M O N U M E N T S of Brick and Learning
by Dave Roberts, WAKE FOREST MAGAZINE, July 1970
Have you ever strolled about the Wake Forest University campus, admiring the trees and Georgian architecture, paused before a name on a building and stared in ignorance at meaningless metal letters on red brick? Of course these letters sometimes evoke stray images— W-A-I-T . . . chapel . . . founder . . . runaway horse . . . More often they evoke only a nagging desire to know something about the people they represent, to see beyond the impenetrable brick into the background of their lives. Who were these people? Why are these buildings monuments to them?
Twelve buildings are named for people, plus Efird and Huffman Halls, Wingate Hall, Davis Chapel and DeTamble Auditorium. Of these seventeen people, one was the first dean of women, six were presidents of the school, and ten were benefactors. The buildings not named for people are Winston and Salem Halls, of which the origin is obvious, and Reynolda Hall, named for the Reynolds' Reynolda estate.
Samuel Wait, for whom the chapel was named, was born in New York in 1789. He studied at Columbian College (now George Washington University) and became a Baptist minister. After teaching at his alma mater four years, he became its assistant financial agent and came to North Carolina seeking funds. Because stage fare was so high at the time, Wait and the financial agent bought a horse and wagon in Norfolk, Va., to use on their Tar Heel trip. As they were leaving New Bern after a short stay, the horse bolted, demolished the wagon, and ran away. They remained about a month and Wait preached four sermons at the Baptist church there. He was apparently so impressive that he was later invited to become its pastor, and he returned to accept the position.
Wait was a powerful influence in the formation of the Baptist State Convention in 1829, and he was chosen general agent to travel throughout the state and gain support for it. Two years later, plans for a school to train ministers began taking shape. A farm about fifteen miles from Raleigh was chosen as its site, and Wait was named its principal. His title was changed to president in 1838 when the name of the school was changed to Wake Forest College.
Although ill health forced his resignation as president in 1845, Wait remained president of the board of trustees until the end of the Civil War. He died in 1867.
Wingate Hall, adjacent to Wait Chapel, was named for Washington Manly Wingate, who graduated from Wake Forest in 1849 and became acting president only five years later. After graduating, he attended Furman Theological Institute and became pastor of a Darlington, S.C., church. He was later chosen by the Wake Forest trustees as agent to increase the endowment, and after a successful fund-raising campaign he was made acting president. He became president in 1856 and remained in that post until his death in 1879. He tried to resign after the Civil War, but he was induced to remain and led the school in its recovery from the effects of the conflict. Among his accomplishments was a greatly increased endowment.
A men's dormitory was named for Charles E. Taylor, president from 1885-1905. He was educated at the University of Virginia and went to Wake Forest in 1870 as a Latin professor. As president, he worked actively to raise more money for the endowment, in addition to beautifying the campus with trees and shrubs and an unusual system of walks placed where the trails of students' feet indicated they were needed. The law and medical schools were begun under Taylor's administration, and he also started a drive for a college hospital.
Forced to resign as president in 1905 because of his increasing deafness and its effect on his natural nervousness, Taylor remained head of the school of moral philosophy until his death in 1915.
Another men's dormitory honors William L. Poteat, Taylor's successor, who received the B.A. from Wake Forest in 1877 and the M.A. some years later. Joining the faculty in 1878 he taught languages for six years before becoming assistant professor of science. Though he is best known for defending the teaching of evolution, his administration also saw the curriculum enlarged, two dormitories and a central heating plant built, and the library improved.
In 1922 Poteat was taken before the Baptist State convention for teaching evolution. He spoke in his own defense before the body and eloquently overcame his opposition. But the story does not end there; Poteat also led the fight against adoption of an anti-evolution bill in the General Assembly. Of 22 Wake Forest men in the Legislature, 21 voted against the bill, and it was defeated.
Though he retired from the presidency in 1927, Poteat continued to teach biology until a few months before his death in 1938.
Thurman D. Kitchin, also honored by a men's dormitory, became president in 1930 and served until 1950. He was one of eight brothers, all of whom attended Wake Forest. After graduation in 1905, he studied medicine at the University of North Carolina and at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, receiving the M.D. degree in 1908. He scored highest on the state medical examinations that year, and he was a family doctor for ten years before joining the faculty of the Wake Forest Medical School. He became president of the medical division two years later.
Among the achievements of Kitchin's administration were eight buildings, a stadium, the admission of women, the acceptance of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation offer for the move to Winston-Salem, and the sale of the old campus. The medical school moved to Winston-Salem and became a four-year school, and the law school became a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Although he suffered from a weak heart for the last quarter-century of his life, Kitchin accomplished all these things and dealt with serious problems such as those caused by the fire which destroyed two campus buildings in 1934. After his death in 1955, the Raleigh News and Observer said of him, "He was a man who could smile at death and work for his fellow man...."
Harold W. Tribble succeeded Kitchin as president in 1950 and led the school through the period of transition from the Wake Forest campus to the Winston-Salem site.
When this task was completed in 1956, he guided the college into another time of transition, toward university status. Graduate work was resumed in 1961 and gradually spread to more departments. Finally, in 1967, the school's name was officially changed to Wake Forest University. Having presided over the achievement of these goals, Tribble retired to his home in Blowing Rock. He was doubly honored for his accomplishments; he was made President Emeritus of the University, and the humanities building was re-named Harold W. Tribble Hall.
Lois Johnson, for whom a women's dormitory was named, was Wake Forest's first dean of women. Her brother, Gerald, attended Wake Forest and later became a famous journalist and author. She received a B.A. degree from Meredith College in 1905. She taught for several years, received an M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, and became principal of Thomasville High School.
She left that position to teach French at Wake Forest in 1942 and she was chosen dean of women that year when the school decided to admit women for the first time. On the old campus she always lived in a dormitory with the girls. She enjoyed being with them and disliked being separated from them by house mothers after the move to Winston-Salem. Miss Johnson retired in 1962 and now lives in Wagram.
One of the most important benefactors in the history of Wake Forest was Jabez Bostwick, a Standard Oil official from New York, for whom another women's dormitory was named. President Charles Taylor went to New York in 1885 seeking financial aid from rich Baptists there. Bostwick was the only one to answer Taylor's inquiring notes, but he gave $10,000 to establish a loan fund for needy students. In 1886 he gave the school $50,000, and he added another $40,000 in 1891. He died the following year, and his will provided for a donation of Standard Oil stock which has grown in value to $10-12 million in recent years.
Paul Price Davis, for whom Davis Chapel was named, attended Wake Forest from 1906-07 and later became sales manager of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He was the brother of Egbert L. Davis, for whom Davis Dormitory was named. He supported the move to Winston-Salem, but he died in 1952. His wife and children added gifts to those he had made to finance construction of Davis Chapel.
Egbert L. Davis graduated from Wake Forest in 1904 and rose rapidly in the business world after working 21 years for R. J. Reynolds. He organized the Atlas Supply Company in Winston-Salem in 1925, and in 1934 he became president of Security Life and Trust. In addition to contributing money to the school, Davis also served on the planning and building committee and on the architect's committee. He served several terms as a trustee of Wake Forest, and he was also a trustee of Baptist Hospital. He lives in Winston-Salem and is still interested in University activities.
J. B. Efird of Charlotte, founder of the Efird department store chain, gave $100,000 to Wake Forest at a crucial time. In 1951, two anonymous members of the Reynolds Foundation offered to donate $2 million if the school would raise $3 million by December 31, 1953. As time was running out, the school was $150,000 short of the goal. Efird's gift put it within reach, and the rest of the money was obtained during a ten-day extension of the deadline. The Efird Foundation gift was used for construction of the men's residence hall which bears his name.
Another men's residence hall honors Frank O. Huffman of Morganton, one of the founders of the Drexel Furniture Company, who graduated from Wake Forest in 1901. He attended Gallaudet College for training in teaching the deaf. He later entered business, becoming manager of the Drexel Company in 1906 and holding that position until his death in 1935. He was also a president of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers' Association. His wife and family donated the money for Huffman Hall.
Mrs. Elsie E. DeTamble was the wife of Frederick J. DeTamble, a pioneer automobile dealer in Winston-Salem. Both died in 1961. She willed Wake Forest nearly $58,000. Other portions of her estate went to the First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, Boys Town School in Nebraska, and Davidson College. The auditorium in Tribble Hall bears her name.
The Z. Smith Reynolds Library was named for the son of R. J. Reynolds Sr. He was obsessed with aviation and paid little attention to his father's business. At the age of 20, he lured actress Libby Holman from a promising career in the theater, married her, and took her to Winston-Salem. Soon after, he was found dead of bullet wounds in the bedroom of his mansion. His death remains a mystery. The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation offered $350,000 annually to Wake Forest in 1946 on the condition that the school be moved to Winston-Salem.
Mary Reynolds was the daughter of R. J. Reynolds, and she married Charles H. Babcock, an investment broker. At the age of 28, she became one of the world's richest women, inheriting $30 million. She helped organize the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and she also contributed to the William Neal Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, to Wake Forest, and to other civic, educational and artistic projects. She died in 1953, and her will provided for a $525,000 dormitory at Salem College. In addition to cash gifts to the Wake Forest building fund, she and her husband gave the 300-acre segment of Reynolda Estate on which the campus is located. A women's dormitory was named in her honor.
Charles Babcock was also involved in the gifts to the University of Reynolda Village and the land for Groves Stadium. His philanthropy was not limited to educational institutions; he also helped start the North Carolina Fund, an organization to fight poverty. After his death in 1968, gifts of $500,000 each from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Mrs. Nancy Susan Reynolds established the school of business administration in his honor.
William Neal Reynolds Gymnasium was named for the brother of R. J. Reynolds. He was a buyer for the tobacco company for many years and took over the presidency when his brother died in 1918. He retired in 1942. His passion was harness racing and he had one of the nation's best stables at Tanglewood. One of his horses, named Mary Reynolds, won the Hambletonian, the Kentucky Derby of trotters, in 1933. At the time of his death in 1953, he owned what some said were the two top pacers in the world. He willed Tanglewood estate to be used as a park and left stock to provide money for its maintenance. His wife was Kate Bitting Reynolds, for whom a Winston-Salem hospital is named, and Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh was endowed by members of his family in his honor. He also bequeathed $1 million to Wake Forest to be paid when the move to the new campus was completed.
Although actually not a part of the campus, Groves Stadium is important to the University. The modern, 31,000-seat facility was inaugurated in 1969 to replace the inadequate, 17,000-seat Bowman Gray Stadium which the school had been permitted to use since the move to Winston-Salem.
The stadium is the school's second to be named in honor of the Groves family of Gastonia and Jacksonville, Fla. The first was dedicated on the old campus in 1940 to honor Henry Herman Groves Sr. The new structure honors him, his brothers, Earl E. Groves and L. Craig Groves, both deceased, and their families. A gift from Henry Groves made the new stadium possible.
Educators, businessmen, people who cared about Wake Forest – they are the ones memorialized by the metal letters on red brick. Think of them the next time you stroll about the campus.