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.