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Published on Oct 28, 2009
This video explains this history behind the imposing building of Biddle Memorial Hall, which is intimately bound up with the history of Johnson C. Smith University. Charlottean and JCSU Alumnus, Mr. J. Charles Jones shares his memories of Biddle Hall and the Johnson C. Smith Campus.
Johnson C. Smith University was founded by two white ministers (Rev. S. C. Alexander and Rev. W. L. Miller) under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. It was known as The Henry J. Biddle Memorial Institute in honor of Major Henry J. Biddle, a Union soldier who was killed in action during the Civil War. During its formative years Mrs. Mary D. Biddle, the wife of Major Biddle, gave considerable financial support to the institution.
The school was originally housed in a small church located near the present location of Fourth and Davidson Streets. A few years after its feeble beginning, the old Confederate Navy Building located on East Trade St., below where the Civic Center now stands, was purchased. This building was to be moved to another location on Seventh Street, somewhere between College and Caldwell Streets. Colonel William R. Myers discouraged the ministers about moving to that site and offered them property where the school now stands. The gift of eight acres by this outstanding Charlotte citizen was the nucleus of the present site.
In 1883 the name of the institution was changed to Biddle University. In 1921 because of the many generous gifts which she had made to the institution in honor of her husband, Mrs. Jane M. Smith was notified by the Board of Trustees that the name of the institution had been changed to Johnson C. Smith University.
The first president of the institution was Rev. Stephen Mattoon. For nearly two and a half decades the presidents and most of the faculty members were white. In 1891 the institution had its first black president, Rev. Daniel J. Sanders. Since that time all of its presidents and the majority of the faculty have been black.
Biddle Memorial Hall was constructed in 1884. It was the first substantial building erected on the current campus (see appended photograph #1), and is the oldest surviving structure on the campus. Dominated by a massive but elegant clock tower, the structure contains 40,045 square feet of floor space. Its ornamentation and overall massing are typical of institutional architecture during the Victorian era. Originally it consisted of an auditorium with a balcony, the President's offices the Registrar's offices, the Business Office, the first library, classrooms, and restrooms. It currently serves as the general administration building of the University. Currently the building also contains portraits and pictures of the founders, presidents, benefactors, and of other individuals directly connected with the growth and development of the University.