Seventy years after ground was broken on Wake’s Reynolda campus, today we are taking a stroll through the buildings and grounds history and the records held in the University Archives courtesy of student assistant Immanuel Eggers.

As most in the Wake Forest community know, this University and campus have undergone immense changes since its founding in 1834. The original campus was located in the city of its namesake 110 miles east, Wake Forest, first the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute and later Wake Forest College. These grounds now belong to the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and carry remarkable (and intentional) similarities to the modern Reynolda Campus in Winston-Salem. But what happened in between?

Inspiring the Move

The College’s move to Winston-Salem required nearly two decades of architectural planning and fundraising. It began in 1938, when the Bowman Gray Foundation, named for the late R.J.R Tobacco Company president, offered a funding deal between the College and Winston-Salem Baptist Hospital to bring the medical school to Winston. Developing an upgraded medical program would cost the school an upwards of $10 million, of which the Bowman Gray Foundation was willing to subsidize $750,000. The arrangement converted Wake Forest’s medical program from two to four years, required under new federal guidance, on the condition that the medical school move to Winston-Salem and that students complete their residency at Baptist Hospital, which they did in 1941.

Bowman Gray School of Medicine Amphitheater, 1941
The formal opening of the Bowman Gray Campus, September 10, 1941, in the Amphitheater. People standing include Coy C. Carpenter, Fred C. Zapffe, Thurman D. Kitchin, Thomas T. Mackie, and Ralph Herring.

World War II wreaked havoc on College finances. Between drafts and enlistments, millions of young people, predominantly men, overseas, which negatively impacted the all-male college’s enrollment. This caused Wake Forest to take a couple of financially driven measures, including expanding admissions to women, merging its law program with Duke University’s, and leasing property to the Army Finance Center. When men returned from war with newly-minted G.I. benefits in hand, cuts to campus space and increased enrollments of men and women resulted in capacity issues at colleges across the U.S., and Wake Forest was no exception.

On March 25, 1946, news broke about Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation offering the College the school upwards of $350,000 annually in perpetuity if the College moved to Winston-Salem. Then, R. J. Reynolds’ daughter Mary Babcock and her husband Charles offered the school their 600-acre estate. The total worth of the Reynolds family’s land and monetary donations was estimated at around $100 million, considering inflation, in 2006. Many community members, especially Baptists, questioned the morality of a religious institution accepting such crucial large-sum donations from a tobacco company.

The College’s move to Winston-Salem was lucrative to the segregated city, with manufacturing, tobacco, and textile industries. Winston-Salem State was a teaching college for Black students and Salem College all-girls, but the city lacked an institution educating mobile, ambitious white young adults, especially men, after WWII. Furthermore, being outside of Raleigh and Durham gave Wake room to expand its prestige outside of Duke, UNC, and N.C. State. The Reynolds family and Reynolds Tobacco, the Hanes families and their business, and other locally-headquartered companies, were likely aware of the long-term influence in Winston-Salem that supporting Wake Forest would provide; the Winston-Salem community, including businesses, donated around $1.5 million towards constructing the academic buildings. Baptist donors also made a large cumulative contribution to Wake Forest’s move.

Reynolda Campus under construction
Aerial of Reynolda Hall and Davis Residence Hall under construction, with Z. Smith Reynolds Library and Winston-Salem skyline in background

Plans (and Blueprints)

With expanded fundraising and land to develop, in 1946 the College hired an architectural team led by noted campus architect Jens Frederick Larson. The Reynolda Campus construction would become the culminating capstone of Larson’s career, having completed work at Dartmouth, Princeton, Colby College, Bucknell University, University of Paris, and the University of Louisville previous to his arrival.

Larson and his team were tasked with two main goals: retaining homage to the original campus in Wake Forest, and creating a pedestrian-friendly, park-like, homely atmosphere for students. Thomas Sears, an esteemed estate landscape architect, was hired to take on the latter mission, while Lloyd Winchell Biebigheiser was hired to aid in the former. This required years of drafting and redrafting plans for academic and administrative buildings, housing, and other campus features. From 1946-1950, Larson and his team surveyed the new land and presented plans and blueprints, awaiting greenlights from Wake Forest College and the city. Many of these campus building sketches and blueprints are available in Special Collections and Archives.

In October 1950, Jens Larson announced that the city would hopefully begin constructing roads and entrances in the beginning half of 1951. At that time, Larson spent several days on the original Wake Forest campus surveying student input on campus buildings such as the Student Union, athletics facilities, classrooms, and laboratories. A year later, on October 12, 1951, U.S. President Harry Truman helped break the new grounds of the Reynolda Campus.

Despite optimism from architect Larson that the Class of 1955 would graduate on the Reynolda Campus, the construction process was slow due to funding constraints. Then-president Harold W. Tribble was crucial in the fundraising process, personally sending pre-addressed envelopes to people, asking for any-amount donations. Tribble’s fundraising success was profound, increasing both the College’s assets and annual income eight-fold by the time he left.

Come September 1956, a year after Larson predicted, the Reynolda Campus opened. Original buildings included Wait Chapel; Kitchin, Davis, Poteat, and Taylor Residence Halls, reserved for male students; female residence halls Bostwick and Johnson; Reynolda Hall; the Z. Smith Reynolds Library; Science Building, now Salem Hall; Carswell Hall; Reynolds Gymnasium; and athletic and maintenance buildings in the southeast corner of campus. Much housing was also included: a number of faculty apartments, known now as North Campus Apartments; Student Apartments, reserved for married students; and the President’s House, now Starling Hall.

Wait Chapel and Hearn Plaza under construction
Wait Chapel and the main Quad under construction with road, cars, construction worker with wheelbarrow, and construction materials in foreground

Wake Forest University has only expanded since its establishment in Winston-Salem 65 years ago, multiplying the amount of buildings, students, and assets to become a campus and community force. Despite the original apprehension surrounding the College’s move from Wake Forest, N.C., Reynolda Campus has succeeded in creating a “home away from home” for thousands of Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem.