Trinity College Moves to Durham

 "Old Main," later the Washington Duke BuildingIn the Fall of 1892, everyone, not just entering students, began the college year with apprehension. September 1, 1892, marked the opening of Trinity College in Durham, thus ending a laborious three-year effort to relocate the college from its original site in Randolph County. That September the faculty and administration alike had mixed emotions about the move. Although desirable, it was not easy to leave the tranquil and comfortable rural surroundings of over fifty years for an urban setting and an unknown future. President John F. Crowell later wrote that even though it was less than one hundred miles from Randolph County to Durham, it was ten thousand miles away psychologically.

Everything was new. The items moved were meager indeed. A railroad box car transported the college bell, clock, safe, and several thousand books while Professor Pegram's cow and President Crowell's carriage and saddle horses hoofed it. What had been a faculty of eight in 1890 became a faculty of seventeen in 1892. Only two professors, however, actually had taught classes in Randolph County. Most of the Old Trinity faculty preferred to remain on their farms taking a chance on the success of the high school to be opened in the vacated college building. As hoped for, Trinity College enrollment jumped from 113 to 180 with the change to Durham. President Crowell soon discovered that administratively the change was exacting. He reported there were "no traditions to go by. Every internal and external relationship had been changed. Every structural feature, every functional activity had to be readjusted to different requirements."

The contrast between the old campus and the new one was dramatic. In Old Trinity students lived in community boarding houses and the college consisted of a single all purpose building. In Durham a more typical campus atmosphere prevailed. The spacious county fairground where trotting horses raced and steeple chases were held was converted to a park-like campus of three main buildings, seven residences for faculty, and athletic fields complete with a grandstand left over from the race track. The Main Building, later named the Washington Duke Building, was a three story brick building with a central bell and clock tower which faced Main Street. It contained offices, meeting rooms, classrooms, the college library and sixty dormitory rooms for students. An "imposing structure somewhat dull and heavy in appearance" to one observer, it burned in 1911 becoming the only campus building ever lost to fire. Epworth Inn, a rambling wooden structure, was the most attractive building and the focus of student activity, probably because it contained dining and meeting facilities as well as seventy-five dormitory rooms. Its ample porches provided a home-like atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. Epworth still is used today but it is only about one-third of its original size.

The third public building which housed the School of Technology later was named the Crowell Science Building. A personal gift of President Crowell in honor of his wife who died at the time of the relocation of the college, the three story brick building with a full basement contained a drafting room, and laboratories for chemistry, physics and biology. It also housed the generator which supplied electricity for the entire campus.

Married faculty were pleased with their houses especially since they had indoor plumbing. Washington Duke, however, felt they were too small so he immediately had wrap-around porches added. Four of the original houses exist today in the adjoining Trinity Park residential area.

In strictly monetary terms the value of the college plant easily increased over ten times by relocation. However, to Crowell and the faculty and students attracted to Durham, the greatest gain by far was an intangible "newer outlook—the vastly extended vista of a new era." Despite the ever present adjustments the college community was excited over being "a part of change and progress and having a part to play in advancing into a higher and better order of life."

Progress was indeed evident. Five women enrolled the first year in Durham beginning an unbroken commitment by Trinity College to the education of women. It had been twelve years since the first and only women had graduated in 1878. The published roster listed two graduate and five law students as well. The overwhelming number of students were from North Carolina but South Carolina, the District of Columbia, and Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) were represented too. A national economic depression slowed matriculation from out-of-state but before long students began appearing from Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and even Japan. Within a decade Trinity College clearly was attracting more and better students, decidedly greater financial support, and an impressive faculty. Crowell's ambitious vision for Trinity College was vindicated and a major foundation stone for Duke University was put in place.


© 1992. William E. King, University Archivist, 1972-2002.
This article is reprinted from If Gargoyles Could Talk: Sketches of Duke University by William E. King. Carolina Academic Press, 1997.