In 1842 the Reverends David F. Bittle and Christopher C. Baughman founded the Virginia Institute (chartered Virginia Collegiate Institute three years later) as a Lutheran preparatory school for boys. Situated in Augusta County, the school offered a traditional classical education along with religious requirements. When Bittle answered a call to a parish in Maryland in 1845 after the death of his oldest son, Baughman, as principal, continued to operate the school. It was Baughman who directed the move to Salem in 1847 to better the school's opportunities to increase its student body.
In 1853, the school was chartered as Roanoke College, with David Bittle returning as its first president, Baughman having resigned. Bittle's greatest accomplishment as president was the shear survival and expansion of the College. Ever beset with meager resources, especially during and immediately after the Civil War, Bittle was possessed with great vision of Roanoke's potential and a strong faith in its mission. Under his creative and offtimes unconventional leadership, Bittle oversaw the expansion of the student body from 38 to 171 and the faculty from 4 to 7. Also, the Main Building was completed, Miller and Trout halls were built and Andrew Lewis Centennial Hall (now Bittle Memorial Hall) was planned. Bittle died suddenly in September, 1876.