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The Beginning

In 1892, Professor George Colcord and his wife, Ada, started Graysville Academy in Graysville, Tennessee, where 23 students enrolled that first year.

In November 1897, the school's name was changed to Southern Industrial School, and in 1901, it was changed again to Southern Training School.

In 1915, the women's dorm burned. While no lives were lost, school officials decided to move, and the following year, the school board bought a piece of property called Thatcher Switch and named it Collegedale.

Laying the Foundation

The new location also brought a new name: Southern Junior College. On October 18, 1916, 57 students arrived for classes, with more than 200 turned away for lack of living space.

The new college needed a church, so the Collegedale congregation organized with 50 members.

In 1921, the school ran into financial difficulties and President Lynn Wood volunteered to reduce his pay to that of a department head. Other faculty members followed his example, helping the school survive.

In 1924, after the financial situation improved, the school built a new administration and classroom building. The building was known as College Hall until 1945, when it was renamed Lynn Wood Hall.

Building an Educational Community

In 1942, Kenneth A. Wright became president of the school. During Wright's administration, Southern Junior College became accredited as a four-year institution and adopted the new name Southern Missionary College in 1944; two men and four women received Southern's first baccalaureate degrees two years later.

In the spring of 1944, the board announced a $300,000 expansion program, which included science (Hackman Hall) and music (Miller Hall) buildings, and a library (Daniells Memorial Library).

In 1956, the school's largest industry for working students, a furniture factory, burned to the ground. The insurance money was used to build a new plant that was leased to McKee Baking Company. McKee Foods was the largest manufacturing employer in Hamilton County for many years and still employs thousands at its Collegedale plants.

In 1958, Conard N. Rees became president. New buildings began to dot the campus, including Talge Hall, the Collegedale Church, the Iles P.E. Center, an industrial education building, and a shopping plaza. The enrollment shot from 500 to more than 1,200 students, and the school introduced a new campus radio station, WSMC FM.

In 1967, Wilbert Schneider replaced Rees. During his administration, construction on Wright Hall was completed, providing offices for administration, a new cafeteria, and the student center. The men's dorm was demolished for the planned McKee Library, and the new home economics building (now occupied by the School of Education and Psychology) and Thatcher Hall were completed.

In 1982, Southern Missionary College again changed its name, becoming Southern College of Seventh-day Adventists. Brock Hall was added in 1983, and the music building, Miller Hall, was refurbished and became the home of the religion department.

In 1996, trustees voted to move the college toward university status, and later that year, they voted on a new name: Southern Adventist University. A double dedication was held the following February for the university and for the Hickman Science Center. The first master's-level classes began in the summer of 1996.

In 1997, Gordon Bietz became the president of Southern Adventist University, which began a period of rapid expansion, both in enrollment and academics. The first graduate degrees were awarded in 1998.

Southern's Administration building in 1893 in Graysville, Tennessee.Administration Building

The two-story administration building was built in 1893. After a dormitory burned in 1915, the decision was made to move the campus to a location with more room for expansion.

The original administration building on the Collegedale campus.Lynn Wood Hall in the ’20s

The original administration building on the Collegedale campus.

Aerial view of a portion of the Promenade in the 1940s. Campus in the '40s

A busy noon hour in the 1940s finds students walking along the area where the K.R. Davis Promenade now links campus buildings. At that time, a road paralleled the walkway. Old Talge Hall, Lynn Wood Hall, and Jones Hall are seen to the right of the flagpole.

An aerial view of the campus in 1952Campus 1952

The tree-lined street passing through the campus was located west of the present University Drive. If it still existed where it was, the residence halls would be to the right or east of it.

An image of the Collegedale Church's sanctuary.Collegedale Church

Since this photo was taken, the look of the sanctuary has changed considerably with the addition of the Anton Heiller Memorial Organ, dedicated in April 1986.

The New Millennium

In 2001, an undergraduate enrollment of 2,098 eclipsed the previous record, and Southern became the largest Seventh-day Adventist undergraduate institution in the North American Division. A nationwide emphasis on marketing affordability, value, Christian peers and professors, and the spiritual environment of the campus led to a steadily increasing enrollment. 2001 also marked the first time students had the option of earning a degree from Southern entirely online (MBA).

Growth brought many facility expansions, including Southern Village, a new community of student apartment complexes built across from the Collegedale Church. A new wing was added onto Talge Hall in 2004, providing 260 additional student beds. The university maintains its residential nature, with a majority of the students living on campus.

In the fall of 2010, enrollment broke the 3,000 mark, with 3,053 students receiving a Christian education at the university.

The $9.5 million Campaign for Health and Healing produced two expansions on campus, the Hulsey Wellness Center (2008) and a new nursing building, Florida Hospital Hall (2011), which also houses training in Southern's first doctoral-level curriculum, the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). DNP classes began in 2012 with its first degrees conferred in 2014.

In 2011, Southern began extensive renovations on Summerour Hall and added 7,000 square feet before reopening the building in 2014.

In 2012, the Origins Exhibit opened as a permanent museum-quality exhibit on the second floor of Hickman Science Center. The exhibit presents a short-term creationist worldview by asking participants to consider the intricacy of the cell, the relationship between the Geologic Column and biblical flood, and the significance of beauty in nature.

In 2013, Southern's School of P.E., Health, and Wellness added the Vegetarian Culinary Arts program to its offerings with a certificate program. In 2014, it began offering an associate degree in the field as well. 

Southern's uQuest Missions program, which helps students organize their own short-term mission trips, began in 2013. These trips, generally 10 days in length, occur over fall break, Christmas break, and spring break. Most are to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

In 2014, WSMC, Southern's classical music radio station in operation since 1961, added a faith-based online station called OASIS. Programming consists of syndicated Seventh-day Adventist shows mixed with original content produced by students and staff of Southern.

In the summer of 2015, the School of Nursing began offering a summer cohort for students to help offset some of the enrollment demand in this popular area of study. Students take a full semester's worth of classes between May and August and then take a regular fall term before taking the winter semester off.

In 2016, David Smith became Southern's 26th president as the institution celebrated 100 years of being in its current location. Southern moved to Collegedale (previously called Thatcher Switch) in 1916 from Graysville, Tennessee, located approximately 40 miles away.

2017 marked Southern's 125th anniversary, celebrated throughout the year with special events, commemorative pins, and a special logo. That year, 749 students graduated from Southern, setting a record for the institution.

2018 was the 25th year that Southern set aside Martin Luther King Jr. Day to serve the community. Approximately 1,000 students and employees participated, with Gym-Masters and a student a cappella group performing for the main City of Chattanooga MLK event.

In 2019, Southern accepted the first students into its new Physical Therapist Assistant Department. Additionally, the Biology Department was instrumental in establishing an arboretum on campus. In October, the Board voted to approve new mission, vision, and values statements for the university.

Spring 2020 brought the COVID-19 pandemic, with students and employees rising to the challenges of temporarily moving to distance learning. Fall semester resumed the on-campus experience, with positive results. That year, the university concluded its largest-ever fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Excellence in Faith and Learning, raising $54 million to transform the lives of students on campus.

2021 marked the opening of the long-anticipated Bietz Center for Student Life, a 40,000-square-foot “campus living room” funded entirely by gifts. Additionally, Ken Shaw, ’80, EdD, became Southern’s 27th president—the first alum to hold this position.

Southern continues to pursue academic excellence:

  • The School of Nursing nurse practitioner program has a 100-percent pass rate for certification exams.
  • The School of Religion operates the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum with the largest teaching collection of Near East artifacts in the United States.
  • The School of Visual Art and Design won the Crystal Heart Award at the Heartland Film Festival for its Christian feature film, Secret of the Cave.
  • The School of Business offers the MBA degree completely online.
  • The Social Work program received $500,000 in state grant funds to train Tennessee caseworkers from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
  • As of 2020, the university has achieved a top tier ranking for 19 consecutive years in U.S. News and World Report's "Best Colleges" guide.

Southern Adventist University continues to move forward and expand its influence and educate with strong Christian beliefs and a Christ-centered worldview. History is still being written.

You may also enjoy "A Century of Challenge."

Interactive: Coming Home—Then and Now

1892 School is founded in Graysville. 
Tuition is $4 per month for its 23 students.
1893 Graysville Academy administration building is constructed. Enrollment reaches 120.
1915 Women's dormitory burns in February.
1916 School moves to Thatcher farm. 
Male students live in tents first three winters.
1919 Electricity installed on campus.
1924 Lynn Wood Hall is built.
1931 Tornado does $3,000 in damage in July.
1934 Tabernacle is built on site, now occupied by Hickman Science Center.
1936 Southern Junior College gains accreditation with Southern Association.
1940 First PhD faculty member is hired.
1941 First Southern student is drafted in July.
1946 A.G. Daniells Memorial library is built. 
Southern Missionary College awards first baccalaureate in May.
1950 Hackman Hall is built to hold sciences. 
Southern is accredited as a four-year college.
1954 Harold Miller Hall is built for music.
1955 Student Park is created.
1957 McKee Bakery moves to Collegedale to provide student employment.
1959 WSMC is issued FM license.
1961 New Talge Hall is built as women's dorm.
1963 Committee of 100 is founded.
1964 Enrollment exceeds 1,000.
1965 Collegedale Church is built. 
Physical Education Center opens.
1967 Wright Hall is built.
1968 New Thatcher Hall is built.
1970 McKee Library is opened.
1971 Summerour Hall is built.
1973 New cafeteria/student center opens.
1976 Herin Hall is built to house nursing.
1979 First Strawberry Festival slideshow is held. 
1981 Southern Scholars honors program starts. 
Mabel Wood Hall opens.
1983 First endowed chair is established.
1984 Brock Hall is dedicated.
1985 Garden of Prayer is dedicated.
1986 24-hour broadcasting begins at WSMC. 
Church organ is dedicated.
1987 Promenade is finished.
1989 Tabernacle burns.
1990 Lynn Wood Hall is renovated.
1991 New science center fundraising begins.
1992 Centennial is celebrated, including mention on NBC's Today Show.
1994 Internet access becomes available at more than 150 workstations.
1995 Employee wellness program gets gold Well Workplace Award.
1996 Southern Adventist University becomes school's new name. 
Master of science in education classes begin. 
Level III accreditation is granted.
1997 Hickman Science Center is dedicated. 
Center for Learning Success is established. 
Master's in religion and counseling is added.
1998 First graduate degrees awarded. 
New Motor Pool finished, old service station razed.
1999 University of Arizona Centennial Archaeology Collection is donated to Southern.
2000 Master's in nursing is added. 
Undergraduate enrollment increases by 12 percent, the largest increase in 54 years. 
Ground is broken for the first three Southern Village student apartment buildings.
2001 Students now have the option of earning a degree from Southern entirely online (MBA).
2002 Two additional Southern Village apartments are constructed to handle increased enrollment.
2003 New addition to Talge Hall is under construction. 
The College Press is sold.
2004 Southern Carton industry closes. 
Grand opening of the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum.
2005 Student Park cave reopens to public, managed by the Outdoor Education program. 
2006 200,000 fossils are donated to Southern Biology Department. 
2007 School of Business is accredited by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. 
JumpStart summer program for conditional students debuts.
2009 Hulsey Wellness Center is completed.
2010 Enrollment eclipses 3,000 students for first time in school's history.
2011 Florida Hospital Hall is completed.
2012 Origins Exhibit opens in Hickman Science Center.
  Classes offered toward Southern's first doctoral-level degree, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
2013 Vegetarian Culinary Arts and uQuest Missions begin.
2014 Summerour Hall reopens after extensive renovations.
  WSMC launches online, faith-based radio station.
2015 School of Nursing summer cohort begins.
2016 100th anniversary of the school’s move from Graysville to Collegedale.
2017 125th anniversary of the institution's existence.
2018  25th year of serving the community on MLK Day.
2019 Physical Therapist Assistant Department accepts its first students. 
Board votes new mission, vision, and values statements.
2021 Bietz Center for Student Life is completed.