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The Campus and Early Buildings (1886-1928)
In 1886, David Bancroft Johnson, superintendent of the Columbia, S.C., city school system, journeyed to Boston, Massachusetts to see Robert C. Winthrop, chairman of the Peabody Education Board. His objective was to secure money from the Board to start a teacher training school for women in Columbia.
Columbia, like most cities in the South at the time, was plagued with a shortage of teachers, and Johnson believed that the problem could be alleviated by educating women to be teachers. After the short interview, Winthrop promised Johnson that the Peabody Board would give him $1500 to start a new school.
On November 15, 1886 the Winthrop Training School formally opened. It had nineteen students under the tutelage of one teacher, Miss Mary Hall Leonard. After securing the money from Winthrop, Johnson had gone personally to Bridgewater, Massachusetts to obtain Miss Leonard’s services for the fledgling institution. The school was named in honor of its benefactor, Robert C. Winthrop.
The first year was spent at a renovated stable, a small brick building which at one time had been the chapel of the Columbia Theological Seminary. It was here that the father of President Woodrow Wilson taught and where Woodrow Wilson, himself, confessed and accepted Christ in 1873.
The second session, 1887-88, Johnson managed to obtain a small two-story frame building which was moved to the location of the city high school on Marion Street. For eight years, the school conducted its business. As the school grew, changing from a one-year to a two-year curriculum during the 1891-92 term, the building was enlarged with a chapel and classrooms added.
However, by 1890 Winthrop had outgrown its facilities, forcing the Board of Trustees to consider finding a new home for the school. In 1891, the South Carolina General Assembly adopted an act establishing a normal and industrial college for women. The act also charged the Winthrop Board of Trustees with the responsibility of selecting a suitable location for the college.
In 1893, after receiving bids from Spartanburg, Chester, Rock Hill, and Anderson, the Board reached its decision. Rock Hill became the new home of Winthrop College.
The first building constructed on the campus of the South Carolina Industrial and Winthrop Normal College was Main Building, now known as Tillman Hall. It was completed in 1895 and has served ever since as the focal point of the college’s campus.
When Winthrop opened its doors in fall of 1895, the Main Building housed all the administrative offices, classrooms, and labratories , and the college library, an auditorium, two social halls, a gymnasium with swimming pool, an art room, and museum.
To accommodate the student body a dormitory was built in 1895. Originally called North Dormitory because it was located on the north side of the campus, the residence was renamed Margaret Nance Hall in 1925 in honor of D.B. Johnson’s mother. It was three stories high, contained 157 rooms, and could accommodate 282 persons.
In 1896 the Infirmary providing student health services was opened. It had fifty-five beds with a staff of two registered nurses, a housekeeper, and a town physician who visited everyday.
Another building Catawba Hall, was completed in 1891 north of what is now Withers Building. It was originally the dormitory of the Rock Hill Presbyterian High School and was later used as a faculty resident and then a storage house. The building was razed in 1968.
Almost from the beginning the Winthrop administration anticipated growth. The foundation for another dormitory was already being laid in 1897. McLaurin Hall (originally known as South Dormitory), completed in 1901, had room for as many students as Margaret Nance Hall.
From 1900 to 1928, Winthrop experienced a tremendous expansion and building program. The college became one of the largest women’s colleges in the country. A large part of the success of Winthrop was due to the ability of President D.B. Johnson to secure money for programs and for the construction of needed buildings. He was a very familiar figure at the state legislature’s budget meetings.
Johnson was also very successful at obtaining money from private sources. The Carnegie Library, now the Rutledge Art Building was constructed in 1905 with funds from Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and philanthropist. John D. Rockefeller, oil magnate and philanthropist, provided funds for building Johnson Hall in 1920. In 1915, when Winthrop needed a gymnasium to support the curriculum and student activities, Johnson again approached the Peabody Board for money for the construction of Peabody Gymnasium.
Dormitory space was a continuing problem for the young college and its president. By 1910, Winthrop was being forced to turn away about half of each year’s applicants. To meet the demand several dormitories were completed during Johnson’s tenure as president: Bancroft Hall in 1909, Roddey Hall in 1920, and Breazeale Hall in 1924.
Other buildings completed during the 1900 to 1928 period include a science building in 1912, Tillman Hall, which was razed in 1962; a dining hall, McBryde Cafeteria, in 1909; a student union building, Johnson Hall, in 1920; a training school, Withers in 1912; and a residence hall for women of the faculty, Joynes Hall, in 1926.
During this period, the final twenty-eight years of Johnson’s life, one-half of Winthrop’s physical plant was brought to a state of near completion. Winthrop College, largely through the energy and drive of its president, had managed to accomplish something that no one who had watched the birth of the college in 1886 would have believed possible.