Looking Back: 3 historic buildings on campus

Every building on the UNA campus has a story. To better appreciate their rich history, it is best to look back through time to see what each building was before becoming part of the university. Here are three of the oldest and most historical buildings on campus.

Coby Hall

Coby Hall is the location of the Office of Admissions headquarters, and is also available to use for receptions, dinners and weddings. However, when it was built in 1843, it served as the new home of John Simpson, who later became one of Florence’s leading merchants.

A few years before the start of the Civil War, George Foster, architect of Rogers Hall, acquired the house for both his daughter, Virginia, and her husband, James Irvine, son of the architect of neighboring Hickory Place. The home eventually ended up in the hands of Irvine’s descendant, Harriet King, who helped her husband, Madding, refurbish the old house in 1948. After Edward Robbins III later purchased it, the building, then known as Irvine Place, housed offices for Intervinyls, Inc. UNA acquired the house in 1990, renaming it Coby Hall in memory of Florence native Coby Brubaker, whose husband, David, made a considerate contribution in her name.

Rogers Hall

Beside the Commons lies Rogers Hall, known as “Courtview” for its location at the end of Court Street. It houses the Offices of Communications and Marketing, Alumni Relations and University Advancement, as well as the UNA Foundation, a non-profit program to collect external funding for the university. Built between 1854 and 1855 to be a mansion, wealthy planter George Foster received permission to block the north end of the street by the Alabama legislature.

After Foster passed away in 1878, house ownership passed on to his daughter, Sarah Independence Foster. She and her family lived there until 1900, when Florence attorney Emmet O’Neal purchased it. He would later serve as Governor of Alabama from 1911 to 1915. After the end of his term, Courtview became a boarding house. Florence merchant Thomas Rogers, Sr. soon purchased the house after O’Neal’s death in 1922. Rogers remodeled the building, and eventually sold it to UNA (then Florence State College) in 1948.

Wesleyan Hall

Finally, behind Collier Library lies Wesleyan Hall, which contains the Departments of Geography, Foreign Languages and Psychology and the Freddie Wood Geographic Research Center. It also serves as the building on campus that started it all. When UNA started in 1830, it was LaGrange College, a Methodist institution located in Colbert County. However, because of ongoing financial problems, the college later moved to Florence. The institution held its classes in the downtown Masonic Hall until construction of Wesleyan finished.

After moving into the new structure in 1856, the college became Florence Wesleyan University (both the building and college’s name comes from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley). However, after the start of the Civil War, the university suspended its classes, allowing both Confederate and Union soldiers to occupy the building during the war. After the Methodist Church realized they would be unable to reopen the college, they gave the building and the campus’s 13 acres of land to the State Board of Education in 1872 for further use as a college. The institution continued expanding into what is now UNA, though Wesleyan remains.

Editor’s Note: Information from UNA Collier Library