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Johnny Vardeman: Booklet shows Brenau campus of 100 years ago
This view of the Bailey Building-Auditorium at Brenau College from the 1916 Brenau Bulletin is a familiar site on campus.

One hundred years ago, 1916, Brenau College issued what it called its Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 3.

It was a fairly elaborate booklet, an embossed cover, and containing just about everything you would want to know about a college. For that period of time, pictures, mostly of the campus, were of high quality.

While the campus and buildings have expanded and been renovated in the century since, many of the features back then are still recognizable today.

The Bulletin recaps the history of the college to 1916, having been chartered as the Georgia Baptist Seminary by prominent citizens in 1878 with W.C. Wilkes as its first president. Wilkes Hall, the domed building still standing on Boulevard named for the first president, one dormitory, the Bailey Building and classrooms were all there was on a 9-acre campus.

Yonah Hall, also still standing, rose in 1893, built by A.D. Candler, the Gainesville builder who became governor of Georgia. As it does today, it housed the school cafeteria.

Gainesville citizens contributed financing in 1896 for building what was then called the Conservatory Building, which contained studios, lecture rooms and what we now know as Pearce Auditorium. Other buildings, including dormitories, were built in succeeding years, and the campus expanded to more than 100 acres.

At the time, the Lessie Southgate Simmons Memorial was under construction to house the Young Women’s Christian Association, a chapel and library. T.J. Simmons, president and co-president with H.J. Pearce, contributed $5,000 for the building in memory of his wife who had died a couple of years earlier. She had built up the college music and art departments. Faculty and Gainesville citizens raised $12,000 for the project.

The Bulletin outlined courses of study, emphasizing its large music and art department, and set out requirements for admission to the college. A year’s boarding cost $160, and rooms were from $30 to $70 per year.

What was across Prior Street behind the main campus was called Brenau Park, 100 acres of woods and streams. The lake in the park at the time was called Lake Lanier, in honor of the same poet, Sidney Lanier, for which the present Lake Lanier backed up by Buford Dam is named.

There also at the time was a 20-acre farm with a herd of Jersey cows that furnished milk for the college cafeteria. The campus also had a seven-hole golf course and what was called “The Country Club House.”

The booklet also told of field trips students would be taking, including to Dahlonega, Tallulah Falls, Helen and Wauka Mountain in north Hall County. Some could even take a train in groups to Washington, D.C.

Students were required to attend noon religious services, but Sunday evening vespers were voluntary. “No proselytism of any sort is permitted, but the ministers of all denominations are invited from time to time ...” the Bulletin explained. All students also were required to attend church, apparently Sunday services at local churches.

As for social life “... several times each year members of the Junior and Senior classes entertain young men who are approved by the faculty. Privileged students are also permitted to receive callers on Friday evenings, under chaperonage of a member of the faculty.”

The “Lady Principal” would advise and admonish students on appropriate dress. “Each pupil must bring from home eight napkins, one napkin ring, one teaspoon and glass for use in room, 12 towels, four pillow cases, four sheets, two pair blankets, two counterpanes; everything should be marked,” the Bulletin advised.

Self-governed and privileged students could leave the campus after 3:30 p.m., but had to be back by 6 p.m. They couldn’t leave Gainesville city limits “nor go into the public section unless on business.”

Other students not on those lists couldn’t leave the campus except with permission of the person in charge of the dormitory or sorority house. They could go walking with a student on the self-governed or privileged list.

Students with permission to visit Atlanta had to have a chaperone.

Brenau students 100 years ago might recognize some of the buildings today, though they have changed, but the far-flung college itself, its offerings, rules, requirements and policies are quite different from what they knew.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.