Ground-breaking at Wake Forest

by Bill Hinman, Wake Forest Magazine, 1975


     In his inaugural address as the tenth president of Wake Forest College, Harold Tribble pledged himself to the goal "that the college which moves may be Wake Forest at her best." When Wake Forest left hallowed old halls on the magnolia-covered campus in eastern North Carolina and set about the business of education over a hundred miles away on the new red clay of the Reynolda campus in industrialized Winston-Salem, a unique and praiseworthy goal had been accomplished. In 1946 the trustees of the College accepted the offer of money and a new campus-- and along with them the challenge of removing an institution and a spirit to a new location. Ten years later the doors opened on the Reynolda campus and the new Wake Forest had begun her history. Almost exactly midway, in 1951, old symbolically met new when the President of the United States turned a shovel of dirt and broke ground for the construction of the Reynolda campus. An editorial in the Old Gold and Black a week before the historic event warned students: "not to attend (the ground-breaking ceremonies) would be like playing hookey' when diplomas are being passed out." As the paper concluded, "the Ground-Breaking ceremonies will be something worth telling the grandchildren about."

    Early in 1951 plans began to move toward the October 15th date set for ground-breaking. Tribble, engineer of the removal and enlargement program, took the leading role in organizing the event. Aided by committees on the old campus in Wake Forest and in Winston-Salem, he quickly foresaw its significance, and work began to assure that the ground-breaking ceremonies would reflect the importance of the move.

    In Winston-Salem, Egbert Davis headed the ground-breaking committee; Irving Carlyle chaired the fund-raising committee which received pledges for nearly $1,500,000 from the citizens of Winston-Salem. In Charlotte, George D. Heaton and Casper C. Warren worked hard promoting the program. In 1947, Dr.Warren had been named chairman of the Committee of Seventeen, which directed the campaign to raise $1,500,000 for the College's relocation from North Carolina Baptist churches. Gordon Gray, president of the University of North Carolina, was a leading figure in the negotiations which made possible the sizable Z.Smith Reynolds Foundation grant which initiated the removal and enlargement program. Judge Hubert E. Olive, chairman of the College Board of Trustees, chaired a state-wide committee for theWake Forest Enlargement Program. On campus, meanwhile, J. Allen Easley, acting head of theSchool of Religion, took on the responsibility of coordinating the ground-breaking ceremonies from the student and faculty angle.

    Then the news hit the campus, Winston-Salem, and the state: the president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, had accepted Tribble's invitation to give the main address at the ground-breaking ceremonies. It would be the sixth time ever that a president of the United States had been to North Carolina, and in light of the ongoing conflict in Korea it promised to be an historic presidential event. The exciting news suddenly brought the move and enlargement of a Southern Baptist college into international light in the eyes of many, including Tribble. In chapel shortly before the big day, he told the student body and faculty, "it is significant that the President of the United States will participate in a program such as this. What he says on thatday will be quoted around the world as his Wake Forest speech."

    In Winston-Salem, meanwhile, preparations were well under way by October. The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel coordinated press coverage of the ceremonies, providing arrangements for two hundred reporters. Roads were laid out on the three-hundred-acre Reynolda property, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Babcock. (Mrs. Babcock  of Wake Forest planned the logistics for the big day. was the daughter of the tobacco millionaire R.J.Reynolds, and she and her husband were members of the Board of Trustees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the largest single source of funds for the enlargement program.) Signs were put up on campus building sites, dotted with concession stands by the time the crowds arrived. A large podium was erected on the site of the future Wait Chapel. 

    The air in Winston-Salem was electric; in Wake Forest it was bittersweet. Dan Fagg, president of the Wake Forest student body, wrote about it in the October 15th issue of the Old Gold and Black.

At last, Ground-breaking is a fact; the vision is about to become a reality. We are saddened to know that soon we can not return to Wake Forest and stride down the uneven brick walks, smelling the heavy scent of magnolias and knowing that we are home.
We realize that we are sentimental, but we are willing - even happy - to give up this pleasure, knowing that a greater institution shall arise from this one. 

    The words of Winston-Salem's mayor, Marshall C.Kurfees, spoke for many Twin Citians who looked forward to having a growing college bring its spirit, its culture, and its revenues into the community. "I am confident," he said, "that the removal of the college to Winston-Salem will enlarge and insure its future service and will be of mutual benefit to everybody concerned." Five years after the trustees of the College had agreed to the removal program, the stage was set. A mill worker in the Virginia Mills at Swepsonville named W.E. Oldham, with no closer ties to the school than friendship and a desire to help, gave the shovel which signified the official beginning of construction on the new Wake Forest College.

    On October 15, the day of the Wake Forest speech, a special issue of the Old Gold and Black forecasted that "with continuation of such enthusiastic support by Wake Forest's friends, a dream will become a reality in 1954" - the originally planned opening date of the new campus. No one seemed to heed the words of Billy Graham, who on his visit to the old campus the Wednesday before the Monday ground-breaking, pronounced it "the darkest hour in history." For, he warned, "if we be lieve our leaders, we're standing on the brink of disaster . . . Unless we solve our international situation, we may not have a 1954." As Wake Forest's first alumnus to die in the Korean conflict was killed in a training flight in the States, and as steel supplies went on ration, a $15,500,000 building project was begun in Winston-Salem.

    Professor Easley and his co-workers in the town of Wake Forest planned the logistics for the big day. A survey revealed that some five hundred students wished to ride buses to Reynolda, and fourteen buses were hired for the trek. (Originally the administration had proposed to supply gasoline for all students who would fill up their cars with students for the trip, but insurance complications resulted in the bus caravan.) Students Ida Kay Jordan and Charles Glanville assisted Easley in organizing the transportation; Don Freeman and Bob Murphy prepared gold and black decorations for the buses.Camp Mason, Lloyd Abernathy, Joe Mauney, and Blair Bryan were chief marshalls for 1,200 Wake Forest College and Bowman Gray School of Medicine students who watched the ceremonies at Reynolda, each wearing an identification button and standing in a roped-off area which Easley described as the "best possible location from which to witness the ceremonies."

    At 7:30 a.m. on what was supposed to be a cool October 15 but which turned out to be sunny and mild, a line of buses appeared on the campus in Wake Forest. By 8:30, five hundred students were on their way. At the First Baptist Church in Winston Salem a few hours later they picked up box lunches.But when they arrived at the Reynolda site - just north of the then city line - many found themselves "disappointed by what they didn't see and trying hard to imagine what they would see in 1954," according to the Old Gold and Black of October 22. They became part of a crowd, estimated at twenty-five thousand, which viewed the ground breaking ceremonies that afternoon at 2:00.

    With the Mineral Springs, North Carolina High School Band playing "Hail to the Chief," President Truman arrived at the Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem shortly before noon. President Tribble and North Carolina Governor Kerr Scott led the welcoming party. A Lincoln convertible had been brought from Washington for the President, and the distinguished guests made their way toward the Babcock home for a luncheon along a route where, according to one reporter, "Confederate flags were more in evidence than the Stars and Stripes." During lunch at the Babcock home, now known best as Reynolda House, the city of Winston-Salem presented a silver bowl to the President. Other notable and honored guests for the day were North Carolina congressmen, Undersecretary of State James E. Webb, and Assistant Attorney General of the United States T. Lamar Caudle. Tribble's dream was coming true. 

    The program for the ground-breaking ceremonies began with the singing of "America." The Rev. Ralph A. Herring, - pastor of the First Baptist Church, former president of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, former vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a graduate of Wake Forest - gave the invocation and President Tribble greeted the crowd. "Resolutions in appreciation of William Neal Reynolds," who had set up a very handsome trust fund for the College, were given on behalf of the trustees by Irving Carlyle, another alumnus and a prominent Winston-Salem attorney who served as a state senator from Forsyth County and as a member of the planning and build ing committee for the new school. 

    "And now, Judge Olive, it gives me much pleasure to present to you for the College this deed for Reynolda on behalf of Mrs. Babcock and myself." With these words the chairman of the Board of Trustees accepted the deed to over three hundred acresof land then unofficially valued at $600,000-$900,000. Judge Olive, who had also served as president of the Wake Forest Alumni Association, as a North Carolina Superior Court judge for eight years, and as chairman of the state elections board, accepted the land deed and a $1,000,000 check from the Baptist State Convention for the new College chapel, presented by the Rev. Casper C. Warren, another trustee and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte.

   A Winston-Salem native who was the son of Bowman Gray (chief benefactor of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine), Gordon Gray brought greetings from his hometown and from other North Carolina colleges and universities. He was followed by the Wake Forest Glee Club, Band, and student body, who under the direction of Professor Thane McDonald sang "Dear Old Wake Forest."

    President Truman, a Missouri Baptist, delivered a "Wake Forest speech" of twenty minutes. He reviewed the history of the College, praised its work, and paid tribute to the individuals who were making its move and enlargement possible. He drew a parallel between the College's history and current international affairs. He reaffirmed the United States' readiness to work toward arms limitations and peace with the Soviet Union. (Appropriately - or ironically - on the Thursday following Truman'smpledge to work toward peace with the Soviet Union, the Russian Don Cossack Chorus sang at old Wake Forest.)

    Following the prayer of dedication by the Rev.George D. Heaton, pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte and a longtime friend and supporter of Wake Forest, Truman, Judge Olive, Trustee Odus M. Mull, and Tribble each turned a shovel-full of dirt to officially open the construction of a new chapel and campus. Ceremonies closed with the singing of the doxology. A scale model of the new campus brought the crowd forward to the platform area. (It also brought someone who stole the presidential seal from the front of the podium and the silver encrusted glass from which the president drank during his address.)

    Harry Truman's "Wake Forest speech" had climaxed a truly big day for the College. Harold Tribble's dream of a day befitting the occasion had come true, and with the ground broken at Reynolda the "best Wake Forest" became better. Thus President Truman had closed his address: "armed with the faith and hope that made this College and this country great, you may declare in the words of King David, 'Through God we shall do valiantly.' "

    That memorable ground-breaking day at the new Wake Forest was a great step forward. Yet it left a deeply planted footprint in the old Wake Forest which must always be remembered. Five years after those famous shovels of dirt were turned, complaints by students on the brand new campus about non?draining bathrooms seemed to echo words heard in 1951 on the old campus; so did talk of uneven bricks and wide walkway gaps. There was more money, a larger campus, a new town, and a day in the world's news. But there were still students, a dedicated faculty and administration, and a Wake Forest College that remembered.

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