Elon University sits on land that has a rich and storied history stretching back to American Indian tribes that became the first stewards of this area of central North Carolina. The roots of these people who were the first to call this land home and their long-standing and meaningful connection to this area are still visible today and essential to acknowledge.
Elon University strives to honor the legacy of the Siouan-speaking American Indian tribes who first lived in this area and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation (OBSN), which became the most prevalent by 1650. Members of the OBSN continue to live in this area today and carry forward their ancestors’ history, traditions, and love for this land. Learn more about the OBSN on its website.
In recognition of this long history and connection to this land, the OBSN adopted an official land acknowledgement in 2022 and Elon University joins with the OBSN tribal community in encouraging all to treat this land with the respect, love and care that their ancestors carried for this land.
By Phil Owens, former Elon assistant professor of English and spouse of June Kay Evans ‘70
The founding of Elon College in 1889 was predated by a rich regional history. Through many generations, Native Americans, early explorers and settlers lived in the area now known as Alamance County in central North Carolina.
Native American Presence
The presence of people in the Alamance County region dates back to 11,000 B.C. (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.20).
Not much is known with certainty about the Native Americans who lived in this area prior to visits by 17th-century European explorers (G. Troxler 1984, p.7). Archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that several Native American tribes migrated to Piedmont North Carolina from the western part of North America several centuries before Columbus arrived in the New World. These small tribes shared a common culture and similar language (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.20).
By the 1600s these Siouan-speaking tribes were building “villages of circular bark houses surrounding a central sweat lodge.” They subsisted by farming along rivers and creeks, fishing, hunting, and trading fur and deerskins (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.20).
By around 1650 the Occaneechi were the prevalent Siouan-speaking Native Americans in southern Virginia and North Carolina. Twenty-five years later their numbers had been significantly reduced and concentrated west and south into what is now Alamance and Orange Counties. There the Occaneechi established a large village, called Achoneechy Town, on the Eno River near present-day Hillsborough (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.22).
About the time of the American Revolution a group of Occaneechi migrated back into what is now northeastern Alamance County and formed a community referred to as Little Texas. This group has persisted in the area, joining with people from southern Alamance County to form the Eno-Occaneechi Indian Association (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.23). Although this group is not federally recognized, in 2002 the state of North Carolina recognized the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation as an official American Indian tribe (Recognized 2018).
Early explorers’ favorable descriptions of the American Indians in the area, of their hospitality, and of the bounty of the region, encouraged European settlers to move into what is now Alamance County and Orange County.
In 1670 German explorer John Lederer passed through the area and described the Oenock Indians near Hillsborough and the Shakory Indians near Swepsonville as “industrious to earn a penny.” These hard-working Native Americans would “hire themselves to their neighbors.” They were known to plant an “abundance of Grain” and could “reap three Crops in a Summer.”
Lederer found the government of the Native Americans to be “Democratick.” He observed that many Native Americans respected order and their elders, recording that the “Sentences of their old men are received as Laws, or rather Oracles” (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.30–31).
Lederer advised that assistance from the local Native Americans was essential for travel through the region. He insisted that an “Indian scout or two” must proceed before European travelers to search for food and other provisions, build shelters and guard against ambushes from other American Indians (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.31).
In 1701 Englishman John Lawson traveled to Achoneechy Town after crossing the Hau-River, which was named after the Sissipahau American Indians living nearby. Lawson called the fertile land around the Haw River the “Flower of Carolina” and described it as “rich land enough to contain some Thousand Families” (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.22).
Three main trading paths and several river fords used by Native Americans facilitated travel for early explorers and European settlers. Many of the Native American travel routes mirror the road patterns used today.
For example, Interstate 85/40 and the North Carolina Railroad that bisect Alamance County today follow the general route of the Greater Trading Path. This trading path twisted from Achoneechy Town to Mebane, forded the Haw River at Pine Ford (later called Trollinger Ford) near the present town of Haw River, and meandered near Graham and Burlington on its way to Guilford County and beyond (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.28).
The first English titles to land in what became Alamance County were for prime tracts along the Haw River. They were granted to North Carolina boundary commissioners William Little, John Lovick and Edward Moseley. Colonial Governors Burrington and Everard also received large tracts of land. (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.34)
In 1729 the Crown purchased the colony of North Carolina from all the Lords Proprietors except John Carteret, who became Earl Granville in 1740. The Granville Tract of land comprised “roughly the northern half” of North Carolina and included what would later become the Elon College campus.
Henry McCulloh, a land speculator, also claimed over a million acres of land in the area. McCulloh and his agents traveled the backcountry selling disputed land that was actually part of the Granville Tract. People frequently lived on these parcels of land for generations before any written evidence was recorded (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.35–36). Consequently, it is difficult and often impossible to trace the ownership of a specific plot of land.
In 1752 the North Carolina colony legislature created Orange County, which included present-day Alamance County. This action was in part because of an influx of settlers from the eastern part of North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania, which had led to a “veritable land rush” for the highly desirable and accessible land (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.37).
In 1755 McCulloh and Granville agreed on a solution to the land-ownership confusion. By 1766 Henry McCulloh’s son, Henry Eustace, had registered some of the disputed land deeds in Orange County, but ownership of many more parcels remained in a state of confusion (C. Troxler and Vincent 1999, p.36).
The Elon Campus
In February 1818 the state of North Carolina deeded to Hugh Mulhollan, a prominent surveyor whose position allowed him to speculate with real estate, 511.75 acres on the “waters of Gun Creek, adj John Butler & others.” This large tract of land extended north to Cable family land and Osburn family land near the Shallowford community. It included land on which the future Elon campus would take root and grow (Orange County Register of Deeds 2018).
Forty years before Elon was founded, a publicly funded school for white students, later known as Cable School, was built in the 1850s adjacent to what would become the Elon campus. By the time the college began, there were two schools for African American students a few miles north at Arch’s Grove and Union Chapel. (Editor’s note: A school with a largely Native American student population was also founded around the close of the Civil War near the current Pleasant Grove Elementary School. Read more.)
During the 1880s in what is now the Town of Elon, African American men living near the railroad constituted a labor supply for transferring cotton and textile shipments for the mills north of the railroad. Their availability attracted mill owners to that site and providing the name for the railroad’s stop: “Mill Point.” As land for the college was cleared and its operations began, African American women and men living nearby contributed to its establishment as employees. (C. Troxler and W. Vincent, 292, 308; Carole W. Troxler Papers, Elon University Archives)
In 1869 John Trollinger bequeathed a parcel of land to his son W. H. Trollinger: 150 acres on the north side of the North Carolina Railroad adjoining parcels owned by L. Huffines, David Whitesell, and others (Alamance County Register of Deeds 2018). The Trollingers were descendants of Adam Trollinger, who brought his family from Baden, Germany, to settle near Pine Ford around 1745.
In 1889 several Alamance County mill owners and farmers near the new Mill Point freight depot donated money and land, or sold it at a bargain, for the site of a new Christian educational institution to replace Graham College. W. H. Trollinger contributed the largest parcel of land for the new college.
W. H. Trollinger’s company made the bricks for the first two buildings. The Trollinger clay pit and brickyard were located in the “southeast corner of the village south of the railway.” (G. Troxler 2014, p.12).
Alamance County Register of Deeds. 2018. http://www.alamancerod.org/
Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation History. https://obsn.org/a-brief-history-of-the-occaneechi-band-of-the-saponi-nation/
National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal and state recognized tribes. http://www.ncsl.org/research/state-tribal-institute/list-of-federal-and-state-recognized-tribes.aspx#State. Accessed July 18, 2018.
Orange County Register of Deeds. 2018. http://www.courthousecomputersystems.com/orangenc/.
Troxler, Carole Watterson, and William Murray Vincent. 1999. “Shuttle & plow: A history of Alamance County, North Carolina.” Graham, NC: Alamance County Historical Association.
Troxler, George. 1984. “Alamance before the Civil War. Alamance County: The legacy of its people and places.” Greensboro: Legacy Publications.
Troxler, George. 2014. “From a grove of oaks: The story of Elon University.” Elon, North Carolina: Elon University.
A Timeline of Elon History
- 1889The North Carolina Legislature issues a charter for Elon College, a four-year coeducational institution, located at Mill Point and founded by the Christian Church. William S. Long is founder and first president and 76 students are enrolled.
- 1890Main (Administration) Building is completed
- 1891Elon College Monthly, the first student publication, is established; Nathaniel G. Newman, C.C. Peel and Herbert Scholz make up the first graduating class
- 1892M. Irene Johnson is the first female graduate and becomes first female faculty member
- 1893Town of Elon College is incorporated; Glee Club, the first student musical group, is formed
- 1894William W. Staley named 2nd president
- 1900Baseball becomes the first intercollegiate sport, with the first game played against Guilford College
- 1905Emmett L. Moffitt named 3rd president; central heat, electricity, running water and indoor plumbing are installed during his presidency
- 1906West dormitory opens as a women's residence hall; East dormitory is occupied by men
- 1907Electric lights are turned on for the first time on New Year's Day
- 1911William A. Harper named 4th president
- 1913Phi Psi Cli, the yearbook, begins publication
- 1918Senior class shrinks from 46 to 30 as men enlist to fight in WWI; global flu pandemic infects more than 300 students, faculty and staff; Elon is the first school in North Carolina to have an operating wireless radio station
- 1923Fire destroys Main Building, including school records, classrooms, library and chapel; trustees immediately vote to rebuild; Alamance Building opens in Fall 1923
- 1924Whitley Auditorium, Carlton Library and Duke Building open; citizens of Alamance County are active in fundraising for rebuilding efforts following the disastrous 1923 fire
- 1925Mooney (social and religious activities) Building opens
- 1926Elon is accredited and admitted to membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- 1931Leon Edgar Smith named 5th president, beginning a 25-year term as the longest-serving president; enrollment declines to 87 students due to the effects of the Great Depression; Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools announces Elon will be dropped from membership
- 1933Dramatic arts students organize Delta Psi Omega with performances held in Whitley Auditorium
- 1936The college faces the risk of financial collapse; President Smith persuades creditors to accept partial payments, convinces faculty to compromise on delinquent salaries and launches a new fund drive
- 1937First issue of the Colonnades, the student literary magazine, is published
- 1941W. Clifton Elder '25 receives first outstanding alumnus award
- 1942"Elon College All or Nothing" campaign reaches goal; West Dormitory Annex destroyed by fire
- 1943672 pilots are trained on campus for WWII duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps - their enrollment provides critical financial stability; Elon transitions from semester system to quarter system
- 1946Returning WWII GIs increase enrollment to nearly 700; Elon earns reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- 1948New campus power plant begins operation; Elon transitions from quarter system to semester system
- 1949Fightin' Christians defeat Edenton Marines 80-0 in Elon's first football game played at Burlington Memorial Stadium
- 1950Alumni Memorial Gymnasium opens and is dedicated to alumni who died in WWI and WWII
- 1955Enrollment exceeds 1,000
- 1956Trustee and N.C. Secretary of State Thad Eure drafts new charter, clarifying ownership and relationship with the church
- 1957J. Earl Danieley named 6th president; at age 32, he is one of the nation's youngest college presidents
- 1961Elon's railroad station, once the primary means of transportation for students and faculty, is dismantled
- 1962Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson speaks at Founders Day
- 1966William S. Long student center opens; Hook, Brannock and Barney Halls dedicated, honoring veteran faculty members Alonzo Hook, Ned Brannock and John Barney
- 1968Students, faculty and staff form a human chain to move books from Carlton building to the new Iris Holt McEwen Library; Tau Kappa Epsilon is the first nationally chartered fraternity
- 1969Elon adopts a 4-1-4 academic calendar; first study abroad course held in England; Sigma Sigma Sigma is the first nationally chartered sorority; Eugene E. Perry is the first African-American graduate; Elon awards its 5,000th degree
- 1970Caroline Powell building opens; Jordan Gymnasium and Beck Pool are constructed; faculty approve the first Faculty Bylaws creating the Academic Council
- 1971Basketball begins competition as the first women's varsity sport
- 1972The E-4 Capital Campaign (Elon Expands its Educational Excellence) reaches its $3 million goal
- 1973J. Fred Young named 7th president; enrollment exceeds 2,000
- 1974The Black Cultural Society is established; First edition of the student newspaper, The Pendulum, is published
- 1975Elon purchases 43 acres of property north of campus - the future home of the athletics complex and Rhodes Stadium
- 1977First WSOE radio broadcast
- 1978Pride I Capital Campaign concludes, exceeding $2.5 million goal
- 1980Elon wins first NAIA national football championship
- 1981Historic Senior Oak tree, the traditional place for photographs, first kisses and marriage proposals, dies and is removed; Elon repeats as NAIA national football champs
- 1982Scott Plaza and Fonville Fountain are completed; Chandler, Maynard and Colclough residence halls open (named Story Center in 1984)
- 1983Elon awards its 10,000th degree; Elon purchases Moonelon property on West Haggard Avenue
- 1984Master of Business Administration becomes first master's program; College Coffee tradition begins
- 1985Martha and Spencer Love School of Business is established with the first $1 million gift in Elon history; first semester abroad program is based in London
- 1986Enrollment exceeds 3,000; Master of Education program begins
- 1987Elon University Center for the Arts opens
- 1988Jimmy Powell Tennis Center opens and is recognized as one of the finest collegiate tennis complexes in the nation; Habitat for Humanity chapter is established; Elon receives gift of Maynard House to serve as the home of the president
- 1989Year-long centennial celebration; former President Jimmy Carter speaks on campus; Pride II Campaign concludes, raising $8 million; first six buildings on "East Campus" open (named Danieley Center in 1998); first six Greek Lodge buildings open (named Loy Center in 1997)
- 1991Trustees adopt The Plan for the 1990s strategic plan; Elon athletics moves from NAIA to NCAA Division II
- 1993Center for Service Learning is established (endowed as the John R. Kernodle Jr. Center for Service Learning in 1997); first Student Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF)
- 1994Investing In Excellence Campaign raises $21 million; Stewart Fitness Center opens; Elon Vision strategic plan is launched; new curriculum adopted featuring four-hour classes, a Global Experience course requirement and an experiential learning requirement
- 1995Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dedicates Moseley Center, Koury Center and the Center for the Arts
- 1997Loy Center is dedicated, providing on-campus facilities for Greek organizations
- 1998Dalton L. McMichael Sr. Science Center opens; Master of Physical Therapy program is established
- 1999Leo M. Lambert named 8th president; transition to NCAA Division I athletics is completed; Danieley Center is dedicated
- 2000Carol Grotnes Belk Library opens; College of Arts and Sciences, Schools of Education and Communications established; NewCentury@Elon strategic plan created; enrollment exceeds 4,000; Young Commons dedicated; the Phoenix is adopted as the new athletics identity; Isabella Cannon '24 delivers commencement address at age 96, appears on national television; Elon awards its 20,000th degree; Queen Noor of Jordan speaks at fall convocation
- 2001Elon Vision campaign concludes, raising $46.7 million; former President George Bush speaks on campus; Elon College becomes Elon University; Town of Elon College becomes Town of Elon; Rhodes Stadium opens
- 2002Isabella Cannon International Studies Pavilion and William R. Kenan Jr. Honors Pavilion open in the Academic Village; primatologist Jane Goodall speaks at Spring Convocation; former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto speaks at Fall Convocation; Belk Track and White Field are completed
- 2003Elon enrolls first class of Doctor of Physical Therapy students; Elon purchases 75 acres of the Elon Homes and Schools for Children campus, including Johnston Hall, Holt Chapel and other buildings; broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite visits campus; Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks at Spring Convocation; Elon joins the Southern Conference for athletics; a $1 million gift by Edna Truitt Noiles '44 and Douglas Noiles endows the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life
- 2004Martha and Spencer Love School of Business achieves AACSB International accreditation; former presidential adviser David Gergen serves as Elon's first Isabella Cannon Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership; Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel speaks at Spring Convocation; Board of Trustees votes to establish Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, N.C.; Ella Darden and Elmon Lee Gray Pavilion opens in Academic Village
- 2005Pioneering astronaut John Glenn dedicates site of new Ernest A. Koury Sr. Business Center; Elon named one of nation's 25 "Hottest Colleges" by Newsweek-Kaplan; Doctor of Physical Therapy program graduates charter class; construction begins on School of Law facility in Greensboro
- 2006Elon University School of Law opens in downtown Greensboro, N.C. with a charter class of 115 students; the school is formally dedicated by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; Ernest A. Koury Sr. Business Center opens; former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell delivers Convocation for Honors address; School of Communications achieves ACEJMC accreditation; The Oaks, a student residence complex, opens; Elon named one of nation's top three universities for community service in President Bush's inaugural Higher Education Service Honor Roll; total enrollment exceeds 5,000 for the first time
- 2007William Henry Belk Pavilion and Luvene Holmes and Royall H. Spence Jr. Pavilion open in the Academic Village; The Colonnades Dining Hall and the Colonnades Residence Halls A & B open; The Elon Academy, an outreach program for Alamance County high school students, is launched; the Lumen Prize is established as the university's premier award recognizing student scholarship
- 2008Elon University School of Law receives provisional approval by the American Bar Association; Breanna Detwiler becomes the first Elon student to receive the prestigious Truman Scholarship; former President Bill Clinton speaks on campus on behalf of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for president
- 2009Elon University School of Law graduates its charter class; a master's program in interactive media is launched; Lindner Hall, the home of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, opens in the Academic Village; Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation's oldest and most prestigious academic society, votes to establish an Elon University chapter
- 2010Elon trustees approve the establishment of the 56-acre Elon University Forest; Elon trustees approve the addition of a master's program in physician assistant studies; a full renovation of Alumni Gym is completed, including the newly-named Robertson Court; The Elon Commitment strategic plan is launched to promote the vision of "Engaged minds. Inspired leaders. Global citizens."
- 2011Alumni Field House opens at Rhodes Stadium, the new headquarters of Phoenix athletics; Elon trustees approve establishment of a School of Health Sciences; the Colonnades Residential Neighborhood is completed, including three new residence halls along with Elon's first geothermal energy system; five new Greek Life houses open in Loy Center; the Ever Elon fundraising campaign concludes on Dec. 31, raising a record $107.3 million
- 2012The Gerald L. Francis Center opens as the home of Elon's School of Health Sciences; The Station at Mill Point, a townhouse residential neighborhood for juniors and seniors, opens on Williamson Avenue; Elon purchases the 20-acre Snyder Campus of Elon Homes and Schools for Children, expanding the university's South Campus; the undergraduate program of the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business is ranked among the nation's best by Bloomberg Businessweek; the Student Professional Development Center opens in Moseley Center; trustees approve the addition of women's lacrosse as a new NCAA Division I sport
- 2013Elon enrolls the inaugural class of the master's program in physician assistant studies; Hunt Softball Park opens in the North Athletics Complex; Lakeside Dining Hall opens as a major expansion of Moseley Center; the Numen Lumen Pavilion, Elon's multi-faith center, opens as the final building in the Academic Village; Elon opens the Downtown Center for Community Engagement in Burlington, N.C.; the first two residence halls open in the Global Neighborhood; the Martin Alumni Center opens at the corner of Haggard Avenue and N. O'Kelly; Elon begins celebration of its 125th anniversary year
- 2014Opening of the Global Neighborhood, including the Great Hall and five residential buildings; opening of Scott Studios for performing arts; opening of new South Campus facilities for psychology and human service studies; inaugural season of women's lacrosse; opening of fully renovated Jerry and Jeanne Robertson Track and Field Complex; first year of competition in the Colonial Athletic Association; celebration of Elon's 125th anniversary at spring Founders Day; announcement of the largest gift in Elon history - a $12 million commitment by parents Dwight and Martha Schar for new School of Communications facilities
- 2015Opening of Inman Admissions Welcome Center; Physician Assistant Studies charter class graduates; The Phoenix Activities & Recreation Center (PARC) opens in Danieley Neighborhood; Master of Science in Management program launches with inaugural class; completion of solar generating facility on Loy Farm
- 2016Park Place at Elon residential facility opens on West Haggard Avenue; groundbreaking ceremonies celebrate start of construction of Schar Center, a 5,100-seat athletics and event venue
- 2017Opening and dedication of new School of Communications facilities: Dwight C. Schar Hall, including Turner Theatre, Steers Pavilion, Snow Family Grand Atrium, Citrone Plaza, and the renovated Iris Holt McEwen Building and Long Building. Leo M. Lambert announces his plans to conclude his tenure as Elon's eighth president. Elon women's basketball wins the Colonial Athletic Association title and makes the university's first appearance in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament.
- 2018Connie Ledoux Book takes office as Elon University's ninth president on March 1. Master of science program in accounting begins in summer 2018. Master of arts in higher education and four-year bachelor of science program in engineering begin in fall 2018. New buildings opening for fall semester include Schar Center, Sankey Hall, Koenigsberger Learning Center, East Neighborhood residential halls and Tennis Pavilion, and expansions of the South Campus Gym and McEwen Dining Hall. Elon completes an exchange agreement with the Alamance-Burlington School System to acquire the Elon Elementary School property on Haggard Avenue and to provide ABSS with a new elementary school on land north of University Drive.
- 2019Elon is reclassified as a Doctoral/Professional by the Carnegie Classifications and debuts as the #84 National University in the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Elon is also ranked #2 for excellence in undergraduate teaching, #1 for study abroad and #11 for innovation. The $250 million Elon LEADS comprehensive fundraising campaign kicks off at a campus celebration and at regional launch events across the country. The LaRose Student Commons opens in the historic neighborhood and the new Elon Elementary School, built by the university, opens north of University Drive, with the previous school site on Haggard Avenue deeded to the university by the Alamance-Burlington School System. The Elon Commitment strategic plan is completed.
- 2020The Inn at Elon, an on-campus hotel, opens to the public. Elon launches Boldly Elon: Our Strategic Plan for 2030. A global pandemic forces the university to move to online learning for the second half of Spring Semester and the university responds with a plan, developed by a campus task force and implemented by the "Ready & Resilient" Committee, to successfully open for an on-campus, in-person Fall Semester. The new Division of Inclusive Excellence is established to provide vision, leadership and coordination for diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
- 2021Construction begins on the Innovation Quad - two new buildings that will provide facilities for engineering and the sciences. New academic programs in nursing launch in Fall Semester. The Board of Trustees names the school of education for Vice President Emerita Dr. Jo Watts Williams '55 in recognition of a $10 million gift from her family. Medallion Plaza is named in honor of the efforts of students, faculty and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. News & World Report names Elon the #1 university in the nation for undergraduate teaching.
- 2022Founders Hall and Innovation Hall open, the first two buildings in the new Innovation Quad for engineering and the sciences.