Retrospective: American Tobacco Campus

Writer: 
November 30, 2009

 

 
View of East Campus looking west toward Ninth Street and Erwin Mill, 1919.Duke University Archives

View of East Campus looking west toward Ninth Street and Erwin Mill, 1919.Duke University Archives

Trinity College relocated to Durham in 1892 on a sixty-two acre tract known as Blackwell Park that had been used as fairgrounds and is now part of East Campus. With the college thriving and with support from the Duke family and leadership, ambitious young president William Preston Few began thinking about how the college would grow.

How it began: students in Duke Forest in 1948

How it began: students in Duke Forest in 1948

In 1921, Few drafted a document asking James B. Duke to support an expanded institution to be named Duke University, as a memorial to his father. In December 1924, Duke made the $40 million gift that transformed the college into a university and named it for his father.

In preparation for the physical expansion, administrators began to investigate land around campus. Word leaked out of Trinity's need for additional real estate, and prices near East Campus skyrocketed. The high cost of expansion led campus administrators to propose as an alternative a tract of wooded land located about a mile to the west. Buck Duke agreed, and college officials quietly acquired 5,000 acres of land over the next few years at much more reasonable prices.

The implications of this decision were far reaching. The additional land allowed for a research forest and a brand new medical school that initially had not been considered. What at first seemed a potential setback helped shape Duke into the major research university it is today.