History & Traditions

Historical and Cultural Virtual Tour

As it is with any historic institution, Roanoke College's past is tied to its present and future. Thanks to this new and immersive virtual tour, it's easier than ever to learn about the history and culture of the College. You'll take a journey through nearly 180 years of history, including major events, the evolution of buildings on campus, the artwork we have on campus, how student life has changed over the years, and the groundbreaking research that's leading to important discussions about our past.

Begin the Tour

A rock, a post, a seal and a big maroon bird

Like all long-standing institutions, Roanoke has its own distinctive character. After a few weeks here, you'll begin to understand what ties "Maroons" together, the lingo we all use as shorthand for our favorite places, and some of the quirky traditions we hold dear. Here are three you can't miss if you come and visit us.

A picture of "the rock" at Roanoke College

The Rock

What started as a battle between graffiti artists and Building and Grounds personnel in 1971, the painting of The Rock, is currently a major source of information for campus events. Student organizations paint the ten-foot cement monument in front of Sections to promote lectures, performances, sport events and theme weeks on campus.

A student kicking the kicking post

The Kicking Post

The Kicking Post is a 3-foot cement marker that stands in the path connecting the Heritage Walk and the Back Quad. After an incident in the 1920s where a faculty member was almost run down by a student with a car, the octagonal obelisk was put up as a barrier to keep vehicles away from the Back Quad. The Kicking Post got its name because students have been kicking it when they pass as a token of good luck for generations.

The seal in front of the administration building

The Seal

The seal in front of the Administration Building is a fairly recent addition to the Roanoke campus. It was built in 1995 as a way to recognize those who contribute to the Roanoke Fund. There is a superstition among students that anyone who steps on the seal inside the Founders Circle will not graduate.

Rooney, the college mascot


Walk around campus most days (or go to any athletic event), and you're bound to see a big red bird-Rooney-flapping its wings. Roanoke students and alumni are called Maroons, and the college didn't have far to look to find an appropriate mascot-the "Maroon-tailed" hawk, a little-known, but clever breed that is found only in the vicinity of the Roanoke College campus.

The Roanoke Story

picture of the old administration building at roanoke college

Roanoke College was founded in 1842 as Virginia Institute, near Staunton, Virginia. The school was the vision of two Lutheran pastors, David Bittle and Christopher Baughman. Charted by the state of Virginia as Roanoke College in 1853, Roanoke is the second oldest Lutheran college in the nation. Under the leadership of Rev. Dr. David Bittle, the College grew not only in physical size but also in enrollment and reputation.

Rev. Dr. Julius Dreher

The Rev. Dr. Julius Dreher, Roanoke's third president, emphasized internationalization long before it came into vogue. From the 1870s through the 1890s, he recruited heavily among the Choctaw in Oklahoma Territory. The first Mexican student came in 1876 and the first Japanese student in 1888. The first two Koreans ever to graduate from an American college or university received their degrees at Roanoke in 1898 and 1903.

Old photo of construction of a new building on campus

The Rev. Dr. John Alfred Morehead increased building activity in the 1910s, which included Sections IV and the Commons, which allowed more students to live and eat on campus, as well as a gymnasium. Morehead increased the size of the faculty and the student body, which surpassed 200 for the first time. Rev. Morehead left the college in 1919 to lead Lutheran relief work in Europe after World War I. For this work he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

An old photo of a female student from Roanoke College

The Rev. Dr. Charles J. Smith left Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City to become Roanoke's fifth president. Dr. Smith expanded course offerings, majors and more electives and increased the endowment by $500,000. Campus improvements included the construction of Alumni Gym, Lucas Hall chemistry building, an infirmary, faculty apartments, Smith Hall dormitory, and the expansion of the physics building. He encouraged women to enroll and, in 1930, they were admitted on a status equal to men.

An old photo of a basketball player at Roanoke College

President Perry Kendig supervised the biggest expansion in Roanoke's history-Roanoke's enrollment jumped from 800 to 1,250 and its faculty increased to 65. The College also changed socially, integrating smoothly in 1964. In 1972, the Roanoke basketball team won the NCAA Division II championship.

Shot of the top of the Fintel Library

Bolstered by fundraising successes, the College initiated major building and expansion programs, under the leadership of President Norm Fintel. Olin Hall and the Bast Center were built, and the old Roanoke County Courthouse and the site of the former Elizabeth College were acquired. The capstone project was the complete overhaul and expansion of the Library. An anonymous donor named the Library after Norm and Jo Fintel.

Old photo of the cavern in the colket center at Roanoke College

In the 1990s, President David Gring oversaw further physical expansion of the College with the dedication of the newly renovated and expanded Fintel Library; the addition of Belk Fitness Center, Colket Center and Sutton Commons; and the renovation of the old Roanoke County Courthouse into Francis T. West Hall. Continued emphasis on faculty-student interaction was evidenced in independent studies, internships and the creation of the Summer Scholar program.

Student and professor working on research together

Dr. Sabine U. O'Hara, the College's tenth president, led a strategic planning process that resulted in Roanoke focusing more on integrative learning and strengthening students' first-year experiences. The College established an Undergraduate Research Assistant Program and began construction on four new residence halls-the first on campus since 1968. Donald J. Kerr stadium, seating more than 1,000, was completed, and the Goode-Pasfield Center for Learning & Teaching was established.

Student holding up a crab on a study abroad trip

In 2009, under Michael Maxey, Roanoke's current president, the College instituted a new Intellectual Inquiry core curriculum with nearly 80 courses. This new curriculum is part of a plan to provide students with a broad, deep and experiential education. To this end, Roanoke College has strengthened the honors program and greatly expanded opportunities for real-world learning through study abroad, internships, service and creative work.

Cregger Center

Under President Maxey, improvement of campus facilities continues, and the College now has more than 50 buildings. A hallmark was the 2010 reopening of the renovated and expanded Lucas Hall-the College's first LEED-certified project. Blue Ridge, Shenandoah, Tabor and Afton Halls were recently renovated, and a new tennis complex was built on the Elizabeth campus. The Cregger Center, including recreational and athletic facilities that enhanced the College's athletics programs, opened in 2016.