Today's post is of the University of Memphis, Lambuth, located in Jackson, TN about an hour and half from the main campus in Memphis. The UofM Lambuth is one of a handful of private institutions which have been acquired by public universities in the state over the years and the only one outside of the University of Tennessee System (the others being the University of Chattanooga, now the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; Hall-Moody Institute, now the University of Tennessee, Martin; and Martin Methodist College, which is now the University of Tennessee Southern). Like those other institutions, the history of the campus goes back a long way.
The institution was founded by the Methodist Church as the Memphis Conference Female Institute (MCFI) on December 2, 1843. It offered coursework at the primary and secondary level. Although located in Jackson, the campus was not at its present location. It would keep this name until 1897 when, to better reflect the offerings of the institution, it would be renamed the Memphis Conference Female Institute and Conservatory of Music and Art for Girls and Young Ladies. Despite the name, some boys where enrolled in the school. Things would substantially change when school changed its charter in 1924 under acting MCFI President J. W. Blackard. On May 12, 1924, the institution would begin offering college coursework and degrees and would change its name to Lambuth College. The campus, although located in Jackson, would relocate to its current spot which at the time was a cotton field. The first president of the new institution would be Richard E. Womack. The college would grow at a good pace for the next fifty years, particularly under two consecutive presidents - Luther L. Gobbel and James S. Wilder. The site of the current campus would begin at 22 acres of space, increased to 55 acres by 1969, and 57 acres today.
The growth of the institution began to slow in the 1980’s, but enrollment still trended upward. Enrollment increases and new degree offerings led to the name being changed in 1991 to Lambuth University. Enrollment would peak in 1995 at 1,227 students, but things would soon take a negative turn from which the university would not recover. In an effort to continue growth and improve facilities, the university entered into a bond loan program. The agreement was predicated on the university’s ability to grow enrollment but beginning in 1996 enrollment not only did not increase but to decline. It became a compounding issue. Lower enrollment meant that the university could not adequately service its debt, reducing the funds available to offer the services and maintain the facilities to attract students thus creating a spiraling effect. The effects of the Great Recession only amplified the spiral. Two other Jackson colleges (Union University and Jackson State Community College) were flourishing at the time and were likely siphoning off some of Lambuth’s potential students. The school was saddled with a budget deficit of more than $7 million as it entered the 2009-2010 academic year. The state of Tennessee indicated that it would consider acquiring the university in a meeting with the governor in June 2009, but no immediate action was taken. That fall, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) put the university in probationary status. Enrollment the following year dropped to 456 students (headcount, not FTE) and SACS pulled its accreditation. The administration announced the university’s closure in April 2011. Through the efforts of Governor William Haslam, UofM President Shirley Raines, and others, the state agreed to buy the university for $11 million and make it a campus of the University of Memphis beginning in Fall 2011. The following spring on May 3, 2012, the first class would graduate from the University of Memphis, Lambuth.
Although not a freestanding university, the UofM Lambuth has a good deal of independence. It is not unlike the satellite campuses of the University of Cincinnati in this regard. Enrollment was stabilized and the debt was taken care of through the acquisition. The Spring 2021 semester enrollment was 1,347 (headcount). Since the students on that campus are UofM students, they can and do take coursework at the main campus in Memphis as well as two other satellite locations (Millington and Collierville). The spring enrollment included 354 students who only took classes at Lambuth, 267 who took the majority of the courses there, and 726 others who took at least one course there (all headcount and not FTE).
I am on the campus from time to time for work, but all of these photos were taken in July 2021. We start with a photo of the Lambuth College historic marker, a gateway on the circular driveway in front of the Varnell Jones Administration Building off Lambuth Boulevard, and one of the ever-present lamp post banners.
Below is a set of photos of the John Williams Gate, the literal gateway to the front door of the university. Erected in 1972 is named for John Lomar Williams, Jr. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Williams was an alumnus of Lambuth who would go on to own the John Williams Steel Works in Jackson. The gateway is at the front of the campus on Lambuth Boulevard, and leads directly to the Varnell Jones Administration Building. These days, I imagine few students actually use this gate, as they either live on campus or commute and park in lots on either side of the campus. Still, it is a lovely way to arrive on campus and gives a dignified approach through a beautiful greenway.
The next set of photos are of the Varnell Jones Administration. Groundbreaking for the building occurred in 1922 and it was formally opened in a dedication ceremony on September 10, 1924. When it opened, it was the only building on campus and as such served a multipurpose role. The structure has three above grade floors and a partial basement. The building cost $130,000 to construct (about $2.06 million in 2021 dollars) and was initially a dorm , library, chapel, and dining hall in addition to classrooms, labs, and various offices. The dining area could seat about 175 people at a time and the third floor dormitory rooms could house 100 women (men were housed on another floor). In the interim period between MCFI and Lambuth College, the building was left unfinished for a time. When the newly hired president of Lambuth, Dr. Richard Womack, arrived in 1924 it was incomplete and he set about leading the completion of the work for the new school year. He found the building unfinished and with grass as tall as a person growing in the front. At the time, the now named Lambuth Boulevard in front of the building was a dirt road called Long Street. When it opened, it was simply known as the Administration Building.
The building reminds me of the Administration Building on the main campus of the University of Memphis with its red brick cladding and columns (see my earlier post on the main campus). Like the Administration Building in Memphis, Varnell Jones originally had a large staircase on the front of the building and the main doors were on the second floor. The entryway seen in these photos was not added until 1953. As was the case with the UofM Admin Building, the renovation resulted in the removal of the staircase and two large brick walls on either side. In addition, the renovation included the removal of the old dorm rooms many of which were converted into new labs. The other labs and classrooms were modernized. The limestone archway installed in 1953 remains the primary entrance to this day. The building was renamed and dedicated on November 14, 1960. The Jones portion of the name is to honor the first president of MCFI, Dr. Amos W. Jones. His great-great-great grandson James Melton unveiled the dedicatory plaque during the ceremony in 1960.
The first photo is a view looking westward toward the front of the building taken from just onto the lawn from Lambuth Boulevard. The trees and the slightly rolling grounds give the area a picturesque feel, and indeed the area is a certified arboretum by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. A tornado touched down in this area on April 18, 1975. Damage to the building was limited given the circumstances, with 100 windows being blown out. The next three photos are closer shots of the front, with the fourth photo providing a closeup of the former main entrance. The cornerstone is on the north side of the front of the building. As can be seen in the sixth photo, the green space has been named Pope Commons named for Mary and William Pope (I was unable to find any information about the Pope's online). The seventh photo is taken from the same spot as the sixth, but is looking away from the building and toward Lambuth Boulevard. The seal of the former Lambuth University is embedded in the sidewalk near the Varnell Jones. The old Lambuth University motto "Whatsoever things are true..." is a quote from the Bible (Philippians 4:8).
The last two photos are of the rear of the building which leads to the quadrangle behind. The rear entrance, seen in photo nine, is directly opposite the front entrance seen in photo three. The last photo is a tribute to first Lambuth president Richard Womack. Richard E. Womack was the first president of the then named Lambuth College. A native of Arkansas, Womack graduated from both the University of Arkansas and George Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University). He held he position for a very long time, even by the standard of the day, from 1924 to 1952. This tribute to him stands on the backside (the quadrangle side) of the building. The bronze bust, which sits on a Georgian limestone base is part of the Richard E. Womack Memorial Garden, was dedicated on May 24, 1980.
The set below begins with two views of the Gobbel Lirbrary. Gobbel faces the quad and sitting just northwest of the Varnell Jones Building (the rear faces King Street). As noted above, the library began its life inside the Administration Building (Varnell Jones). For years after WWII there was a push for a new, free-standing library. As enrollment grew and the college increased its library holdings to meet SACS accreditation standards, it became clear that a new library was a necessity. The collection held nearly 23,000 volumes by 1960 and there was simply no more room for growth in the existing space. That fall, the college made plans for a new structure consisting of four floors - a partial basement, two main above grade floors, and usable attic. Importantly, it was to be fully air conditioned. I am writing this post in August, and it is hard to imagine trying to get work done in this region in the summer months without air conditioning! Architects from the Jackson firm of Thomas, Ross, and Stanfil developed the plans. The building would cost about $350,000 (about $3.2 million in 2021). The building was completed in late 1961 and was formally dedicated on February 3, 1962. It was named for former Lambuth President Luther L. Gobbel. Gobbel came to Lambuth as president in 1953 and served in that capacity until 1962.It was designed to hold 100,000 volumes, but it came to hold in excess of 300,000. The original plans called for an enclosed walkway between the library and the Varnell Jones Building, but I do not believe that was ever constructed (if it was, there are no signs of it today). The Tennessee Library Association has a great piece on the library here. The Kresge Foundation was a major donor for the creation of the building.
The third photo is of Joe Reeves Hyde Hall, a science building. The Hyde family has been involved in retail in Memphis and the nation since the early 20th century. Joseph Reeves Hyde started the grocery store Malone and Hyde in 1907. The company would be passed to his son, J.R. Hyde, II, and his grandson, J.R. "Pitt" Hyde, III. Pitt Hyde would go on to found AutoZone (he also part owner of the NBA Memphis Grizzlies basketball team. The family has a large foundation which donates to various causes. I am uncertain as for which J.R. Hyde the building is named. The building opened in 1967 and was received its current name in October 1976). In 2018, a partnership between the UofM and FedEx saw a call center open in the building (read more here). The inset arches are a nice touch. The rear of the building has a planetarium (the fourth photo), a gift of M.D. Anderson. Yes, the same Monroe Dunaway Anderson for whom the University of Houston's Library and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is named. A native of Jackson, Anderson would make his fortune in the cotton industry. The M.D. Anderson Foundation provided funds for the planetarium on June 9, 1973 (the 100th anniversary of his birth). The sixth photo is Sprague Hall. The groundbreaking ceremony for Sprague was on Janurary 20, 1953 and served as a dorm for women until 1991 when it transitioned into a dorm for men. When it opened, it also was home to offices and labs for the department of home economics. The building was apparently vacant for some time, and the UofM asked the state for $6 million for renovations in 2019. The funds were granted and the building is currently undergoing work. It will house offices and clinical space to support the School of Nursing (read more here). The last two photos are of G.E. Spangler Hall (front and back respectively). Groundbreaking for the building occurred in 1958 and it opened in 1959 with space for 100 residents.
In the middle of the quad between Varnell Jones and the Womack Chapel (see below) is the Fleener Fountain. Seen here in the first two photos, the fountain was installed in 2020 and is a gift of the estate of alumnus Jacqueline Fleener (class of 1964). Fleener was a mathematician for the U.S. Air Force and NASA. In addition to funding the fountain, the gift also created the first STEM-major scholarship on the campus. Between the fountain and Womack Chapel are two very unique tributes. The cornerstone of the original MCFL Building has been placed in a place of honor by the class of 1955. The flag pole behind was a gift from the local community in spring 1968. The last photo is oriented to look back toward Varnell Jones.
Given its history as a sectarian institution, it is not surprising that there is a church on the campus. The Richard E. Womack Chapel, pictured below, was opened in 1957 and sits in the quad in front of the Wilder College Union. The effort to build the chapel was initiated by the Wome's Society of Christian Service who sought financial support to honor soldiers of recent wars. The construction of the chapel was slowed due to funding. Groundbreaking first occurred in 1953, but the work was slow in its progress. A second groundbreaking was held on March 8, 1956 for a wing of the building which was to house the choir. It was opened during a two-day ceremony in April 1957.
The ten photos in the following set are of the Wilder College Union and its environs. If you've read my earlier post on the UofM main campus, you will note that there is a building carrying the Wilder name there as well. The two are not directly related. Wilder Tower (formerly Brister Tower) on the main campus is named for John S. Wilder, a state senator and lieutenant governor, who was a graduate of the UofM Law School. Wilder College Union, on the other hand, is named for former Lambuth College President James S. Wilder, Jr. Wilder came to Lambuth as president in 1962 and would hold the post for 18 years. He was president immediately after Gobbel. Wilder oversaw the institution during a period of tremendous growth, not the least of which was growth in the facilities on campus. Four buildings, including the union, were built under his leadership. The size of the faculty would double. The student union was completed in 1966. It included such amenities as the campus bookstore, a large lounge, a ballroom, and activity rooms. The first four photos below are of the quad side of the building. As can be seen in the first photo, part of the building is called J.A. Williamson Hall, named for a major donor to the then Lambuth College. It opened as the dining facility part of the building.
The area with outside searing is called the Amy and Andy Eickhoff Plaza. Mr. and Mrs. Eickhoff graduated from Lambuth, where they met as undergraduates. Mr. Eickhoff he served on the alumni board and as president of the Alumni Association; he was Alumni of the Year (2004). They also started the Andy and Amy Scholarship Fund. You will note on the dedication plaque a comment about "the white and blue" which were Lambuth's colors. It fits well, as the UofM's colors are blue and gray with white as an accent. In front of the building is a Memphis Tiger (see my earlier post on branding for more information). When independent, Lambuth College/University were known as the Eagles. The eighth photo is the west side entrance to the building, and the ninth is the same side with a UofM Lambuth sign. The final photo is the south side of the building facing Maple Street. The gold lettered sign on this side is a remnant of the Lambuth University days. Most of the buildings still carry these style of names on them.
Just west of the Wilder College Union is Carney Johnson Hall, seen here in the first (quad side/front) and second (rear, Maple Street side) photos. Carney Johnson opened in 1967 as a residence hall for men. At the time, it was known as West Hall (I assume due to its location). I could not find out for whom it is named. In addition to dorm rooms, the building had lounges and an infirmary when it opened. The third photo is Harris Hall. Harris sits to the north of Womack Chapel. The building is named for Mary Girvin Harris who donated funds to help erect the building. It too was a dorm. The fourth photo is part of the quad in front of Harris. The fourth photo is the quad again, this time looking east between Harris Hall and Womack Chapel. The last photo in this set is the Wellness, Health, and Fitness Building. Originally known as the Athletics Center, the building opened in 1969 and continued to serve the role as the campus rec center.
The first photo below is the Hamilton Performing Arts Center. It began life as a gymnasium fittingly named the Physical Education Building. The building, which opened in 1948, sits on the corner of Maple Street and North Fairgrounds Street. The structure was renovated and received its current name in 2000. I could not find out for whom the building is named. Due to construction of the new Madison Academic High School (see below) and to mowing, I was unable to get a great photo of the building. It is a lovely structure and hopefully the next time I am on campus I will get a better picture of it. When it was renovated into the Hamilton Center in 1970, the playing court was remodeled into an auditorium with seating for 500.
The second and third photos are of the latest structure to be built on the campus. Sitting on the corner of Lambuth Boulevard and Maple Street, the building will will be the new home of the Madison Academic High School, a public school and part of the Jackson-Madison School District. The school is now located a few blocks away on Allen Avenue. The school will allow students the opportunity to take classes at the UofM Lambuth and to use select facilities on campus (detailed here and here). The second photo of this group is the front (Lambuth Blvd.) side of the structure and the third is rear (the side facing the Hamilton Performing Arts Center).
The site of the new building is that of Epworth Hall, a dorm that opened in 1929 for male students. Epworth would later serve as the home to administrative offices including that of the chancellor. It then sat unoccupied for several decades before being razed in 2017. Initially, the plan called for the space to become a garden which would incorporate the bricks from the building into the sidewalks (see a press release to this effect here). That plan was scrapped and the current high school took its place. I hope they still intend on using bricks from Epworth for the sidewalks (or something). A bit of history from the structure has continued on. Sometime in the early 90's, Lambuth's university chaplin, found a stylized metal version of the Methodist Church Cross in the Epworth attic. It had been used during an annual conference (the symbol was adopted by the church in 1968, so the date of its use was sometime between then and the late 1980's). It was subsequently installed near a pond on campus. When the university became part of the UofM, the church-affiliated Lakeshore Camp and Retreat Area about seventy miles north of the campus acquired it where it remains to this day. You can read more about it here.
I have been with the University of Memphis for five years (this month), and I have always felt that the university should honor former President Shirley Raines by naming a building in her honor. She was not only the first woman to hold the office, she was very successful and set a strong course for the university that we still follow today. When I arrived here, the university center had no name and since it was made possible thanks to her leadership I thought naming it for her would be appropriate. The UC has since been renamed, leaving the need to recognize her work on the main campus unfilled. Since Lambuth became part of the UofM during her tenure and in no small part to her leadership, something on that campus should carry her name as well.
If you would like to know more about the university, there is a nice photo history of Lambuth dating to just before the university became part of the UofM by Pam Dennis and Susan Kupisch called Lambuth University. It has some great photos of the campus, students, and faculty. Another suggestion, particularly for the formative years of the institution, would be the book A College Grows…MCFI-Lambuth by Sarah V. Clement. Ms. Clement and her sister Katherine were on the faculty the day Lamuth College opened, so her history has personal insights that other tomes could not have. For more information about the acquisition of Lambuth University by the University of Memphis, there is an excellent report prepared by law students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville that you can find here. Finally, there is a blog on defunct colleges and universities (https://www.lostcolleges.com/) by Dr. Paul Batesel, an Emeritus professor of English at Mayville State University that covers Lambuth University. He has chronicled some 350 closed colleges and university. You can read his post on Lambuth here.
University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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