Rust College was founded in 1866 (just one year after the end of the Civil War and slavery) by Reverend Albert Collier McDonald, with the Methodist Episcopal Church. McDonald was a missionary from the North who began classes for freed blacks at Ashbury Methodist Episcopal Church, a newly formed black congregation. This school was one of the earliest schools created during Reconstruction to educate and train freed black children. In 1868 the school came under the control of the Freedman’s Aid Society, and by 1869, the school had moved to its present location and the first buildings were erected. The school was renamed Shaw University in 1870, after Reverend S.O. Shaw. It was renamed Rust University in 1892, and finally Rust College in 1915.
Rust College originally offered classes in elementary school through college. In 1930 the grade school was closed, and in 1953 the high school was discontinued, leaving just the college-level classes. Rust originally offered classes in the Liberal Arts and various vocational programs, such as carpentry, printing and agriculture for male students, and housekeeping, child care and dressmaking for female students. By 1920, the faculty and administration of Rust College, which had been made up largely of white northern Methodists, began to become more diverse, with graduates of Rust College coming back to their alma mater to teach. Dr. M.S. Davage became the college’s first black president in 1920. Dr. L.M. McCoy became president soon after, and revised the school’s curriculum to reflect its principal role as a liberal arts college. Dr. William McMillan was president of the college from 1967 to 1993, and Dr. David L. Beckley has been president since 1993.
The oldest building on the Rust College campus is Oakview Mansion, now called the Frances Hawthorn Alumni and Public Relations Building. It is the only 19th century structure remaining on the campus. It is a one-and-a-half-story raised basement brick cottage, built around 1860 with Greek Revival and Gothic Revival details. It is believed to have originally been the kitchen for a grand antebellum home which was planned but never built due to the outbreak of the Civil War. The gable ends are embellished with bargeboards and the original cast iron anchor beams can also be seen on the sides and rear of the building.
For many years, the most architecturally significant building on the campus was Rust Hall, a beautiful five-story Romanesque Revival building built in 1900 that served as the heart of the college and housed students, the library and classrooms. Rust Hall’s most notable feature was two large round towers topped with turrets which would have undoubtably offered the best views of Holly Springs in the day. Tragically, Rust Hall was destroyed by fire in 1940. It was eventually replaced, in 1947, by the current structure, the McCoy Administration Building.
The McCoy Building, named after President McCoy, is an imposing Colonial Revival two-story red brick building. It was inspired by Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The south facade contains a massive seven-story tower, topped with a wooden steeple-like section with a south-facing clock, simple balustrade, and octagonal belfry capped by a dome and weathervane. The front entrance is gorgeous, with a double-leaf half glass door, surrounded by Ionic pilasters and topped with a pediment with a multi-paned fanlight window.
All other buildings on campus are modern, built after 1950. They include the Gross Residence Hall and the Leontyne Price Library.
The historical photograph of Rust Hall is courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.