Elon University’s Beginnings Date to Nineteenth Century

A circa 1923-129 postcard showing an aerial view of the Elon Campus.  Image from the Belk Library at Elon University.On September 2, 1890Elon College opened as a four-year liberal arts college in Alamance County.

Plans for the school had been underway since 1872, when what is now the United Church of Christ, decided to open a college. The institution was first called Graham College, but when the trustees were unable to acquire land in that small Alamance County town, a different location for the campus was selected west of Burlington. When the land, filled with old oak trees, was being cleared, the name Elon seemed like a natural fit, since “elon” is the Hebrew word for oak.

The community around the school grew quickly and was incorporated in 1893 as Elon College. The town’s streets were given names commemorating important figures in the development of the Christian Church and of the college. In January 1923, the main campus building was destroyed by fire. During the reconstruction, which took about three years, the campus was expanded with five new buildings.

Elon College added graduate degree programs in the 1980s. To reflect the school’s diverse programs and growing student body, the college changed its name to Elon University in 2000. With that change, the surrounding town changed its name, too, from Elon College to Elon.

Check out Elon’s yearbooks going back 1913 on Digital NC to discover more of the college’s history.

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