University Libraries Logo University Archives of Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Historical Data Book, Section 1.7:
The McBryde Years (1891-1907)

McBryde became the first president in the history of the college to be given an almost completely free hand in developing the academic program, selecting his own associates, formulating policies, and planning the physical plant. He remained in office for 16 years, allowing him to initiate new programs and see them through to success.

As the college continued to grow, McBryde came to the conclusion that the administrative duties were too great for one man and, in 1903 recommended that the title of "dean" be given to Professor Ellison A. Smyth. The board approved the suggestion and Smyth became the first dean of the faculty at the opening of the 1903-04 session.

Another major step forward in the progress of the college was a reorganization of the curriculum by the president and the faculty, the first time that the board of visitors had not reserved that job for itself.

A new academic pattern leading to the degree of bachelor of science was begun in seven programs (agriculture, horticulture, applied chemistry, general science, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering).

Certificate programs were offered in practical agriculture and practical mechanics. The new curriculum of 1891 clearly indicated that the college was now ready to take its place with other higher type four-year colleges and was getting away from the "industrial school" classification.

McBryde also introduced a program of graduate study in 1891. A graduate department was established in 1907 with William E. Barlow as the first graduate dean.

In 1904, the first summer school was held but was poorly attended. It was abolished in 1917, but was re-established in 1925 and became successful.

Blacksburg's first railroad link with the main line at Christiansburg was completed in September 1904 by the Virginia Anthracite Coal and Railway Company (purchased by Norfolk and Western Railway in 1911, becoming an integral part of the N&W in 1913). The 8.88-mile "Blacksburg branch" was dubbed the "Huckleberry Railroad" even before its completion because of the number of huckleberry patches along the route and the rumor that the train was so slow that a passenger could get off the train, pick berries, and run and catch up with the train. The train was first used for trips by the corps of cadets in 1904.

The college was returned to the quarter system in the fall of 1905 and has remained on that system ever since.

Under McBryde the campus physical plant was greatly improved and expanded through the renovation of six old buildings and the erection of 67 new buildings. When McBryde became president, the college had only 60 dormitory rooms; when he retired, there were 300. The first building designed specifically to house administrative offices was completed and occupied in September 1904. Officers of the college occupied this building (located at the present northeast corner of the Drillfield; torn down in 1950) until Burruss Hall was ready in July 1936. A combination chapel and auditorium (located on the site of the present Carol M. Newman Library; burned down in August 1953) was completed in May 1905. It was used after 1914 as the library.

Other major buildings completed during the McBryde administration included the young Men's Christian Association building (also known as the Military Building and Student Personnel Building), built with funds solicited from alumni; conversion of the original president's home (built in 1876) and an addition (built in 1902) into an infirmary (now known as Henderson Hall); erection of Science Hall (occupied in September 1901; burned down in February, 1905; rebuilt and occupied on October 10 1905; torn down to make way for a new addition to Shanks Dormitory in 1957); Agricultural Hall (now known as Price Hall); and a two-story brick mess hall (also known at times as Commencement Hall and later as Commerce Hall; located near northeast corner of present Mall; torn down in spring of 1958).

The faculty increased from nine in 1891 to 48 by 1907; the student body enrollment grew from 135 in 1891 to a peak of 728 in 1904-05. The peak was followed by a decline to 619 in 1905-06, possibly attributable in part to a student body uprising the year before. A junior had been expelled from the college during the 1904-05 session for gross insubordination and had told his classmates that he had not received a fair trial. His classmates, without investigating the matter, demanded that the faculty members rescind their action or they would withdraw from the college immediately. Before the faculty could ever meet and act on the matter, the entire junior class, with the exception of 12, left the college. After the holidays, most of them applied for readmission, which was granted after they had expressed "regret for their hasty action and their intention of giving due recognition to the paramount authority of the governing body."

The General Assembly changed the name of the college Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute on March 5, 1896. In popular use, the name was immediately shortened to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, VPI, or Virginia Tech. About the same time that the name was changed, the present university colors (Chicago maroon and burnt orange) were adopted and the cadet gray and black were discarded. A motto, "Ut Prosim," also was adopted (translated from the Latin to mean "That I May Serve"), and a new seal was drawn (similar to the present seal except for the present name of the institution and a change in the state seal quarter).

After several years of declining health, McBryde submitted his resignation as president to become effective July 1, 1907. McBryde, "Father of the Modern VPI," was given the first title of "President Emeritus" and was granted the first of only three honorary degrees given in the history of the university. McBryde received the honorary doctor of science degree at the June 1907 graduation exercises.


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