Layers of history and postcards

It’s not unusual for someone to ask me to give a tour of campus to a visitor.  When that happens, I like to start on the front steps of Main Building.  There, I can point out the layers of history on the campus.  From that spot, an observer can see elements from the original campus and each successive wave of construction projects.  A visitor can see Main Building and two or three of the original faculty homes: DuPre Administration, Snyder House, and Carlisle-Wallace House.  The original Whitefoord Smith Library, built in 1910 and now the Charles E. Daniel Building, represents the Snyder era.  The Cleveland Science Hall, built in 1904 and demolished by 1960, and the original Carlisle Memorial Hall, built in 1912 and demolished in the early 1980s, are other buildings from this first era of campus growth.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the college expanded Andrews Field House and built Greene Hall, and then in the 1960s, in a major construction boom, built Milliken Science Hall, Shipp and DuPre Halls, and at the end of the decade, Burwell, Marsh Hall, and the Sandor Teszler Library.  From the front steps of Main, I point out Milliken and the library as representatives of a campus growing to accommodate the needs of the Baby Boom generation.  I can point to recent changes – the new Roger Milliken Science Center, completed in 2001, represents this era.  And finally, with the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts under construction, I can talk about the campus of today.

Below are some postcards, some of which come from the early 20th century, that show some of these buildings.


Main Building, Cleveland Science, and the Fitting School.
Main Building, Cleveland Science, and the Fitting School.
Main Building
Main Building
Main Building before 1908
Cleveland Science Hall
Cleveland Science Hall
Snyder Hall

Methodism in Spartanburg

Some years ago, I gave a talk to the South Carolina Conference Historical Society about Methodism in Spartanburg. It is way too long to repeat here, but I want to mention just a few of the historic churches in this area that have contributed to the growth of Upcountry Methodism.

On one of his 1788 visits to the Spartanburg area, Bishop Francis Asbury wrote in his journal, “Our Friends here on Tyger River are much alive to God, and have built a good chapel.” Three older congregations, Liberty northeast of Spartanburg, Shiloh in Inman, and Sharon near Reidville all have their roots in the late 18th or early 19th century. Liberty pre-dates the first Annual Conference in South Carolina, and made a traditional evolution from brush arbor to log structure to frame church. It has served as something of a focal point in the Liberty community for centuries.

Church legend holds that famed preacher Lorenzo Dow helped organize Sharon United Methodist Church, which was called Leonard’s Meeting House, as it was founded by the Leonard family. Lorenzo Dow was perhaps not the kind of fellow you’d want to invite to dinner – he was wild, unkempt, did not practice much in the way of personal hygiene, and was very enthusiastic in his preaching. However, during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century, he was one of the most influential preachers in America. Stories say that he could hold the attention of a crowd of 10,000, and his autobiography was one of the most popular books in America.

One very old church structure that is no longer an active congregation is Shiloh, near Inman. The church was built between 1825 and 1831, though the congregation is older than that. The church and pews were built without nails. It was discontinued as a regular preaching place around 1912 – most of the people moved from the countryside around it into Inman – but it’s still maintained and there are two services a year there – Homecoming in May and a watch night service at New Year’s – as well as occasional weddings. It is a great example of what an antebellum church would have looked like.

We’re all familiar with the stories of camp meetings, and many congregations around the state have their roots in camp meeting sites. Spartanburg’s Cannons Campground is one such church. In the history of their congregation, there’s a description of a Cannon’s Camp Meeting. The undated letter from an attendee notes that the camp meeting was one of the biggest events of the year in Spartanburg from the 1830s to the early 1900s. Always held in late summer to early fall, when the daytime temperatures had dropped somewhat but before the nights were too cool for sleeping outside, the revivals attracted attendees from all over the Upcountry. Services at Cannon’s were held five times a day, with time for breakfast, a large lunch and dinner, and plenty of time to sit around and visit with friends that they saw infrequently.

There are obviously many more churches with long histories, including Silver Hill, one of many churches founded by Father James Rosemond after emancipation, which has been a beacon to African-American Methodists in Spartanburg for 150 years. Back in years gone by, when Annual Conference met in different cities around the state, the Advocate would often run a long article on Methodism in that particular county. Hopefully I can do that from time to time.


The 1919-20 Glee Club

Recently someone handed me a program from the 1919-20 Glee Club.  Since I like to share documents here when I can, and especially new acquisitions, I’m posting it here.





William Wightman, Bishop and President

Bishop William Wightman’s career shows that Methodist clergy can wear many hats.

William M. Wightman

A Charleston native, William May Wightman was born on January 29, 1808 to parents who were active Methodists. His mother was a native of Plymouth, England, and according to family legend, sat in John Wesley’s lap as a small child. Wightman graduated from the College of Charleston in 1827, and his valedictory address is in the Wofford archives.

Wightman joined the South Carolina Annual Conference in 1828 and served appointments over the next six years on the Pee Dee Circuit and in Orangeburg, Charleston, Santee, Camden, and Abbeville. In 1834, he became a fundraiser for Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, and over the next three years, helped raise $20,000 to fulfill the Conference’s pledge to endow a chair there. He then served as a professor for two years. Thus, in his first ten years of ministry, he had served in the pulpit, as a fundraiser, and as a professor.

In 1839, he returned to South Carolina to become the presiding elder of the Cokesbury District, and in the summer of 1840, he became the editor of the Southern Christian Advocate in Charleston. His pulpit for over ten years was the paper, and he became widely known throughout the Southeast. His first election as a delegate to the General Conference came in 1840, and he was a member of the 1844 conference that saw American Methodism split into northern and southern branches. In 1845, he represented South Carolina at the founding conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was a delegate from South Carolina to the next four General Conferences. In 1854, only a mis-marked ballot prevented his election as a bishop.
That mismarked ballot may have been fortunate for Wofford College, for Wightman had been named in the will of Benjamin Wofford as one of the founding trustees of the college, and he gave the principal address at the laying of the cornerstone of Main Building in 1851. In November 1853, the trustees elected him as Wofford’s first president. Thus, the pastor, fundraiser, presiding elder, professor, and editor took on the role of college president.

Bishop Wightman
Bishop Wightman

After five years at Wofford’s helm, whose founder had been a friend of his, Wightman left to become the founding chancellor of Southern University in Alabama, now Birmingham-Southern College. And, in 1866, twelve years after a balloting error cost him the episcopacy, he was elected a bishop.

Upon his election, he returned to Charleston, where he established his headquarters. He purchased a house at 79 Anson Street in the Ansonborough section of Charleston. That house, built before 1760 and known as the Daniel Legare house, is one of the oldest homes still standing in Ansonborough. That fall, Wightman presided over his first South Carolina Conference, and for fifteen years, he presided over conferences around the South. He died on Feb. 15, 1882 in Charleston, and he is buried in that city’s Magnolia Cemetery. The bells of St. Michael’s tolled for the Methodist bishop, a rare honor that the Episcopalians conferred upon this leader of southern Methodist higher education.


Fifty Years Ago

I’ve taken a little bit of a hiatus from blogging for a few reasons. It is always a little harder to keep posting in the summer because of the combination of summer projects and vacation days. This summer was extra busy for me because I served for three months as the library’s interim director, which, of course, meant that I was doing part of two different jobs.

But, now that we have a new library dean in place, and classes are more or less underway, I’m going to try to resume the regular blog schedule. Today’s opening convocation, which is the 160th anniversary of Wofford’s opening session in 1854, reminded me of a number of upcoming anniversaries.

Perhaps the most significant is that fifty years ago this month, Wofford’s announced intention to admit all qualified students regardless of race came into full effect. In September 1964, Albert W. Gray of Spartanburg enrolled as a first-year student, becoming Wofford’s first African-American student.

Below is the memo that President Charles Marsh sent to the campus alerting the faculty and administration that Mr. Gray would be enrolling.

Fifty years is a long time, but it isn’t so very long ago. I think maybe I’ll share this letter with my first-year humanities seminar tomorrow as we discuss a novel about race and memory to help show them that the past is not so long ago.


Brushes with History Documents Uncategorized

The letter to Nelson Mandela

I wanted to post this earlier this year, during the international period of mourning following the death of South African President Nelson Mandela.  I knew this letter existed, but I couldn’t put my hands on it in the papers of President Joe Lesesne. Yesterday I figured out why I couldn’t find it in the Lesesne Papers:  It was already on my desk, in a stack of documents that needed some kind of special attention.  I had probably pulled it earlier to show to someone, and realized it was one of those items that needs to be filed in a way that an archivist can get to it quickly.  The flat file in the storage caddy on my desk, however, is not that kind of filing method.  Later today, it’s getting its own folder and note in the Lesesne Papers so that my successors (and me) can find it a little faster.

When some of our students and faculty visited South Africa on an Interim, they saw a letter from Dr. Lesesne to Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, the place where Mandela had been imprisoned for many years.  On their return to campus, they inquired if I had a copy of the letter, and much later, when we processed the collection, I found it.  It’s posted below, in case anyone is curious.


“Putting Hubby Through”

An alum contacted me recently to see if I could find a copy of one of Wofford’s “PHT” diplomas.  He couldn’t find his wife’s diploma.

“PHT,” you ask?  What kind of degree is that?

The Wofford Dames, late 1940s

It stands for “putting hubby through” – and it only makes sense in a certain era, when the student body was all male and, in the aftermath of World War II, full of veterans.  Many students in the ten or fifteen years after the war were married, and the campus provided married student apartments.  I believe Spartanburg had something of a housing shortage right after the war.

The Wofford Dames, 1952, in Carlisle Hall

The wives of the Wofford students formed a community of their own.  In 1946, with the help of the wives of some of the faculty members, the wives of the students formed the Wofford Dames.  They often took on service projects, and they raised funds for a special loan fund for married students.

Even as late as the early 1960s, a large enough group of married students were on campus that an honorary degree of “PHT” was still being given.  One can see the signatures of the president of the college, the dean of students, and the president of the student body on the certificate.


Oh yes, the question from the alum:  A few hours later, he called back and said he and his wife had found theirs, stuck inside the yearbook.  He sent me this copy – since I had never seen one of them.

I’d be happy to hear any memories of alums who were married while they were studying at Wofford, or any memories from wives of students about what it was like to live on campus.


Archivists as Connectors – or what I did at SAA

A week or so ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists, the professional association for archivists of all types in the United States. The meeting is always filled with talks, panel discussions, section meetings, and the like, and it’s where we get together to exchange ideas. I always come back with some new idea for how to handle some issue related to what I do, or with an idea for something new to try. 

This year, for the first time ever, I was actually on the program. Some colleagues in the Archivists of Religious Collections section proposed a panel on spirituality and the archival enterprise, and we all gave short talks about how we combined faith and our work. My talk was about archivists as connectors – since we Methodists are a connected people.  Here’s what I said:  

Methodism is all about the connection, and the church’s structure is part of what binds Methodists together. Use of the term “the connection” to refer to the church goes back as far as John Wesley, an Anglican priest whose Methodist societies started out as a revival movement within the Church of England. He envisioned an organized system of classes, churches, and Annual Conferences, which are like dioceses, as part of the body of Christ.

Archivists, like Methodists, are connectional.  We sit at the intersection of the past, the present, and the future.  The records that we hold today connect people to their collective past. And as we collect today’s records for tomorrow’s researchers, we connect the present to the future.

Being a connector fits in with my own theology and my own personal and professional ethos. Connectors sometimes have to cross boundaries to bring people and collections together.  I am both a professional archivist and a professional historian. At the college, I’m both professional staff and adjunct faculty. I both maintain and interpret records. I work with laity and clergy alike, trying to anticipate their needs.

Methodists, like some other denominations, have deacons, who are ordained for service, with a mission to connect the church to the world.  Archivists are sort of like deacons – we connect our collections to the broader world. I asked whether the chair of our order of deacons thought archival work would qualify as part of this ministry of a deacon, and she told me that she believed it would.

Professionally, I try to connect people to the best records to aid their research.  As religious archives, we serve the needs of our institutions, of church members researching the history of their congregation, and of course we all want to help them tell the story of their faith. We also have family history researchers who are trying themselves to connect to their past.

Whether it’s in outreach activities like speaking and writing about the collections in the archives, my hope is to give people a sense of that which connects them to the institution – college or church.  Whether it’s trying to tug on the heart-strings of alumni or to give Methodists a sense of their shared history, I want to try to draw them closer to their institutional heritage.

        It’s important not to lose sight of the stories that abound in our collections – and these are the things that can be the most rewarding to share. We all know how documents such as these can give our readers a powerful sense of history. One letter tells the life experience of a slave in South Carolina named Sancho, who was converted to Methodism by the pioneer bishop Francis Asbury. It tells of harrowing treatment at the hands of several masters who didn’t care for early 19th century Methodist zeal. It also recounts one slave owner who allowed him to practice his faith. Written near the end of his life, the letter is a testament of grace and forgiveness; it concluded: It is my prayer day and night that God would pour out his spirit and that he would revive his works abundantly and that it may extend to all people both white and black.  It moved the retired clergyman who helped me transcribe it recently to tears.  Letters like this tell us something about humanity and faith, both then and now.

So maybe some small part of what we’re doing in denominational archives is connecting people with the divine.

The Sancho letter will be featured in my September column in the SC United Methodist Advocate and I’ll blog about it later.  

Academics Faculty Photographs Uncategorized

Doc Rock

One of the dangerous privileges of working at a place like Wofford is getting to write and talk about people I’ve never met.  It’s relatively safe to write about campus characters of several generations ago, since very few people are around who knew them and who can correct my errors.  It is a whole lot more risky to write about people who others on campus still remember.

One of the many professors whose legacy is still felt on campus was Dr. John W. Harrington, who was professor of geology and department chair from 1963 until 1981, and then professor emeritus until his death in April 1986.  Born in Illinois and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Dr. Harrington attended Virginia Tech, where he majored in mining engineering.  After taking his MA and PhD in geology at the University of North Carolina in 1946 and 1948, respectively, he moved to Texas, where he was a geology professor at Southern Methodist University from 1949 to 1956.  While in Texas, he was a consultant to several oil companies, where he focused on petroleum exploration on a regional wildcatting basis.

So how did a mining engineer-wildcat oil consultant geologist wind up chairing the geology department at a liberal arts college?  Dr. Harrington later recounted that he wanted more than to teach his students at SMU (most of whom probably wanted to be oil geologists) more than to be good technicians and engineers.  He tried to teach them ways to think about science.  This led, he reported, to a rebellion in his classes.  He resigned, choosing to go into industry.  The story goes that in 1963, he was on a plane with Dean Philip Covington, and soon found himself recruited to come to Wofford, where he could teach geology in a different way.

Almost all of Dr. Harrington’s geology labs were conducted in the field.  He took students to the Tennessee mountains, the South Carolina coast, and everywhere in between, showing them “the literature of geology in the language in which it is written – the rocks, the streams, the shores, and the landforms.” His Interims were also 4-week investigations into local and regional geology.

Dr. Harrington wrote for the scientist and the literate generalist.  His book To See a World takes its title from a poem by William Blake: “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a Heaven in a wildflower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an Hour.”  The book begins with a preface about understanding science, and each chapter explores some principle about science, geology, the history of geology, and combining all of these principles.  One of his chapter on historical geology was called “The wasness of the is.”

Dance of the ContinentsAnother of his books, Dance of the Continents, is written around Harrington’s first law of science, which his editor told him to make up as a way of organizing the book.  The law is “Nature is scrutable when everything is seen in context.”  He sets out to build that context.

It is a great gift to students and alumni when a professor is not only a specialist in a discipline, but can also place that work in a greater context. “Doc Rock,” as students called him affectionately, did not simply teach the students how to identify different kinds of minerals, he taught them a way of looking at the world around them and understanding it.  And that’s the true gift of a teacher.



Burwell – 40 years and counting

For over 40 years, Wofford students have been eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Burwell Campus Center, but few probably know who the building was named for or how it has evolved over the years.

Planned in the late 1960s when the student body numbered closer to 1,000 students, the Burwell Campus Center was designed to be not just a student center, but a place to serve the entire campus community.  The building, designed by Spartanburg architects Chapman, McMillan and Associates, was a steel and brick structure, and its glass atrium quickly became an iconic space on campus.  The total cost for the building, which would bring together a number of different student activities as well as the main dining room, was about $1.2 million.

Among the facilities included in the new building were a campus post office, a large lounge, a private dining room, a conference room, and a large multi-purpose room.  A number of offices – mostly for student affairs – were included on the ground floor. A number of other offices were available for student government, the interfraternity council, and the Student Christian Council.  A dining room and serving areas for 500 students dominated the upper floor.  Rather than build a new kitchen, the college instead opted to use the existing kitchens built in the late 1950s in the basement of neighboring Wightman Hall and connect them by a service corridor. Prepared food, placed in food warmers, was moved from the kitchen to the new building and using an elevator, taken up to the serving area. Interestingly enough, in 1969 this was considered an improvement over the existing set-up, where food was transported from the Wightman basement to a dining room on the main floor by a dumbwaiter.

The building was named in honor of Ernest and Ethel Burwell, who were among the lead donors for the center.  Mr. Burwell was known around Spartanburg for his Chevrolet dealership, was a community philanthropist, founding or co-founding the children’s Christmas basket program, the Spartanburg Mental Health Clinic, and was involved in the Salvation Army and the United Way.  He helped create a number of scholarships now administered through the Spartanburg County Foundation.  He had been part of the Spartanburg community since 1920 and was a U. S Navy veteran of both World War I and World War II.  He retired with the rank of commander.

The building was formally opened on November 8, 1969.  Other rooms in the building were named for Rose and Walter Montgomery and for the Honorable J. Neville Holcombe.

Like all such buildings, the Burwell Campus Center has seen a number of changes over the years.  The dining room has been remodeled a few times, but is now cramped at certain times.  Many of the offices later moved – none of the student organizations remained in the building for long, and many of them decamped for the Campus Life Building in 1981.  The student affairs office likewise moved to new digs in the early 1980s.  Career Services occupied several offices in Burwell until the early 2000s.

The Wofford Theatre Workshop got its start in the Montgomery Room in 1970, and spent time in the old Carlisle Hall before finding a permanent home in Tony White Theater.  That room, the Montgomery Room, is now used as the faculty dining room.  The original faculty dining room, which only seated about 36 people, is the serving area for the new dining room.

Two offices later became the president’s and dean’s dining rooms, and now, merged into one, are a larger dean’s dining room, or Gingko Room.  A storage closet just outside of the Montgomery Room has become a small dining room.  The large lounge, now known as the AAAS Lounge, had a segment partitioned to serve as a career services library.  Later, the office of communications and marketing took the space vacated by career services, and they are the main administrative occupant of the building today.

Students have had a variety of nicknames for the dining room over the years – in tribute to Food Services Director Earl Buice, it was sometimes called “Buice’s Bistro.”  Later, when William May was director, students in the 1990s called it the “Bill May Cafe.”  I don’t know what students call it today – but the choices offered to today’s students (and faculty and staff) are undeniably more plentiful than they have ever been.  The room is a little more crowded today, but whenever I eat upstairs, I can still remember eating bagels and lucky charms for dinner with my classmates at our table – which came to be called the “sauce table” because of its proximity to the condiments.

Photos, top to bottom: the atrium and stairs leading up to the dining room, Burwell in 1987, and the dining room, also probably from the 1980s.