Davis & Elkins College was founded in Elkins in 1904 by Southern Presbyterians, in cooperation with former senators Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen B. Elkins, who gave land and financial support. The aim of the founders was to establish a Presbyterian college in West Virginia ‘‘which shall do for the people of that state what Hampden-Sydney, Washington and Lee, and Davidson colleges have done for Virginia and North Carolina.’’ Ultimately, the college came to be supported by the reunited Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
First located in one building south of Elkins, the college initially included an academy or secondary school served by the same four-man faculty. In 1926, a new campus was developed on land surrounding Senator Elkins’s mansion, Halliehurst, overlooking the town from the north. The academy was discontinued. Subsequently, the Davis mansion, Graceland, and land adjacent to the Elkins farm were added to the campus. By 1998, the campus consisted of 170 acres and 20 major buildings, six of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Halliehurst served as the office for the president and other administrators, and Graceland had been painstakingly rehabilitated as a fine inn and conference center.
From the beginning, D&E served students from the local area and from other states and nations. Enrollment grew slowly, never exceeding 250 prior to World War II. There were three presidents in the first six years. During the presidency of James E. Allen (1910–35), efforts to attract students led to modification of the classical curriculum to include all of the liberal arts and the addition of business administration, teacher education, and engineering. D&E gained recognition for its championship football and basketball teams, the ‘‘Scarlet Hurricanes,’’ coached by Cam Henderson and enthusiastically promoted by Jennings Randolph, the college’s director of publicity and later a U.S. senator. In the Allen era, Charles Albert, Harry Whetsell, Raymond Purdum (each later serving as president), and Virgie Harris, Harry Shelton, and Benton Talbot (later dean) joined the faculty, all remaining several decades.
The college barely survived the 1930s. There were three presidents in seven years. World War II and its aftermath marked a critical turning point during the administrations of Presidents Raymond R. Purdum (1943–54) and David K. Allen (1954–64). Purdum’s success in getting three military training units based on the campus enabled Davis & Elkins to prosper through the war years. Then an influx of veterans subsidized by the GI Bill boosted enrollment to more than 900, which necessitated additions to faculty and facilities. Full accreditation, achieved in 1946, was of vital significance. The establishment of an Air Force ROTC program in 1951 helped stabilize enrollment during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. During the Purdum presidency, national honorary and social fraternities established chapters at D&E, and Memorial Gymnasium was erected.
President David Allen’s administration reorganized the college’s business and accounting procedures, created the development and chaplain’s offices, the counseling and placement centers, and erected five new buildings. Soccer replaced football, and soon Coach Greg Myers fielded NAIA championship soccer teams. Under the leadership of Dean Thomas R. Ross, the faculty developed a strong liberal arts core curriculum, tenure, sabbatical leave, and retirement systems; added cooperative programs in forestry and engineering; and secured admission to the Washington Semester program.
In the period after 1964, the administrations of Gordon E. Hermanson (1964–82) and Dorothy I. MacConkey (1985–98) were especially significant. Both succeeded in increasing the participation of the trustees and in attracting interest in the college on the part of the current Elkins and Davis families.
Enrollment and endowment increased somewhat during the Hermanson years. A new campus plan gave impetus to the building of a chapel, science center, the Hermanson Center-Auditorium, the Boiler House Theater, and three residence halls. Majors in computer science, environmental science, and recreation management and tourism were added and independent study programs expanded. Under the leadership of Dean Margaret Purdum Goddin, honors and nursing programs were developed. The Augusta Heritage Center for the Traditional Arts was established, bringing students from throughout the United States and many foreign countries to popular summer workshops.
Notable achievements of President MacConkey’s administration include extension of computer use for all administrative, library, and many academic functions; introduction of a hospitality and tourism management program; renovation of Halliehurst, Graceland, Jennings Randolph Hall, and the Gate House; and construction of the splendid Booth Library, Gates Tower, and Robert C. Byrd Conference Center. She greatly increased endowment, including initial funding for endowed chairs. The first faculty member to be appointed to an endowed chair was Gloria Payne, who served the college for 53 years. In the last year of her presidency, MacConkey launched a $17 million campaign for funding an athletic complex and to increase endowment.
G. Thomas Mann was the 12th president of Davis & Elkins College and served from 1998 to 2008. He was followed by G. T. “Buck” Smith in 2008. College enrollment was reported at slightly over 700 in fall 2009.
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This Article was written by Thomas Richard Ross
Last Revised on March 28, 2013
Ross, Thomas Richard. Davis & Elkins College: The Diamond Jubilee History. Parsons: McClain, 1980.