The idea of a “University of the South” began in 1857. The Board of Trustees for the proposed university met for the first time in the summer of 1858 in Beersheba Springs, a resort location for many of the planters from Louisiana and Mississippi. These planters longed to escape the swamps of the “deep south,” and the diseases like yellow fever that came with them.
The trustees selected a tract of land in Sewanee that was offered to the university. This was an ideal location on the new railroad that was built connecting the Nashville and Chattanooga road with the coalmines of Grundy County.
The corner stone for the University was placed and construction began. The Civil War, however, delayed the building of the university and took its founders away to fight for the Confederacy. After the Civil War the founders renewed their efforts and completed the university.
Originally the school was designed to be a military academy and boy’s school. The founders desired that it rival West Point.
Throughout the years the University of the South has become commonly known only as Sewanee. It has produced many of the leaders of this nation and prominent citizens of society.
Sewanee students are responsible for saving lives in wars, fighting yellow fever allowing the Panama Canal to be built, and serving the nation as leaders and educators. The War Memorial Cross was constructed in honor of these people.
The campus itself remains a masterpiece of artwork, and its beauty attracts thousands each year. It consists of 10,000 acres and offers miles of walking trails, scenic bluff overlooks, and gothic architecture. The design of the campus came in the Gothic tradition of Oxford and Rhodes Colleges in England. Craftsmen from the mountain helped construct much of the university, where the buildings are made of native sandstone.
Sewanee, which has boasted a coeducational student body since 1969, was originally designed to house a school of law along with a medical school and a school of theology. It was also to have a school of arts and sciences.