University Libraries Logo University Archives of Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Historical Data Book, Section 1.3:
The Minor Years (1872-1879)

The board of visitors met at Yellow Sulphur Springs, not far from Blacksburg, on Aug. 14 and appointed a president, Charles Landon Carter Minor, a graduate of the University of Virginia and once president of the Maryland Agricultural College. Also appointed were three professors: James H. Lane, a Virginia Military Institute graduate, to professor of mathematics and foreign languages; Charles Martin, a Hampden-Sydney graduate, to professor of English and ancient languages; and Gary Carroll, to professor of mathematics. Military tactics was also assigned to Lane.

Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College opened its doors on October 1, 1872; 43 students were soon enrolled. The first student to enroll was William A. Caldwell of Sinking Creek in Craig County. By the end of the first academic year, 132 students had enrolled -- all from Virginia -- and two additional faculty members had been employed to teach agriculture and technical mechanics. The faculty was to remain unchanged in size or personnel until the 1875-76 session.

The college was originally divided into three departments -- literary and scientific for traditional courses and technical for courses in agriculture and the mechanical arts. The curriculum remained basically unchanged until the beginning of the 1877-78 session, when a preparatory department was formed to provide students with poor academic backgrounds an opportunity to improve enough in basic courses to enter a college classes.

The final exercises, marking the end of the first year, were held over a period of four days. The exercises began on Sunday, July 6, 1873, and ended on the following Wednesday night. There were no graduates at the first closing exercises.

A major milestone in the history of the college was the graduation of the first class at the end of the third year. On Wednesday, Aug. 11, 1875, at 11:00 a.m., 12 students were awarded graduation certificates (not degrees) by college officials. Six graduated as Associates in Agriculture, three were made Associates in Mechanics, and three were granted diplomas as Associates in Agriculture and Mechanics. All 12 were Virginians. William A. Caldwell, the college's first student, graduated in agriculture and later became a traveling salesman for a molasses importing house in North Carolina.

The college had no dining facilities at first, and students had to board in town until April 1873, when a new building, erected for the purpose of serving meals to students, was opened. From this time until the 1881-82 session, the students had the option of eating in Blacksburg or on campus. Part of the Preston and Olin building was used as a dormitory, but the building was not large enough to house the total student body by the end of the first year. Consequently, students had the option of living in town or on the campus until the 1881-82 session, when all students were required to live and board on campus. Room rent was approximately $15 per month when bedding, furniture, and fuel were supplied. Board was approximately $12 per month.

Many early students lived in rooms on "Lybrook Row," which was located on North Church Street, adjacent to where Christ Episcopal Church now stands. Meals were obtained at Luster's Hotel, located on the site of the present First Union National Bank.

After the first year, the schedule for the academic year was revised and a long winter vacation introduced so that farm operations would have fewer interruptions and classes could be conducted during the months of less severe weather. The opening of the 1873-74 session was set for Aug. 13. Classes were held until Dec. 22, resumed Feb. 24, and continued until the second Wednesday in August. This schedule was followed for nine years, when a return was made to a conventional academic year after repeated faculty and student requests.

The board of visitors met in Blacksburg on June 2, 1874, and drew plans for locating and erecting two academic buildings, two faculty homes, and a home for the president, to be constructed in that order. The cornerstones of the two new academic buildings were laid during the August 1875 graduation exercises. The First Academic Building (razed in 1957 to make room for the new wing of Rasche Dormitory) was occupied in October 1876, the first major building to be constructed since the college had opened. The Second Academic Building (razed in 1957 to make room for the new wing of Brodie Dormitory) was completed six months later. The president's home, occupied in 1876, later became part of the present Henderson Hall. A wooden building, known as the "Pavilion," was completed in the summer of 1879 for use as a drill and assembly hall. The Preston and Olin Building was converted into a barracks in 1878.

Enrollment at the new college continued to grown rapidly during Minor's administration, almost doubling to 255 during the 1875-76 session. Since half of the student body then had to live in town and were not supervised when off campus, they spent much of their time dreaming up and performing acts of mischief. This situation led to many complaints from the townspeople and to a great deal of friction among faculty members as to what to do about it. Gen. James H. Lane, who was in charge of teaching military tactics, and several other faculty members wanted to see the college organized along military lines similar to those at Virginia Military Institute, but Minor and some other faculty members did not. The friction between the two factions, which grew stronger as time went on, reached a climax when Minor and Lane got into a fistfight one day during an argument over the matter. The dissension at the college also became a matter of public knowledge and, as confidence in the management of the college declined, so did enrollment. It reached an all-time low of 50 in the 1879-80 session.

Although the board of visitors did its best publicly to attribute the college's decline to economic conditions in the state, it privately knew that this "excuse" was not the real reason for the trouble. Consequently, at its meeting on Aug. 10, 1879, it decided to establish rigid military discipline and require all students to reside "within the bounds of the college grounds." A full report on reorganization of the college was made at the board's Nov. 13 meeting, and it was announced that President Minor would be replaced. At the same meeting the board established the bachelor of arts degree, the first degree to be granted by the college, and explained: "The college is suffering loss in students and in public estimation from the want of the usual symbols of graduation, which operate as a powerful incentive on the students in their struggles for prizes of distinction that lie within their immediate view and can be attained by systematic and sustained effort."

At the December 1879 meeting of the board, Dr. John L. Buchanan, the president of Emory and Henry College, was elected second president of VAMC.


VT History | Digital Library and Archives | Special Collections | University Archives

Send questions or comments to:

Tamara Kennelly, University Archivist
University Libraries
Virginia Tech
P.O. Box 90001
Blacksburg, VA, 24062-9001

Last Modified on: Tuesday, 25-Sep-2001 08:16:06 EDT