north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Duke University began as a small, rural school in Randolph County. First known as Brown’s Schoolhouse, the school grew and in 1838 was re-organized by local families as Union Institute under principal Brantley York. The institute received its charter in 1841 and was again re-organized in 1851 as a normal school to train teachers and, the following year, the General Assembly authorized the institution to grant degrees. In 1859 the name of the school was changed to Trinity College after the Methodist Church became involved in operating the school. It continued to prosper with the first masters degree awarded in 1877 and the first female graduates receiving degrees the following year. In 1887 John Crowell became president and under his guidance the school was transformed from a rural college to an urban campus in Durham. Crowell persuaded the trustees that a move to an urban setting would encourage greater enrollment. To promote the move, land in Durham was donated by Julian S. Carr and Washington Duke. The latter initiated the first of a series of donations, laying the groundwork for future collaboration between his family and the institution.

     Two years after the move to Durham in 1892, John Kilgo became president. Kilgo nurtured Washington Duke’s affinity for the school and his desire to fund the needs of the urban campus. Over the next few years, Duke contributed heavily to the school. The school emerged as one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the south, priding itself on allowing open debate and discussion on sensitive topics, inviting speakers such as Booker T. Washington to campus and supporting controversial professors. By 1924, the trustees had decided to transform the college into a university. William Few, who became president of Trinity in 1910, facilitated the change from a college into a complex research university, helped by the financial support of the Duke family. In 1924 James B. Duke established the Duke Endowment to benefit the university. During the creation of the endowment and restructuring of the school, it was decided that Trinity should be re-named Duke University in honor of Washington Duke. Quickly following on its new name and financial stability, the new university began a building campaign, laying the first cornerstone of its Gothic style campus in 1928. The first buildings were occupied in 1930 and the chapel was first used for baccalaureate services in 1932.

     As Trinity College grew, it developed its own identity, using Yale blue as its color, honoring a past president’s alma mater. The school’s “Blue Devil” mascot was chosen by the school newspaper in 1922 as an homage to a regiment of French troops during World War I. The mascot and school colors are still maintained by the University.

A History of Duke and Duke Chronology from the University Archives:
Robert F. Durden, The Launching of Duke University, 1924-1949 (1993)
The Duke Endowment: The First Fifty Years, 1924-1974 (1974)
Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929 (1975)
Robert F. Durden, “The Origins of the Duke Endowment and the Launching of Duke University,” North Carolina Historical Review (April 1975): 130-146

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north carolina highway historical marker program

Duke University

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources