Century in the City

This year, Emory celebrates the 100th anniversary of its move from Oxford, Georgia, to Atlanta. Here's a timely take on how the physical campus has shaped up since then.

When they first met more than a hundred years ago, Emory and Atlanta were the perfect young couple: sweet—like soda pop, you might say—and a little shy. 

Today, they’re more like a power couple. The town-gown relationship has deepened and bloomed into dozens of thriving partnerships, joint initiatives, and shared resources. Emory has ties to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society, Grady Memorial Hospital, the Georgia Research Alliance, The Carter Center, Georgia Tech, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, among many others. As the second-highest private employer in the metro area, with an annual operating budget of $4.6 billion and more than $570 million in research funding, Emory’s economic impact in Atlanta is significant.

And as Emory’s presence in Atlanta has grown, its brick-and-mortar campus has kept pace with the bold vision that first brought the two together.


The Coke Brothers

Like many strong, lasting relationships, the one between Emory and Atlanta has its roots in family and business. In 1888, two things happened to make the match: One, Warren Candler became president of his alma mater, Emory College, then a struggling Methodist institution of some 230 students situated in Oxford, Georgia. And two, his brother Asa Candler bought the patent and the “secret formula” for a drink that would become known as Coca-Cola. Ten years later, Warren Candler left the Emory presidency to become bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, but he remained devoted to the school; meanwhile, in 1899, Asa was elected to the college’s Board of Trustees, later serving as chair. In 1914, when the Methodist Church’s Southern leadership decided to establish a university in the Southeast, both brothers saw an opportunity. In his famous “Million Dollar Letter” to the church’s Education Commission—conveniently chaired by Warren Candler—Asa pledged the staggering sum of $1 million to further the creation of the new university. The Coca-Cola Company founder sweetened the deal with another gift: seventy-five acres of wooded land about six miles northeast of downtown Atlanta. And with that, little Emory College was headed for the big city.


'The Old Guess place'

Locally known by the name of the previous owners, the site of the new university underwent rapid transformation, helped along by a sawmill that was constructed right on campus to turn trees into buildings while saving Emory money. The Theology Building (now Pitts Theology Library) was the first foundation laid on the Quadrangle, to be joined by law, medicine, and business. By fall 1919, classes in all four schools were in full swing at the Druid Hills campus.


If You Build It

If Emory University wanted to attract students, it needed somewhere to put them. Dormitories Dobbs Hall and Winship Hall were among the first four buildings constructed, along with the Theology Building and the Fishburne Laboratory of Physiology. 

Growth Spurt

When Harvey Cox became president of the university in 1920, the Emory campus boasted a half-dozen buildings, about nine hundred students, and a growing budget deficit, thanks to operating expenses that outstripped income. Cox declared a halt to new construction until the books could be balanced—and was rewarded with more largesse from Asa Candler in the form of both money and land. In 1926, Candler attended the groundbreaking of the university’s first library building (above), which was named for him. Cox led the university for two decades, overseeing considerable expansion of the campus and more than a dozen building projects.


Health Care History

Wesley Memorial Hospital, now Emory University Hospital, opened its doors in 1922. Today, more than fifty-five thousand patients pass through it and Emory University Hospital Midtown each year. The facility made global headlines last year when Emory doctors treated the first cases of Ebola virus disease in the US.


Ten in Ten

By 1926, Emory had established a foothold in its new hometown. That year, the Atlanta Journal—precursor to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC)—featured a two-page spread celebrating the university’s first decade in Atlanta and the kickoff of the “$10 Million in Ten Years” fund-raising campaign—which was largely derailed by the Great Depression. The AJC continues to cover Emory developments and events on a
regular basis.



Student life was picking up in 1927: Emory opened its first swimming pool, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon began construction of the first house on fraternity row. Now the Eagles’ women’s swimming and diving team is the national Division III champion practicing in one of two sparkling Olympic pools; Eagle Row is home to eleven fraternities and a large sorority complex.


The Original Oxford 

In 1929, Emory’s historic Oxford campus became a junior college, now Oxford College of Emory University.


In Spired

Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church was completed in 1931 and dedicated as a memorial to Wilbur Fisk Glenn, an Emory College alumnus and a prominent Methodist minister. Today it remains a vibrant Methodist church and a central site for
Emory community events and programs.



After World War II, Emory’s enrollment more than doubled, obliging the administration to provide this throng of students with somewhere to sleep. In 1946, the university brought in one hundred used trailers, thirty-one prefab buildings, and three former army barracks to stake out what became known as Trailertown—or, perhaps less fondly, Mudville.

Building Expectations

During the 1940s and 1950s, Emory experienced a period of explosive growth. From 1946 to 1957, President Goodrich C. White 1908C oversaw the construction of some seventeen new facilities—including the Rich Memorial Building, the Alumni Memorial Building, the Administration Building, four dorms, six academic buildings, and the university’s first parking deck.


Presidents’ Residence

Built in 1925 for Walter Candler 1907C, the 7,500-square-foot Lullwater House was purchased by Emory in 1958. It was restored in 1963 (and again in 1994) and became the official home of Emory President Sanford S. Atwood, and succeeding presidents, that year. The surrounding 185 acres of lovely Lullwater Preserve remain open to the Emory community, who can enter on foot or bicycle—but only the president’s car is given regular access to the long, sweeping drive.

On the Rise

Under President Atwood’s leadership, a fund-raising campaign in the late 1960s raised $35 million—the foundation for some $150 million
in construction during the following decade. The early 1970s brought the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Gambrell Hall, the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building (above), Goodrich C. White Hall, and the Chemistry Center, which was renamed for Atwood in 1991.


Spirited Education

In 1975, James T. Laney, then dean of Candler School of Theology, helped orchestrate the purchase of all the holdings of the Hartford Theological Seminary—a vast and prestigious collection that would take up most of the Theology Building. Thus the Pitts Theology Library, as well as Cannon Chapel and the new School of Theology building, were born. Laney became Emory president in 1977.


A Toast To Transformation

It’s the stuff of legend: Emory made headlines and history in 1979 when the Woodruff Foundation, led by brothers Robert and George Woodruff, transferred to the university $105 million in Coca-Cola Company stock. “The Gift” transformed Emory’s future and, nearly a century after Asa Candler first bought the soft-drink patent, further strengthened the connection between Emory and its adopted city, where Coca-Cola was (and is) one of the biggest success stories.


Student Central

For more than three decades, an old airplane hangar served as Emory’s gym. The welcome completion of the George W. Woodruff Physical Education Center in 1983 took Emory athletics to a new level. Two years later, the Howard R. Dobbs Jr. University Center, which was constructed around the facade and steps of the old Alumni Memorial Building, opened up shop across the street; thereafter, the “WoodPEC” and the “DUC” became student central.


Down to Business

In 1996, President William Chace initiated a Campus Master Plan that guided more than twenty new construction projects, with a focus on reducing car traffic and parking in favor of a greener, more walkable central campus. The following year saw the completion of the Goizueta Business School.


Where the Art Is

The Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts was possibly the most long-awaited building on the Emory campus. Plans for a performing arts center had alternately flamed and sputtered for decades until the stars finally aligned. Completed in 2002, the building’s showpiece is the 825-seat Cherry Logan Emerson Concert Hall, but the Schwartz Center also houses classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and a dance studio.


Sounds Like a Plan

When Emory President James Wagner announced an ambitious Strategic Plan in 2005, a key supporting effort was a new, ten-year Campus Master Plan that would help the university’s physical growth keep pace with its visionary identity. In his introduction, Wagner identified three guiding principles: superb stewardship of the natural environment, advancement of the community’s intellectual life, and enhancement of the quality of life for students, faculty, staff, and Emory’s neighbors. 


Medical Marvel

The School of Medicine opened the James B. Williams Medical Education Building, designed to maximize students’ medical education experience and encourage interaction with faculty, other students in the health sciences, and each other.

The university’s policy of “no net loss of forest canopy” maintains that any time a tree is removed, a sufficient number of new trees must be planted to replace or exceed the original forest canopy. The policy is one of the most rigorous of any university in the US, helping BestCollege.com rank Emory in the top ten “greenest universities.” 


Shiny and New

In 2010, the Rollins School of Public Health celebrated the opening of the Claudia Nance Rollins Building, which includes 20,000 square feet of laboratory space and renovation of the Grace Crum Rollins Building. That same year saw completion of the Oxford Road Building, with its lecture hall, bookstore, and ever-busy Starbucks; the Office of Undergraduate Admission is located on the top floor. 


Making a Point

Emory Point, which opened in fall 2012, instantly became a hot spot for the Emory community. Its tempting mix of restaurants, retail, and apartments make it a go-to gathering place for everyone from freshmen to faculty. Phase II is now under way.


No Ticket to Ride

Emory’s free Clif Shuttle system, which runs on a biofuel blend made from the used cooking oil from campus dining, took more than a million car rides off the roadways in 2014.

Purposeful Progress

Characteristic of new construction throughout Emory, the Rita Anne Rollins Building at Candler, which opened in 2014, is designed for transparency, fluidity, flexibility, and community. 

Not Your Dad’s Dorm

The physical evolution of student housing has supported a cultural transformation, guided by themes designed to engage students at every level of their Emory experience. The newest first-year building is named for the first female graduate of Emory’s law school; the theme for Raoul Hall is social entrepreneurship. The Longstreet-Means dormitory focuses on global cultures, and Alabama Hall celebrates creativity and the arts.


Saving Water

Emory’s new WaterHub is an onsite water recycling system that uses eco-engineering processes to clean wastewater for future non-potable uses. It’s the first of its kind in the US, capable of recycling up to 400,000 gallons a day—nearly 40 percent of Emory’s total campus water needs.

Wide Open Spaces

This fall saw the opening of the ultra-modern and much-anticipated Sanford S. Atwood Chemistry Center addition, as well as the newly renovated and expanded Stuart A. Rose Library (formerly the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library). From the spacious atrium of Atwood, the center of a new Science Commons, one can see into the laboratories where teams work in free-flowing spaces that encourage collaboration. The Rose Library, perched at the top of Woodruff Library, offers a similar openness and transparency in its research and teaching spaces—not to mention sweeping views of the campus and the Atlanta skyline beyond.

There’s an old Emory joke that instead of an eagle, our mascot should be a crane. Continuous construction has been a hallmark of the university’s progress and growth. What new spaces for learning and living will the next century bring?

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