Limestone College History
Limestone College is an accredited, independent, coeducational, four-year liberal arts institution, and a non-denominational Christian college. Limestone’s main campus is located in Gaffney, nestled among the rolling hills in the Piedmont region of South Carolina. The county seat of Cherokee County, Gaffney is within an hour’s drive of the Greenville/Spartanburg and Charlotte metropolitan areas. Limestone also offers its Evening Program at six sites throughout South Carolina. Today, Limestone is truly a statewide college. Its Online Program makes the College truly a worldwide institution.
Limestone College has always been a pioneer in providing access to higher education for those who otherwise might not have enjoyed that access. In 1845, when higher education was only a dream for young women, Limestone was founded as the first women’s college in South Carolina and one of the first in the United States. In the early 1900s, when young men from the local area sought higher education, but could not afford to attend distant universities, Limestone admitted them as daytime commuting students.
In the 1970s, when most colleges and universities had no interest in educating working adults, Limestone established the Block Program, one of the pioneer programs for non-traditional students. The Block Program allowed students to complete their bachelor’s degrees entirely through evening classes, using a novel one-course-at-a-time accelerated format. In the mid 1990s, through the establishment of the Virtual Campus, Limestone emerged as a national leader in applying computer technology to teach students who could not utilize traditional classroom settings. In 2005, the Block Program and the Virtual Campus were combined into the Extended Campus Program and in 2018, it was renamed the Online & Evening Program. Providing higher education access to those needing it the most has been a proud theme throughout the history of Limestone College.
The institution that became Limestone College was founded by Dr. Thomas Curtis and his son, Dr. William Curtis, distinguished Baptist ministers and scholars who were born in England and immigrated to the United States in 1833. Dr. Thomas Curtis served churches in Maine, Georgia, and South Carolina, including the Wentworth Street Baptist Church in Charleston, while Dr. William Curtis was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Columbia.
In 1845, Dr. Thomas Curtis was able to fulfill his dream of establishing an institution of higher learning for young women by purchasing a magnificent building at Limestone Springs, which had been constructed in the 1830s as a resort hotel. The village of Limestone Springs, now a part of Gaffney, had developed adjacent to a mineral water springs, which attracted families from the Midlands and Lowcountry who wished to avail themselves of the supposed medicinal value of the spring water and avoid the oppressive summer heat of their home regions.
Originally named the Limestone Springs Female High School, the new institution attracted the daughters of the most influential families of South Carolina, who sought the finest liberal arts education available in the antebellum period. On November 6, 1845, a total of 67 young women began their classes at Limestone.
Dr. Thomas Curtis assumed an active role in education beyond the confines of his own school. He was instrumental in organizing the South Carolina Teachers Association and founding the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which eventually moved from Greenville, South Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky.
Tragedy struck Limestone in 1859, when Dr. Thomas Curtis, returning from a visit to the North, perished in a shipboard fire on Chesapeake Bay. Leadership of the College passed to his son, Dr. William Curtis. During the War Between the States, William was an ardent supporter of the Confederate cause. He was a signer of the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession and loaned a large sum of money to the Confederate government. When the South was defeated, there was no hope of repayment and the wealthy planters who had sent their daughters to Limestone were now destitute.
Despite these difficult times, Limestone managed to survive. Peter Cooper, a prominent industrialist and inventor, briefly considered the possibility of transforming Limestone into a Southern version of his famed Cooper Union in New York City. While his plans for Limestone did not materialize, in 1881 the school became known as the Cooper-Limestone Institute. In 1898, it became Limestone College.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Limestone was fortunate to have Trustee leadership from two of the leaders of the textile industry in Upstate South Carolina, Captain John Montgomery of Spartan Mills and Dr. Wylie Cicero Hamrick of Hamrick Mills. Captain Montgomery served as chair of the Board of Trustees from 1888 until his death in 1902. Under his leadership and through his personal generosity, Limestone regained its stability and reputation. Dr. Hamrick served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1899 until his death in 1935 and oversaw Limestone during its golden years of expansion. His descendants have played prominent leadership roles at Limestone down to the present day.
During the 67 year period, 1899-1966, Limestone College was led by three of the most influential presidents in the long history of the institution— Dr. Lee Davis Lodge (1899-1923), Dr. Robert C. Granberry (1923-1952), and Dr. Andrew Jackson Eastwood (1953-1966). Each of these three leaders is memorialized through the naming of major campus buildings in their honor – Dixie Lodge, Granberry Hall, and Eastwood Library.
One of Dr. Lodge’s first endeavors was the construction of the Winnie Davis Hall of History. This unique structure, one of the most architecturally splendid buildings on any college campus, was occupied in 1904 and named in honor of the daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Varina Howell Davis. The new building was to be used to promote the study of Southern history and Southern literature. Dr. Lodge proposed to make Limestone a great center of historical study, where the rich materials of the South could be collected, preserved, organized, and interpreted. Visiting scholars would share their knowledge with Limestone students.
For the next 40 years, Limestone students who completed a prescribed sequence of History courses received a special diploma from the Winnie Davis School of History in addition to their Limestone diploma.
Limestone College has always been deeply involved with improving educational opportunities in Gaffney and Cherokee County. In the late 1890s, shortly after the creation of Cherokee as a separate county, Limestone administrators supported the efforts of local citizens to establish a public school system. When the new system opened its doors, every teacher was a Limestone graduate. More than a century later, Limestone provides a large percentage of teachers to Cherokee County and the Upstate of South Carolina.
During World War I, Limestone continued its outreach efforts to the local community. Under the leadership of professor Eunice Ford, later dean of the college, Limestone established evening classes to assist local citizens gain the necessary literacy skills to serve their country both in the military and in critical civilian occupations.
In 1923, Dr. Lodge was succeeded by Dr. Robert C. Granberry. Many of the buildings on Limestone’s front campus date from his presidency. Both the Hamrick Hall of Science, a gift from Dr. Hamrick who was then serving as chair of the Board of Trustees, and the Carroll School of Fine Arts, a gift from longtime benefactor James A. Carroll, were completed in 1925.
From 1921 until 1941, Limestone was formally affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, a relationship that ended amicably when control of the institution passed to a self-governing Board of Trustees. In 1928, Limestone College received regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), an accreditation that has been continuously maintained since that date.
In 1953, Dr. Andrew Jackson Eastwood, longtime professor of History, ascended to the presidency of Limestone. During his tenure, student enrollment increased, admission standards were raised, and the relationship between the College and the local community was strengthened.
Fullerton Auditorium, completed in 1964 and seating nearly 1,000, provides one of the finest performance venues in the area. Limestone’s priceless Aeolian-Skinner organ, constructed by G. Donald Harrison, who also built the organ for the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, was moved into the new auditorium.
Following the passing of Dr. Eastwood in 1966, Limestone experienced many of the challenges facing other higher education institutions during those turbulent years. During the next 26 years, the College had eight presidents, three of them serving on an interim basis.
Male commuting students were allowed on campus in the early 20th century, but there were no residence halls for men until the late 1960s when Limestone became a coeducational, liberal arts college. With desegregation occurring throughout the nation, African-American students were admitted to the College for the first time. In recent years, Limestone has been cited for the diversity of its student body.
In the 1970s, Limestone developed a novel, accelerated approach to education for working adults. The Block Program, which has served as a national model for successful evening programs, gave working adults the opportunity to complete their baccalaureate degrees without sacrificing their jobs.
Limestone’s intercollegiate athletics program began during the 1972-1973 academic year with four sports – men’s basketball, men’s tennis, men’s golf, and women’s volleyball. Blue, gold, and white were selected as the school colors. The selected nickname for the athletic teams was “Saints,” and a Saint Bernard dog was chosen as the Limestone mascot. Facilities for intercollegiate athletics improved dramatically in 1976 with the opening of the Timken Physical Education Center, which contained a 1,500-seat basketball arena and an aquatic center. In 1984, the men’s golf team brought home Limestone’s first national title, winning the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Championship. Limestone added a men’s baseball program in 1987 and selected as its first coach former major league pitcher and future Hall of Fame member Gaylord Perry.
In 1991, Limestone secured membership in NCAA Division II, and in 1998 joined the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference (CVAC). In 2007, the name was changed to Conference Carolinas.
The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams have enjoyed particular success at the national level as of late. The men’s team won NCAA Division II National Championships in 2000, 2002, 2014, 2015, and 2016. The women’s lacrosse team has advanced to the national tournament nine times in recent years. The 2011 and 2013 women’s squads advanced to the National Championship finals.
In October 2005, Limestone dedicated a new Physical Education Center containing a state-of-the-art Fitness Center and athletic training facilities, a wrestling practice area, locker rooms, classrooms, and offices.
Field hockey, men’s volleyball, football, acrobatics & tumbling, and women’s wrestling have been added in recent years, bringing the total number of intercollegiate sports to 25. Limestone also offers competitive cheerleading and dance. The Saints played their inaugural football season in 2014. Today, more than 60 percent of Limestone’s day students participate in intercollegiate athletics.
Dr. Walt Griffin became president of Limestone College in 1992, at a time when the institution was experiencing dwindling enrollment, major financial deficits, and deteriorating buildings. However, Limestone not only recovered from the hard times of the 1980s, but also flourished during his presidency until he retired in 2017.
After an extensive national search, Dr. Darrell Parker was introduced in December of 2017 as Limestone’s 22nd President, and he took office in January of 2018.
Prior to coming to Limestone, Dr. Parker served for five years as the Dean and Professor of Economics for the College of Business at Western Carolina University.
A native of Buncombe County, Dr. Parker grew up in Weaverville, North Carolina and graduated from North Buncombe High School. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics at the University of North Carolina Asheville before going on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Purdue University.
Dr. Parker is no stranger to the Upstate area of South Carolina. He served for six years as the Dean and Professor of Economics for the Johnson College of Business and Economics at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg.
Including its Day Campus and Online & Evening Program, Limestone is one of the largest private colleges in South Carolina.
Limestone is committed to the liberal arts and sciences and to educating men and women for leadership, service, and professional responsibility in the 21st century. While receiving a strong foundation in the liberal arts, Limestone students generally major in fields directly related to career preparation – Business Administration, Education, Computer Science, Social Work, Physical Education, and Criminal Justice.
Limestone is privileged to have a distinguished and dedicated faculty. Nearly 80 percent of the day faculty possess the Ph.D. or other terminal degree in their academic disciplines. A small student-to-faculty ratio allows the College’s students to get individualized attention generally not available at larger institutions. At a time when many higher education institutions are increasingly relying on the services of part-time faculty, more than 80 percent of the Day Campus classes at Limestone are taught by full-time faculty and staff.
Limestone students are active in campus and community life through social, service, and athletic organizations. The Honors Program challenges those with exceptional intellectual ability; the Christian Education and Leadership Program serves those interested in deepening their religious commitment; and the Program for Alternative Learning Styles fosters academic success for those with documented learning disabilities.
Limestone’s first graduate degree program, leading to the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA), was initiated in July of 2012. The MBA program is designed to prepare students for management positions in business and industry, government, and nonprofit institutions, and to provide further educational opportunities for those persons already so employed.
Recent additions to the undergraduate curriculum include Early Childhood Education, Health Care Administration, Human Resource Management, and Professional Communication, providing an important array of programs that are important in today’s job market.
In addition to being regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) since 1928, Limestone has numerous departmental accreditations. The most recent was for Business (ACBSP) in 2017. The College also has departmental accreditation for Athletic Training (CAATE); Music (NASM); Social Work (CSWE); and Teacher Education (NCATE), including Physical Education, English Education, Math Education, Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, and Music Education.
Several Online Programs at Limestone have been recognized recently as some of the best in the country, including Social Work, Human Resources, and Psychology. The College’s Online Associate and Bachelor degree programs were also recognized nationally in 2018.
In recent years, Limestone has completed major renovations to most of its campus buildings. Nine of the buildings on Limestone’s front campus are on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the old quarry (now a lake) adjacent to the campus. The Winnie Davis Hall of History opened in 1904, fell into disrepair in the 1970s, and remained out of use until 2010 when a $4.8 million initiative transformed the magnificent building into a multimedia academic hall with six contemporary classrooms, museum and art gallery space, and faculty offices.
In addition to the restoration of the Winnie Davis Hall of History, Limestone can boast of the addition of several other buildings to the campus scene in the early part of this new century:
- The Physical Education Center, constructed in 2005, was renamed the Walt Griffin Physical Education Center in 2009.
- A new residence hall, with a capacity of 96 students, was opened in early 2011. It was named for Vivian and George Carl Ball in 2015.
- At the corner of O’Neal and Griffith Streets, the 200-bed Walter W. Brown Residence Hall opened in the fall of 2016.
- The Limestone Center, acquired from the Cherokee County Board of Education, was completely renovated in 2010 and today affords excellent facilities for both intercollegiate athletics and college theatre.
- Timken East, formerly housing YMCA programs and activities, was renovated for both academic and student service uses in 2010.
- A building to house the Downtown Campus in Gaffney was leased by the College in 2012 primarily for use by the Music Department.
- The College acquired two nearby apartment complexes for student housing in 2013
- The historic Fort House, a picturesque two-story brick home located on Overbrook Drive, was donated to the College in 2010.
- The Landon House near the Camp-Swofford Chapel was acquired in 2014 for the Christian Education Leadership Program (CELP). The nearby Agape House was acquired for CELP in 2015.
- Bob Campbell Field House, providing locker facilities for 477 student-athletes, opened in the fall of 2014.
- The legacy of legendary Gaffney High School coach and educator Robert E. “Bob” Prevatte will soon have a permanent home at Limestone College, thanks to a record-breaking $4.1 million gift from the Richardson Foundation. At a special groundbreaking ceremony held in April of 2018, Limestone officials announced the “Bob Prevatte Athletic Complex” project that will expand and enhance many facilities.
- Construction of the state-of-the-art campus center and library is expected to begin in the near future.
- The Board of Trustees voted in the spring of 2018 for the institution to change its name to “Limestone University” in the fall of 2020. New graduate programs are also expected to be added soon.
Dr. Madison Sarratt, Class of 1906, was Limestone’s first male graduate and later served as vice chancellor of Vanderbilt University. Dr. Sarratt eloquently expressed the feelings of many whose lives have been touched by Limestone College when he wrote:
“We like to think of education as a stream that flows from small beginnings to deep and wide and powerful rivers. If I should apply this to my own education, I would say that Limestone was the spring where my small river originated. I hope it is still flowing.”
After 173 years, the spring of education continues to flow at Limestone College.
An abbreviated history of Limestone College was incorporated in the 2007 edition of South Carolina: An Illustrated History of the Palmetto State, by Ernest McPherson, Jr., and Archie Vernon Huff, Jr. Updated material was added in July 2018.