Typical of the disarray within the college leadership in the 1870s is the story of the erection of the first actual building of the college, as such. (All the others had been designed and built for the hotel.) The two literary societies, still unchallenged by sports and fraternities, held sway as the engine of student personal life. On their own motion, they embarked in 1871 upon providing a stylish home for themselves. Washington and Franklin Hall, a large, brick, two-story building in a debased beaux-arts style rose close to the railroad tracks at the southern end of the grounds. B. F. Price of Alexandria, the architect-builder, also built the house there of the parents of student J. W. Lambert.
The students' ambitions outstripped their means, for by the end of June 1872, they owed $5,681 on the construction cost of $12,954. The president of the Franklin Literary Society, J. W. Lambert, appeared before the board and by dint of good organization impressed its members with the capacity of the societies to repay a loan. The board agreed to furnish the balance, and the students were to use their best efforts to jointly pay $1000 annually upon the principal. Lambert here showed early the flair for business that would lead to his later success in inventing Listerine and founding the pharmaceutical company that bears his name. (He died in January 1889.) Ultimately, the remaining cost would be paid out of money from the sale of the old campus in Mecklenburg County in 1871. The students' plans for repayment were probably knocked awry by the general depression in the country that began in 1873. In June of that year, $2,513 was pledged for the building at commencement, but only $490 was paid. In the opulent halls of the student societies, the trustees held their annual meetings, alternating each year between them.
The initiative of the students, so typical of them during that century, had the effect of forcing the school to remain on that site. Efforts were made to trade the southern railroad property for the property opposite the campus. As buildings were needed, they began to be clustered around Washington-Franklin Hall. These new buildings, initiated by the college, were added as the need arose, and systematic planning emerged, even in theory, only in the twentieth century.
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Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History 1825-1967