The Holston Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church – forerunner of the United Methodist Church – along with material and monetary assistance from citizens of Washington County and the surrounding region, established Emory & Henry College in 1836, thus making it the oldest institution of higher learning in southwest Virginia. The foundation for the main building was laid on 30 September 1836. The board of trustees hired Charles Collins (1838-1852) as the institution's first president, and classes began in the spring of 1838 with 60 students enrolled.
Over the years the College has endured both good times and bad. The College closed its doors in April 1861 when the Civil War erupted. Although the Confederate government commandeered the campus in December 1862 and used the main building as a hospital, the College suffered no serious damage as a result of the war. In fact classes resumed just four months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
Under the leadership of its 18th president, Dr. Charles W. Sydnor Jr. (E&H class of 1965), the College began making great strides towards becoming a premier liberal arts college. During the Sydnor years (1984-1992) Emory & Henry tripled the size of its endowment and completed a major overhaul of its infrastructure which included the renovation and expansion of the Van Dyke Center. Sydnor also hired some of the most accomplished faculty the institution has ever seen (three of our six Virginia “Professors of the Year” are Sydnor hires), increased the size of the student body, and wrote the plan that modernized the College’s board of trustees.
Even though it is more than 40 years old, the most comprehensive history of the College remains the late Dr. George Stevenson’s Increase in Excellence: A History of Emory and Henry College (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1963). Although no longer in print, copies are available through one’s local public library via interlibrary loan. Those wishing to purchase a copy may do so by using www.bookfinder.com. It will direct one to those booksellers that have used copies for sale.
Emory & Henry Finding Aids
Below are finding aids to those collections within the College archives that have been processed and are available for researchers to use.