The Beginning

In 1892, Professor George Colcord and his wife, Ada, started Graysville Academy in Graysville, Tennessee. Twenty-three 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

historyThe 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 in honor of President Wood.

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.

Daniells Memorial Library

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 is now the largest manufacturing employer in Hamilton County. Approximately 3,200 employees, including many Southern students, work at four 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, known as 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 graduate 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, along with the addition of the master's in business administration, counseling, and software engineering. A degree in visual art and design was added in the late 1990s.

The New Millennium

In 2001, an undergraduate enrollment of 2,098 eclipsed the previous record of 2,091 set in 1980, 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. In the fall of 2010, enrollment broke the 3,000 mark, with 3,053 students receiving a Christian education at the university.
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.
The $9.5 million Campaign for Health and Healing produced two expansions on campus—the new Hulsey Wellness Center and a new nursing building.
In the new millennium, academic excellence continues:

  • 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 and Management 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.
  • The university has achieved a top tier ranking for nine consecutive years in the U.S. News and World Report.
  • In 2010, Hans van Walter became the first Southern student to appear on Jeopardy!, coming in third (out of 10,000 who had applied) in the show’s annual college tournament.

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 Change".


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 Ph.D. 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. 
Destiny Drama Company begins.
1980 Enrollment peaks at 2,079.
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 fund raising begins.
1992 Centennial is celebrated, including mention on NBC'sToday 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. 
Masters of business administration, counseling, software engineering added. 
Social work program accredited by Council on Social Work Education. 
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 Largest undergraduate enrollment in 109-year history, 2,098 students.
2002 Two additional Southern Village apartments are constructed to handle increased enrollment.
2003 SACS reaffirms 10-year accreditation. 
New addition to Talge Hall is under construction. 
The College Press is sold.
2004 Southern Carton industry closes. 
Southern is ranked Top Tier. 
Grand opening of the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum.
2005 Student Park cave reopens to public, managed by the outdoor education program. 
A fire in a kitchenette/lobby area on the third floor of Thatcher Hall claims the life of one female student.
2006 Two hundred thousand fossils are donated to Southern biology department. 
New online courses are offered by the Virtual Campus.
2007 School of Business is accredited by the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education. 
JumpStart summer program for conditional students debuts.

Historic Photos

Administration Building

historic 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.


Lynn Wood Hall in the ’20s


The original administration building on the Collegedale campus.


Campus in the ’40s

campus in 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.


Campus 1952

campus in 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.


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.