Duke's Original Campus

Trinity College and Surrounding Neighborhood, circa 1922From 1925 to 1930, East Campus was Duke University. Even while the new buildings were going up, instruction continued, with five classes graduating during that time. Duke University was formed in 1924 around Trinity College, a school that had been established in 1838 in Randolph County, N.C., and which had moved to Durham in 1892. The tract of land that became Trinity's campus had been the city's fairground; a racetrack was located about where Baldwin Auditorium now stands.

Leaders of Durham's tobacco industry supported the College. Julian S. Carr donated the property, and Washington Duke provided funds for the move and for buildings. Three of the buildings from the nineteenth century are still in use. Epworth Inn, a residence hall, and Crowell Science Building, now used by the Division of Student Affairs, were built in 1892. The Ark, built in 1898, was the site of the second intercollegiate basketball game in the state -- Trinity versus Wake Forest in 1906 (Wake won, 24-10). It has also served as a bowling alley, a dining hall, and student activities center. The present athletic fields on East are located near the site of our original football field, Hanes Field. The first dormitory for women, the Mary Duke Building, was built in 1896 and located about where Jarvis Hall is now.

Also, in 1896, Trinity's President, John C. Kilgo, invited the noted African American educator Booker T. Washington to speak. Trinity became the first white institution of higher education in the South to host him. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt visited the campus, and praised the faculty and trustees for their pioneering stand on academic freedom in the Bassett Affair of 1903. As Trinity's reputation and enrollment grew, so too did the campus. By 1901, it consisted of twelve buildings. In 1904 the Law School was founded, and housed in the East Duke Building. The statue of The Sower, in front of East Duke Building, was given by Washington Duke's son, James B., in 1914. Several professors had houses on "Faculty Row" inside the campus wall, a few yards west of the present Buchanan Boulevard; the houses were moved in 1916. The wall itself was the gift of another of Washington Duke's sons, Benjamin, and was built in 1916 as part of a joint effort by the college and the City of Durham to beautify the neighborhood. A statue of Ben, unveiled in 1999, stands in front of Baldwin Auditorium.

Panorama of Trinity College, circa 1922

In 1924, the University was founded, being named in honor of Washington Duke. James B. Duke, who had made fortunes in both the tobacco and electrical power industries, provided $19 million for building and equipping the new school. In 1930, the Woman's College of Duke University opened on the rebuilt Georgian-style East Campus, and Trinity College for Men and the University's graduate and professional schools opened on the new Gothic-style West Campus. In 1972, the Men's and Women's colleges were merged to form our present Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

Student life on East has been shaped by the arts, by engineering, public service, and alternative residential arrangements. In fact, our first co-ed dorm was established there in 1896, thanks to a donation from Wash Duke. There were not enough women students enrolled to fill the dorm, so President (later Bishop) Kilgo hand-picked male students to occupy the vacant rooms in the Mary Duke Building (since torn down) . In the 1930s, Engineering students lived in Southgate, and took most of their classes on East; the Branson Building once housed an engineering lab.

Wilson House, between the present Art Museum and the Union, has been a site of a number of innovative housing experiments. The dorm's residents offered a number of house courses, and produced The Wilsonian, a highly-regarded dorm publication. In 1970-71, SHARE (Student Housing for Academic and Residential Experimentation) was started in Wilson House. It later moved to Epworth, where the residents had been offering courses and workshops in weaving, silk screening, and film. SHARE's records are available in the University Archives. Duke's Institute of the Arts was established in 1981 to integrate the arts into the educational process, particularly at the undergraduate level. It's located in the Bivins Building, and has hosted an Open House for the Arts, held in the Fall.

Due perhaps to its proximity to downtown Durham, East Campus has often housed our public and civic service organizations. Trinity students helped to stock Durham's woodpile for the poor, and during World War I, parts of the campus were planted with food crops. During World War II, Woman's College students formed the College Organization for General Service (COGS) which assisted Duke and Durham in the war effort. Now the Community Service Center has its offices in the Crowell Building, and continues the traditional town-gown cooperation between Duke and Durham.

East Campus has seen the full spectrum of collegiate life and continues its role as a vital part of Duke University as well as a reminder of its roots. Now members of the incoming first-year class are invited to contribute their experiences to the ongoing history of Duke's original campus.


 Written by Thomas Harkins for the Freshman Directory, published annually by the Duke University General Alumni Association. Updated 2007.