Special Collections Graphic Image Randolph-Macon College: The Boydton Years, 1832-1868

Boydton Main building
The Randolph-Macon College campus at Ashland that we know today is the College's second location. The original Randolph-Macon College campus is located near the North Carolina border at Boydton, in Mecklenberg County. Traveling by road today, Boydton is approximately 115 miles from Ashland (location of Boydton - Google Maps) within view of U.S. route 58. There is an historical marker located on route 58, within view of the ruins. The original building, known as the Main building, is familiar to us as the building on the College seal.  college seal

Why Boydton?

The popular story behind the selection of Boydton is that three prominent Methodist clergy, James Jamieson, Hezekiah G. Leigh, and Leroy M. Lee, happened upon the site when they stopped to eat lunch there in March 1827 and decided it was the ideal location for the College that had been proposed by the Virginia Conference a few years earlier. It's a nice story, but James Scanlon, on pages 27-28 of Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History, provides an explanation of why it is unlikely that these three individuals would have traveled together to this location at that time.

Several characteristics of the Boydton site influenced its selection. During that era it was believed that colleges should be located away from metropolitan areas in order that students not be distracted by the worldly influences of city life, as Americans planning institutions of higher learning had taken to heart the European example of rowdy college students rampaging in urban locations. A second factor in favor of Mecklenberg County was that in 1830 it was one of the wealthiest counties in the state and the county's residents pledged $10,000 towards the founding of the school, an amount that would have the consumer buying power of approximately $250,000 today. Also, the land offered to the College was inexpensive at $5 and $6 per acre ($120-$145 today) and large amounts of land were available; the original tract included the site of the New Market Race Track, a large piece of land already cleared. Significant acreage was required to support a college population, since the school would need to raise food and provide firewood. The Virginia Conference included North Carolina as well as most of Virginia, and Boydton was both close to the geographic center of the Conference's territory and was near the North Carolina border. It was expected that this location would draw both students and donations from North Carolina congregations in addition to those in Virginia.

The Boydton Campus

The campus at Boydton opened for instruction in October, 1832. The R-MC holdings eventually included nearly 400 acres, with 90 cleared for the campus site and 300 forested. Several buildings were constructed on the College's property, including the Main Building, which contained classrooms. administrative offices, the library, student dormitories and the chapel; the Steward's Hall, where meals were served; the President's House, and several faculty residences. Additional structures, such as those housing livestock and supporting food production and storage, were also on the property, but no traces of these remain.

Main building at Boydton circa 1860

Lithograph, circa 1860

The Main Building

The Main Building was completed in 1832. The middle section of the Main Building was known as the Centre building, housing offices, the library, classrooms, and the chemistry laboratory. The dormitories were in the wings and on the upper floors.

The building to the left of the Main Building in the ca. 1860 lithograph, the Western Building, was constructed after the Main Building and expanded the dormitory space. The Western Building has entirely disappeared, while the Main Building is today in ruins.

RMC circa 1900
prior to 1900

RMC circa 1920
circa 1920

Sept. 1992

rmc 1992

RMC 2009
April 2009

Photo: L. Preston, April 2009

The President's House

Currently a private home, this house was built as the residence for the College's presidents. The exterior of the house has remained unchanged except for the television antenna and the wooden ramp. Remnants of the original brick sidewalk are still visible (right). Several of the trees surrounding the residence date to the Randolph-Macon College years.


original brick walkway
Photo: L. Preston, April 2009

Steward's Hall

The first floor of the Steward's Hall served as the College dining hall, although some students ate in local boarding houses instead. It was also used for social events. Although the College owned the building, the food service was operated privately in much the same way the College's present food service is provided. The stewards lived on the second floor. Although the building's exterior had been modified extensively over the years with porches and additions, the current owner's restoration has returned the building's facade nearly to its original look.

Stewards Hall 2009
Photo: L. Preston, April 2009
Arnold grave Boydton cemetery
Photo: J. Showalter, April 2005

RMC Boydton cemetery
Photo: J. Showalter, April 2005

The Cemetery

The College property included a cemetery for faculty, students, and others associated with the College. Located some distance behind the Steward's Hall, the cemetery is severely overgrown and few stones are left standing and legible.  One of these few is the gravestone, at right, of Wm. W. Arnold, who died in 1855 at the age of 21.

The Professors' Houses

The College, with its rural location, provided houses for its faculty as an incentive to supplement their salaries of $800. The houses each cost the College about $1300 to build in the 1830s. Three of the structures are still in existence, although each has been altered significantly. The Professor of Chemistry's house still stands, in addition to the two houses pictured here.

Mathematics professors house
The Professor of Mathematics' House
(the house has been altered)
Photo: L. Preston, April 2009
language professors house
The Professor of Languages' House
(the original house is the one-story section)
Photo: L. Preston, April 2009

To learn more about Randolph-Macon College during the Boydton years, view either the slideshow presentation or the videos:

Slideshow:  Randolph-Macon College at Boydton, Virginia (by Ashley Hampton, '10 -  47 slides; will open in a new window)

Please note: These videos are streamed and variations in internet connection speed will affect viewing quality. Additionally, some resolution was lost during conversion, so viewing at a small size rather than full screen will improve the quality. You must have Windows Media Player or another media player capable of running a .wmv file.

Randolph-Macon College: The Boydton Beginning (short version; approx. 24 minutes)

Randolph-Macon College: The Boydton Beginning (part1) (longer version - part 1, approx. 29 minutes)
Randolph-Macon College: The Boydton Beginning (part2) (longer version - part 2, approx. 13 minutes)

Also, the first history of the College, Richard Irby's 1890 History of Randolph-Macon College, Virginia, is available online at the Internet Archive.

The Future of the Boydton Campus

Through the efforts of Jack Russell, Class of 1944, Bill Gray, Class of 1966, and others interested in the College's roots, a 12 acre portion of the Boydton campus which included the original structure, the Main (or Centre) Building, and a house built after the College sold the property (Helensha Cottage) was purchased by the Old Brunswick Circuit Foundationin order to save this historically signficant structure from further decay and from destruction for development. The organization planned to stabilize the structure and eventually restore it, and to create a museum to the property's educational functions first as Randolph-Macon College, next as a freedmen's school right after the Civil War, then as the Boydton Academic and Bible Institute (commonly referred to as the "Boydton Institute"), and finally as the National Bible Training School. In 2017 the note was paid on the property removing any encumbrances from the preservation plans and Bill Gray's vision for this site. Historical interpretation of the site will include its 36 year history as the original R-MC campus and its even longer history as a school for African Americans in the post Civil War South.

In Memoriam: This page is dedicated to William Gaskins Gray, 1941-2013, R-MC Class of 1966, who worked tirelessly to save the Boydton building and document its history among other worthy projects. Bill, we will miss you always.

Project curated by Laurie Preston. Project content compiled by Laurie Preston, Judee Showalter, and Ashley Hampton '10 from James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History, Richard Irby's History of Randolph-Macon College, and materials from the Randolph-Macon College Archives. Special thanks to Jack Russell '44 and Dick Faris '57 for the Boydton films, and to Walter Beales of Boydton for sharing his extensive knowledge about the Boydton campus.

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