UL in History: My Alma Mater, the University of Lynchburg

Dr Clifton W. Potter Jr. ~ UL History Professor

For over a decade, I have had the chance to share the history of the college with the campus community, so to begin closing this academic year I should like to introduce you to the person, who, in a very special sense, was responsible for our Alma Mater. Of course, the names that immediately come to mind are Josephus and Sarah LaRue Hopwood, but the Hopwoods would never have moved to Lynchburg had it not been for F.F. Bullard. When Frank Fontaine Bullard, the pastor of First Christian Church, notified Josephus Hopwood of the availability of the defunct Westover Hotel as a home for a college, he changed the history of higher education in Central Virginia. Born in 1857, this Southwest Virginia graduate of Milligan College was descended from a long line of ministers.  During his student days, the Hopwoods had been like surrogate parents, and after he left Tennessee, he regularly corresponded with them. When the Hopwoods decided to leave Milligan, Bullard quickly offered them a new opportunity for service.

Frank Bullard was one of the original donors whose gift of $1,000.00 helped purchase the structure that became Westover Hall. [In our currency that would be equal to $20,000.00!] In a sense, Dr. Hopwood’s comment, “Boys, we’ll take it!” marks the birth of the college, but in an article written shortly before his death, Reverend Bullard remembered another statement which has added importance as we end our current session.  As Dr. Hopwood stood on the front porch of Westover and looked out over the wooded area that would become the Circle, he said, “We are making history.”

The first Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Frank Bullard devoted every free moment to promoting Virginia Christian College in the Lynchburg community as well as the state of Virginia.  He was a skilled fund-raiser and was considered by many to be one the finest public speakers among the clergy of his denomination. His death in May 1909 at the age of fifty-two robbed the college of one of its most valuable assets.  Through his efforts, he might have avoided the financial crisis that threatened the very existence of the College between 1910 and 1915. If he had lived, Bullard might well have taken Dr. Hopwood’s place when he resigned as President. This is mere speculation, what we do know is that F.F. Bullard was one of the first benefactors of the College.  In his will, he left funds for the College’s endowment, books for its library, and furnishings for a guestroom in Westover Hall. We need to discover a new F.F. Bullard, a man of vision, who in the words of the old hymn, saw “Far down the future’s broadening way.”

At his request, he was buried on campus, but in 1923 after the death of his wife, his remains were moved to Spring Hill Cemetery off Fort Avenue, and their graves are next to those of many of my family members. The dormitory that was named in his honor stands very close to spot where he was originally was laid to rest in 1909.  I believe Frank Bullard would certainly have approved of the change.