1806-1924: Before the Move to Memphis

1785   Clarksville becomes Tennessee’s first incorporated city; named for General George Rogers Clark, frontier fighter, Revolutionary War hero, and brother of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; it is founded on the Cumberland River on the Tennessee-Kentucky border in Montgomery County.  

1806  By 1806, the town realized a need for an educational institution and the Rural Academy was established as one of 27 Land Grant Academies.  It was possibly log buildings on Lot Number Five in the original Town of Clarksville and a two-story brick building that could accommodate about 100 students.

A geographical map showing streets and water
1870 Clarksville, Tennessee Street Map

1811  A charter issued in the Public Acts of Tennessee replaces the Rural Academy with Mount Pleasant Academy.

1825  Property is chartered to Clarksville Academy.

1832  Property is deeded to Clarksville Male Academy.

1848  February 4:  Masonic University of Tennessee, financed by the Tennessee Grand Lodge is established in conjunction with the Clarksville Male Academy.

December 5: The Board of Directors holds its first meeting.

Rev. W. F. Hopkins is appointed as the first president of the college.

1849  February 19:  First faculty meeting takes place. 

February 22:  The corner stone ceremony for the college’s first permanent building, “The Castle”. 

May 28:  First examinations are given to students by class year.

A black and white photo of a stately building in winter
The Castle Building on the Clarksville campus

1850  The Castle Building is completed.

J. E. Wilcox is the first graduate of the college.

1851  November 11: Control of the College transfers from the Tennessee State Masonic Organization to the local Masons. The Tennessee Legislature passes an Act establishing Montgomery Masonic College.

1852  The college has 46 male students enrolled and a faculty of 7.

1853  May 13:  The ownership of the property is returned to the Clarksville Male Academy who first had the property in 1832.

A sketch of the shoulders and head of man in nineteenth century attire
William M. Stewart, fourth president of the college

June 20: William M. Stewart becomes the college’s fourth president.

June 28:  The Academy trustees deed the property to Montgomery Masonic College. Many of the men involved sit on both boards.

1855   The financially strapped college is saved when President William M. Stewart negotiates its purchase by the Presbyterian Synod of Nashville.  The college is renamed Stewart College in honor of President Stewart.  

1860   Robb Hall is the first residence hall to be constructed.  Funds for construction were donated by Colonel Robb.

1861  February 21:  The college closes when all of the students except two leave to serve in the confederate army. 

Old photo of students on the porch and top of the portico of a building
Robb Hall on the Clarksville campus circa 1920

1865  January 19:  The board meets for the first time since the closing of the college and is determined to reopen when possible.

1869  Stewart College reopens with Dr. John Bunyan Shearer as president.

1874  The Plan of Union was initially adopted by the Presbyterian Synods of Nashville, Memphis, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas as a basis of cooperation in the reorganization of Stewart College after the Reconstruction Era as the single Presbyterian College for these synods. The Synods of Arkansas and Texas withdrew to support colleges in their own boundaries. 

1875  May 31:  The charter for Southwestern Presbyterian University (SPU) is registered with the State of Tennessee.  Enrollment was 131 students. 

Charles Edward Diehl is born in West Virginia. He would move the college to Memphis in 1925.

1877  Former president and benefactor William M. Stewart dies and construction begins on the Stewart Cabinet Building as a memorial.

1878  The  Stewart Cabinet Building is completed and houses the valuable Vanuxem Mineral Collection. 

A seal engraved in stone
The seal of the college at Clarksville in 1900

1879   The Stewart Chair of the Natural Sciences is the first endowed chair.

The title of “president” is replaced by “Chancellor”.

1880   The Chancellor’s residence is built on campus.

The college’s library of mostly scientific works is combined with the collections of the Stewart and the Washington Irving Literary Societies to form a library of nearly 4,000 books.

1882  The first chapters of national fraternities are established: Kappa Sigma, Alpha Tau Omega, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

1884  The Journal becomes the first student publication.

1885  The School of Theology headed by Dr. Joseph R. Wilson, father of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, holds its first classes.

1887  The SPU Athletic Association is founded and the first track and field meet is held.

Kappa Alpha fraternity chapter is established.

1888  Football first played recreationally on campus.

1889  The Chemistry Medal for the highest average is established by B. H. Owen.       

1891  First known mention of an intercollegiate football game.

1892  The catalog mentions baseball and tennis being played on campus.

A black and white photo of a group of men in 19th century football attire
The 1896 Football Team

1893  June: Students are organized by graduation year, or classes, and these seniors are the first class to wear caps and gowns at commencement.

1896  November:  A telephone for student use is placed in Robb Residence Hall.

First football season starts with games against University of Nashville, Bethel College, and Vanderbilt University.

1898  A three-year Doctor of Philosophy degree is started.

A new gymnasium opens with two regulation size bowling alleys and hot water. Indoor basketball is played. 

1899  The first student annual, the Sou’wester, is published.

The first football homecoming game is played against Sewanee.

A black and white photo of a group of white men dressed in 19th century formal attire
The Class of 1900

1900  A bicycle club is on campus. 

1901  Waddel Hall, Stewart Hall, the president’s residence, and Robb and Calvin residence halls are connected to the City of Clarksville sewer system.

Waddel Hall is damaged by a tornado. 

1905  Women begin to attend classes, but the board prohibits them from earning credit.

1906  The board authorized $500 for improvements to the baseball field.

1912  A brass band is organized by Robert M. McGee.

1913  A drama club called “Bats” is started.

1914  The faculty minutes indicate that women can earn credit for classes.

1915  In March, a vault is constructed to protect the college’s valuable papers.

September:  Spanish is taught for the first time.

1916  The board acts to admit women on the same terms as men.

New Commons building is constructed to house a dining hall and space for recreational activities.

1917  The First World War affects the college with half the students either leaving for service or home.

A portrait of a man rocking the middle part in the 20s, wearing a suit and pince nez glasses.
Dr. Charles E. Diehl circa 1917

The School of Theology is abolished.

The Pals Drama Club is organized by Professor L. L. MacQueen.

Dr. Charles E. Diehl accepts the presidency of the college as “a venture of faith”.  

1918  The Honor Code is well established. 

Alpha Phi Epsilon Literary Society and the Students’ Army Training Corps are established. 

1919  The first proposal to move the college out of Clarksville is voiced.

An orchestra is organized and a carnival is held.

The first issue of the student newspaper, the Sou’wester is published.

1920  Two honor societies, Alpha Theta Phi and the Torch Society, as well as the Stylus Literary Club are founded.

suit is brought by the college against Clarksville to get approval to move the College. 

The board approves a name for the new college as Southwestern, The College of the Mississippi Valley.

1921   The Sociology Club is founded.

The Dewey Decimal System is first used to cataloging library books.

Honors courses begin.

An old photo of a muddy construction site with a few buildings in the background and a sign in the middle ground that reads, "Here is being erected: Southwestern The College of the Mississippi Valley"
A muddy view from North Parkway, featuring the sign announcing the construction of the college in 1924

Dr. R. B. Macon is appointed SPU physician.

Margaret Trahern is the first woman to graduate.

Even though the courts have not yet ruled that the college can move to Memphis, Dr. Diehl selects Henry C. Hibbs as the architect of the new campus. 

A quarter mile cinder track is built on Shearer Field in Clarksville.

1922  The first women’s sorority, Chi Omega, is founded.

1923  The master’s degree is discontinued.

The Building Board for the Memphis campus holds its first meeting at the Hotel Chisca in Memphis.

A contract is awarded to Foster and Creighton Construction Co. to begin work on the administration building for the new campus.  This building was dedicated in 1925 as a memorial to Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer of New Orleans.

A sketch of a lynx
The lynx mascot in 1924

1924  A decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court allows the college to move to Memphis and the corporate name becomes Southwestern, The College of the Mississippi Valley. The seal is amended to reflect the name change.

Fargason Athletic Field is named to recognize some of the Memphis land donors.

The Lynx becomes the official mascot.

Belle Kinney (1890-1959), sculptor who recreated the Parthenon in Nashville, is commissioned to design the lynx statues for the Ashner Gate post tops.