in our nations story makes Washington and Lee University special. With historic structures like the striking Colonnade and delightful trees and green spaces it is not surprising that many consider this the most beautiful campus in the United States. Lee Chapel, constructed in the Neo-Norman style is a museum where visitors can appreciate Robert E. Lee by contemplating the “Recumbent Lee,” a beautiful white sculpture of the General lying in the battlefield in full uniform. History lovers will even be able to honor Lee’s faithful steed, Traveler, who is buried outside the Chapel; students show their appreciation by dropping in a coin in the nearby fountain in hopes for success in their studies. With a 600 seat auditorium, the Chapel is still used for important activities, lectures, and concerts. The architectural styles exhibited in the district’s nine buildings are Greek Revival, Classical, and Roman Revival.
21. Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University
Founded in 1875 by a former slave named William Hooper Council, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University is a public, historically black, land-grant university with about 5300 students in Normal, Alabama. The school is located on 2300-acres laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., the designer of New York’s Central Park. The AAMU Historic District was designated in 2001 and is comprised of 2900 acres, with 24 buildings and 4 structures. The architectural style consists of Modern Movement and Neo-Classical Revival. The James H. Wilson building typifies the Neo-Classical with two-tiered pediment porticoes, supported by four Ionic columns. The center of the building is three stories with two-story wings on each side. The cornice is decorated with small dentils on the wings and larger ones on the architrave. The building is now used for the State Black Archives Research Center and Museum. With its temple styled pedimented portico, the Carnegie Library is another example of the historic and Neo-Classical style at AAMU.
20. Wesleyan College
Located on the northern outskirts of Macon Georgia, Wesleyan College sits on 200 acres, which is also known as the Wesleyan College Historic District. The School was founded in 1836 as Georgia Female College, the oldest women’s college in the United States. The core of the present campus was built between 1927 and 1928; most of the buildings are built in the Georgian Revival style. The historic district consists of approximately 30 buildings including Tate and Taylor Halls, the Porter Gym, the original Candler Library, and the Porter Fine Arts Building. Historic 1936 entry gates are at the main entrance near Tate Hall. The Wesleyan College Historic District is significant due to its impressive architecture; the buildings are good examples of the use of the Georgian Revival style for a college campus, with the use of red brick, stone, and cast concrete elements of the style. Macon Georgia is an excellent place to visit for the history buff, it is home to 14 historic districts with over 6,000 buildings, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
19. University of South Carolina
Patterned after the English university, University of South Carolina Old Campus District displays architectural, educational, and recreational significance. The district is surrounded by a brick wall called “The Horseshoe Wall” built in 1935. The wall was originally built to keep students from local taverns sneaking onto campus. Unsuccessful in that intent, the wall did save the school from being burnt down during the Civil War. Horseshoe Wall and multiple buildings of the over 20 contributing properties were designed by Robert Mills, famed first federal architect and designer of the Washington Monument. The basic layout of buildings is in a tree-shaded quadrangle with simple Republican architecture. The South Carolina Library, constructed in 1840 is the oldest separate college library in the United States. Every building on this history lover’s district tells a story. The school website says, “For decades (and even centuries), the buildings have stood resolutely, bearing witness to the atrocities of war, fire, and riots. They’ve also been proud hosts, welcoming esteemed guests such as President William Howard Taft and Pope John Paul II.” In fact, the amazing history of the district can be read about in detail in a book written by Elizabeth Cassidy West and Katherine Thompson Allen, published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2015.
18. Talledega College
Talledega College is a testament in the struggle for freedom and the hope to live up to our founding ideals. Originally founded in 1867 through the inspiration of two former slaves, the school became a liberal arts institution predominately for blacks and now serves 1500 students. During Reconstruction, the freedmen of Mobile said, “We regard the education of our children and youths as vital to the preservation of our liberties, and true religion as the foundation of all real virtue, and shall use our utmost endeavors to promote these blessings in our common country.” The Talledega Historic District consists of 32 buildings on about 55 acres and was so named in 1990. In addition to historic and social significance for African-Americans and civil rights (education for African-Americans was illegal from 1832 in Alabama), is the marvelous range of mid-nineteenth and twentieth century architecture: Greek Revival (Swayne Hall, 1853, also a National Historic Landmark), Queen Anne (Foy Cottage, 1901), Romanesque (DeForest Chapel, 1901), Italianate (President’s House, 1881); to the twentieth century Colonial Revival (Savery Library, 1939 and College Inn, 1930). Also noteworthy is the effort to arrange aesthetic buildings with landscaped open spaces, such as in front of Foster Hall and Foy Cottage, as well as the central quadrangle. Many visitors frequent the Savery Library to enjoy the American Missionary Association, and to this day DeForest Chapel is famous for speakers such as W.E.B DuBois and Martin Luther King Jr.
17. University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas Campus Historic District was built in many phases, beginning with the construction of Old Main in 1879. Old Main is the oldest building on campus, and one of the most recognizable symbols of the University and of higher education in Arkansas. It was designed by architect John Mills Van Osdel, and construction was carried out by William Mayes. Because the campus was built in many phases, buildings were constructed haphazardly around campus. In order to unify the overall feel, in 1925 the architecture firm Jamieson & Spearl designed a master plan, which includes many of the Collegiate Gothic style buildings that allowed for more structure and cohesiveness. Today, the University of Arkansas has grown into a public university with over four 26,000 students enrolled in 188 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.
16. Emory University
Photo By: Dawnwella
Emory University is located in a historical part of Atlanta, Georgia, and is delightfully situated among four historic districts. Emory Grove Historic District, Emory University Historic District, University Park-Emory Highlands Estates Historic District, and the Oxford Historic District all border or are a part of one of the University’s campuses; the Oxford Historic District includes all of the Oxford College of Emory University. This particular historic district covers 146 acres and includes 23 contributing buildings, two contributing sites, and one other contributing structure. History abounds, and there is no shortage of interesting places to visit. At the center of the campus quad, there is a marble shaft monument dedicated by the Masonic Lodge of Georgia to Emory’s first President; Seney Hall, Language Hall, the “Old Gym”, Candlerk Hall, Haygood Hall, Few Hall, a Confederate cemetery, Allen Memorial Church, and Phi Gamma Hall are all historical sites on campus worth mentioning. Nearby, visitors will find the Oxford Cemetery, the Old Church, and houses built by Emory College’s founders. Between the Oxford Historical District and the other surrounding historical sites, Emory College is home to a plethora of history and a great place to visit for lovers of lore.
15. University of California – Berkeley
Photo By: David Litman
In 1898, William Randolph Hearst’s mother funded the “International Competition for the Phoebe Hearst Architectural Plan for the University of California,” which led to the design and construction of the historic part of the UC Berkeley campus. This competition came about from the one-upmanship between two prominent families at the time, the Hearst and Stanford families of the Bay Area. When the Stanford family founded Stanford University, the Hearst family decided to “adopt” UC Berkeley and develop their own institution. Although the historic part of UC Berkeley is not actually designated as a National Historic District, there are over 20 surviving structures that are designated as historic buildings. Most of the older campus is built in the Beaux-Arts Classical style, which was the style preferred by architect John Galen Howard and Phoebe Hearst, who hired him. The enduring symbol of campus is the Sather Tower, also known as the “Campanile,” which stands 303 feet high and can be seen for miles around.
14. University of Pennsylvania
Photo By: f1 1photo
Famously founded by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania is one of the nine Colonial Colleges, and one of several universities that claim to be the first university in the United States. With such a founding, there is no doubt the University is rich in history. The core of the University of Pennsylvania campus takes the visitor back a century to historically designed buildings, serene walkways, and magnificent trees. For example, Hamilton Walk brings together the sprawling Jacobethan designed dormitories along its north side with the medical and science buildings (Veterinary, Biology, and Medicine) designed in an English Gothic mode on the south, creating a picturesque back street for the impressive dormitory facade. Locust Walk was the heart of the original campus and contains two buildings from the 1870s that were designed by T. W. Richards in an Italian Gothic style. Not only is the University of Pennsylvania an important educational center, it is an architectural showplace, and one of the great places in our nation to view the foundations of education in America.
13. University of Connecticut
Photo By: Jerry Dougherty
In the late 1800s, the traditional American system of higher education that produced professionals in law, theology, and education began to be questioned. Populists called for new types of institutions to provide training for “the common man in useful occupations.” These ideas resulted in the establishment of the Land Grant Act, or the Morrill Act, of 1862. Federally mandated and supported agricultural and technical schools were founded to provide an education for all social classes. Funding was provided by the sale of government land and allotted to each state to establish or expand its agricultural and technical programs. In 1880, Charles and Augustus Storrs offered 170 acres of land and $5,000 to the State of Connecticut for the establishment of a school of agriculture in the community bearing their name. The Storrs Agricultural School opened in 1881 with 13 students to provide an opportunity for the farmers’ sons to receive an education in the agricultural arts, entrance requirements were not rigorous and most courses were of a practical nature. The University of Connecticut was born. Today, the University of Connecticut Historic District-Connecticut Agricultural School is a 105-acre historic district with 47 buildings.
12. University of Virginia
Photo By: Karen Blaha
“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” This was inscribed in one of the most fascinating founders in our nation’s history, Thomas Jefferson. Best known for penning the Declaration of Independence, he was also a kind of Renaissance man – architect, farmer, musician, and philosopher. Known for designing Monticello, he also designed the grounds that now form the University of Virginia Historic District, called by Jefferson the “Academical Village.” He envisioned students and professors living and learning in close proximity. This district is also on the World Heritage List due to its international significance. Jefferson designed, supervised, and served the school as a Board member and the architectural style present displays his mastery of Palladian and Neoclassical forms. The Lawn is surrounded by 10 Pavilions, two-story buildings each a representing a Roman order, and each uniquely displays the dignity with unique gardens behind. The site has been modified however retains much of the original design and appearance. Notable structures include the Rotunda, based on the Pantheon, and Cabel Hall featuring finely executed Greek Ionic portico and sculptured pediment. In addition to the Jeffersonian elements, other notable structures remain since the cornerstone was laid in 1817. For example the University Chapel (1889) is a picturesque building inspired by the Gothic parish churches of England.
11. Emory & Henry College
Because of its distinguished history, Emory & Henry College is designated as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register. Emory & Henry was granted the honor for having pioneered in efforts to establish higher education in rural Southwest Virginia. The college is named after John Emory, a renowned Methodist bishop, and Patrick Henry, a American patriot and Virginia’s first governor of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame. Boasting a dynamic history, the college closed its doors in April 1861 during the Civil War and was commandeered by the Confederate States in 1862, operating as a hospital until 1865. During this time, the campus saw battle during the Battle of Saltville. The college reopened after the Civil War ended. All 335 acres of the campus is listed on the National Historic Register, and is located in the beautiful, lush Appalachian highlands of Southwest Virginia.
10. Clemson University
Photo By: Rob Hainer
Originally the site of United States Vice President John C. Calhoun’s plantation, Fort Hill, Clemson University is home to two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When Clemson passed away in 1888, his will stated that he was “determined to devote the bulk of property to the establishment of an agricultural college upon the Fort Hill place.” His wishes were followed, and the land was given to the state of South Carolina for the creation of a public university. The districts are noted for their intact collection of late nineteenth century and early twentieth century educational buildings. The original Fort Hill mansion started as a small four-room house that was built in 1802; today the mansion reflects the furnishings of the Calhoun/Clemson family. Together, the districts included 15 buildings and contributing properties including Hardin Hall, Trustee House, Riggs Hall, Sirrine Hall, the Outdoor Theater, Bowman Field, Godfrey Hall, and several others.
9. Yale University
Photo By Eumenes12
For 378 years New Haven has evolved and been important in our nation’s history. From quaint Puritan settlement to the hip urban center it is today, it has a rich and diverse history. Yale University began in 1701 “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences (and) through the blessing of Almighty God.” The Hillhouse Avenue Historic District takes up two blocks, has 24 structures, and covers 18 acres. The historic roots extent back to entrepreneur and representative James Hillhouse, who laid out the area in 1792 and began planting elms. Perhaps the most significant development of the district was the mansion and surrounding villa his son had built. The Mary Prichard house (1836) was designed by A.J. Davis and is a “stately two-story, three-bay wide stuccoed-brick Greek Revival style dwelling with a flat roof and slightly embellished Greek Corinthian order front portico.” There are many notable styles of buildings in the district, all owned by the University, except St. Mary’s Church. Now the buildings are used for academic or administrative purposes.
8. Oregon State University
The provisions of the Land-Grant College Act were “irrevocably adopted” by the Oregon Legislature in October in 1862, although no action was taken toward actual construction of such a college at the time. Later, in 1868, the Oregon Legislature designated Corvallis College as the Agricultural College for the State of Oregon. In 1871, nearly 35 acres of farmland west of Corvallis was purchased by citizens of Benton County for the establishment of the experimental farm as required by the provisions of the Morrill Act. This land became the site of today’s OSU campus and was known as “College Hill.” Today, Oregon State University is the only land-grant institution in the state. The Oregon State University Historic District, located on the main university campus in Corvallis, is a well-preserved example of campus development in Oregon between 1888 and 1957. The district reflects the development of the main university campus from its beginnings in the late 1880s through the post-World War II era, and includes 54 contributing buildings and a number of open spaces. There is no doubt that Oregon’s agricultural roots are reflected here.
7. Washington University
“The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable,” said the great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, there are over 20 beautifully solemn historic buildings in Collegiate Gothic style. Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, and built over about half a century, James P. Jamienson used a variety of features to create a unified and aesthetically appealing look: Red granite, green slate shingles, copper flashing, vertical accents such as buttresses and decorative drainage pipes, carved limestone motifs (such as the coat of arms of George Washington or fleur-de-lis of St. Louis) on arches and pinnacles, elongated H-shaped plans with a central tower, many storied, and all surrounded by open green spaces. Also of note in this district is the excellent condition of the buildings, which though the functions have changed much over the years, are still in used by the University today. Some buildings of note are: Brookings Hall, the inspiring landmark building of the campus and used for the 1904 World’s Fair administrative building, Ridgley Library built in 1900, Busch Hall, and many more.
6. Hampden – Sydney College
Hampden–Sydney College began in temporary wooden structures on November 10, 1775, on the eve of American Independence, moving into its three-story brick building early in 1776. The college has been in continuous operation since that date, operating under the British, Confederate, and United States flags. Since the college was founded before the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, it was eligible for an official coat of arms and armorial bearings from the College of Arms of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom. It is the 10th oldest college in the United States, and the last college founded before the American Revolution. In addition to its rich history, Hampden-Sydney College has continued to flourish today as one of the principal and oldest educational institutions in Virginia. The survival of most of the original buildings in their original setting have preserved the nineteenth-century rural college atmosphere. Not only may visitors enjoy strolling through the historically rich campus, they may visit the Esther Thomas Atkinson Museum which focuses on promoting the history of the college and its role in the history of Virginia and the nation.
5. Fisk University
Founded in 1866 in Nashville, Tennessee, Fisk University has great historical significance as the first African-American institution to gain accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The entire 40-acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Six months after the end of the Civil War, leaders of the northern American Missionary Association founded Fisk Free Colored School for the education of freedmen. The school was named in honor of General Clinton B. Fisk who made unused barracks available to the school. He also endowed Fisk with $30,000. The campus is filled with contributing historical buildings, all with interesting and compelling stories behind their construction. Notably, Jubilee Hall was a declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Its beautiful architecture remains intact today and is a prime example of many of the aesthetic values of nineteenth-century architecture. As the historical heart of the campus it serves as an architectural focal point.
4. Harvard University
Established in 1636, and one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the United States, it is no wonder that Harvard University is home to a plethora of historical sites. The Harvard Houses Historic Districts encompasses seven residential colleges that were constructed between 1913 and 1930 as part of Harvard’s house system. In addition to this Historic District, there are 17 other buildings or structures that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Memorial Hall was designed by William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brant and constructed in 1870-73 as a memorial to Harvard men who died in defense of the Union during the Civil War. As for architectural significance, one of the most dramatic and original examples of a public building composed in the High Victorian Gothic style in the United States is Memorial Hall, which stands today in much the same state as when it was built. Other notable historic buildings at Harvard University include University Hall, the University Museum, and the Sears Tower, which is a historic astronomical observatory that is part of the Harvard Observatory.
3. Virginia Military Institute
“Stonewall” Jackson, one of the most beloved generals in history whose tactical genius and valor in the Civil War is the stuff of legend, was a notable professor at Virginia Military Institute. Founded in 1839 by Claudius Crozet, a brilliant French military engineer who was forced out of the French military after the downfall of Napoleon, and known as the “West Point of the South,” VMI has trained many famous war heroes in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Other than remarkable historical significance, the district displays noteworthy architecture. The buildings on the 12-acre district are mostly Neo-Gothic, mixing the subsidiary styles variously known as Collegiate, Academic, Military, Cathedral, and Tudor Gothic. The oldest building in the district, the Barracks, is Revival Gothic and a National Historic Landmark. It was originally designed by A.J. Davis in 1850, bombarded in the Civil War, and rebuilt in 1900 with some additions in the mid-twentieth century. Notable to the visitor or student is the VMI Museum right next door to the Barracks. The Commandants Quarters, now the Matthew Fontaine Maury House, was also designed by A.J. Davis and built in 1852. Used as a residence for deans, and now for military officers, the house consists of a basement, two stories, and one room on the third story of the tower. The battlemented parapet has a corbelled brick band in a serrated pattern. All in all, this historic district is one of a kind: historic military academy, noted Neo-Gothic Revival style architecture, famous designer A.J. Davis, all with an excellent museum to boot.
2. Judson College
Since its founding in 1838, Judson College has been a center of education for women, making it one of the oldest women’s colleges still in existence in the United States. Chartered by the state legislature on January 9, 1841 as Judson Female Institute, Judson College has grown from its first class of nine students to a fully accredited, four-year educational college for women. The present campus is located on land donated by Mrs. Julia Barren, a prominent citizen and benefactor of Baptist institutions in Marion, including Judson and Howard College. The residential neighborhoods surrounding Judson College contain an impressive array of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture including Classical Revival, mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival, and Romanesque styles, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival styles. The Judson College Historic District contains 65 contributing and 33 non-contributing buildings. Visitors can tour these historic buildings on campus, stopping at the Carnegie Library, which houses the Alabama’s Women’s Hall of Fame that was established to provide a permanent place of honor for Alabama’s most outstanding women. The size of the district, along with the historical significance places it at second on the list.
1. Wells College
Wells College was founded in 1868 in Aurora Village, a college town in New York, by Henry Wells, also founder of American Express and Wells Fargo. The Historic District has a fascinating history featuring the intersection of the colonial, revolutionary, industrial and modern periods, the Erie Canal, and the relationship of the Cayuga tribe, part of the Iroquois Federation for which the county is named after. The historic district designation in 1980 covers 1040 acres and has 92 buildings and three structures. The function of the area has been in commerce, trade, domestic housing and living, and education. Recently, as with other historic districts there is quite a bit of controversy over preserving, protecting, and re-adapting the buildings for use today. Wells College has 14 structures of the total in the historic district. There are many beautiful buildings with a diversity of styles such as Early Republic, mid-nineteenth Century Revival, and Late Victorian. The Pettibone House, 1858, is a Gothic Revival stone structure, Glen Park, and the mansion built for Henry Wells in the late nineteenth century is in the beautiful Tuscan Village style; it was donated to the college and is used today as a residence hall. As historical appreciation is easy and enjoyable as a student or visitor at Wells College, there is no doubt that it belongs at the top of the list.