Uncovering the Unknown: Artifacts Excavated from Beneath the Sparrow’s Nest During July 2017

Small brick building with a covered doorway, one window and a chimney.

The Sparrow’s Nest, unknown year.

This past July, although activity had slowed down around campus for the summer, a renovation crew discovered that there was much of interest below ground. Specifically, beneath the Sparrow’s Nest. At first glance, the Sparrow’s Nest does not look like much. It is a small, brick cottage nestled between Belk Hall and Vail Commons, across from the Lula Bell Houston Laundry. During the school year, any glimpse of activity in or around the building. To the untrained eye, the Sparrow’s Nest appears to be unused, perhaps simply a storage room. However, the history of the Sparrow’s Nest reveals there is much to be learned about its history with reference to Davidson College and the town of Davidson itself.

During renovations in July, Barbara Benson, Director of Building Services, and David Holthouser, Director of Facilities and Engineering, informed the College Archives & Special Collections that the crew found more than the expected decay of an old building. Whilst removing the termite-damaged floor system, the renovation crew from Physical Plant discovered a myriad of artifacts from former inhabitants of the Sparrow’s Nest. Currently, the building is used as a Physical Plant facility. Prior, the Sparrow’s Nest served as a Campus Security Office from 1974 to 1990. It was acquired by the College in 1908 and continued to serve as a boarding house for some time after its acquisition.


A bearded gentleman in a suit sits with his left arm folded on the armrest.

Reverend Patrick Jones Sparrow.

A green plastic bag with broken animal bones and glass pieces. A clear plastic bag with old, worn pairs of shoes.

The shoes. bones, and personal belongings found beneath the floor of the Sparrow’s Nest in July.

The house originally served as slave/servants’ quarters for Thomas Williams Sparrow (1814-1890.) Thomas was brother to College co-founder Patrick Jones Sparrow, who taught Ancient Languages at the College from 1837 to 1840. Thomas W. Sparrow married Martha Lucinda Stewart (1820-1905) and together the two ran a boarding house for the college students in a house on North Main Street. In the May 1912 edition of D.C. Magazine entitled “Memories of the Fifties,” J.J. Stringfellow from the Class of 1850 recalls that the Sparrows were nicknamed “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Tom” by students. Stringfellow describes them as “always kind in treatment and generous at table” and continues to compliment their hospitality saying, “No boy of that olden time can ever forget their famous molasses pies.” Thomas Sparrow is buried in the Davidson College cemetery.

As for the children of Thomas and Martha Sparrow, their daughter Helen married J. Wilson McKay, D.D. from the Class of 1870. He went on to be the president of the Board of Trustees for some time. Their son, John Sparrow (1845- October 30, 1883) was a bit of a troublemaker and was eventually expelled from Davidson College. In 1866, John Sparrow eloped with Helen Kirkpatrick (1847-1900), the daughter of the College President of the time, John Lycan Kirkpatrick. John and Nellie had seven children. Their four daughters were named Anna, Marry, Mattie, and Nellie; the latter married Wilson McKay, the son of Dr. McKay who had been President of the Board of Trustees. John and Nellie also had three sons: Robert Gordon, Thomas Hill, and John Kirkpatrick Sparrow. Although Thomas Hill Sparrow did not attend college at all, his two brothers did. John Kirkpatrick Sparrow was a member of the Davidson Class of 1901 but did not graduate. Notably, Robert Gordon Sparrow was the Valedictorian of the Class of 1888 and long-held the record for the highest grades ever received at Davidson College.

Three rows of young men in suits stand in front of windows.

The Class of 1888. Robert Sparrow is pictured second from the left, seated in the first row.

There is great evidence of the Sparrows’ slaveholding practice. In an essay entitled “My Unreconstructed Grandmother” by Mary Sparrow Harrison, she describes the attitudes and experiences of her grandmother, Martha Lucinda Stewart Sparrow. Mary remembers Martha as a distant, unaffectionate grandmother who was proud, yet hardened by her Southern heritage. According to Mary, Lincoln’s name was never mentioned in their household but that former slaves continued to visit her grandparents annually for years after the Southern “surrender.” Following the death of John Kirkpatrick Sparrow, Mary’s father, a former slave traveled from South Carolina to grieve with “Miss Martha.” According to Mary, he had been a wedding gift from College President John Lycan Kirkpatrick to Martha. Mary writes that the older gentleman had accompanied her father during childhood, young-adulthood and even during when he joined the army in 1862. Of the relationship between this man and her family, Mary writes, ” I do not know how long he stayed with the family after the end of the war or where he went or how he knew that “Miss Martha” need him that day, but I do know that the meeting between those two—the proud reserved women and the ex-slave and friend who had learned of her sorrow and had come to comfort her left an indelible impression on my child-mind.” Perhaps the artifacts discovered beneath the Sparrow’s Nest holds answers as to that gentleman’s identity and his experiences being enslaved and freed by the Kirkpatrick-Sparrow family. In order to continue following the story of the Sparrow’s Nest’s purpose throughout the centuries, follow the blog-tag: “Sparrow” or the hashtag: “DavidsonHistoryMystery” on Instagram and Twitter.

The Will Project

That’s the code name we used this summer.  For the first time, the Archives was a part of a Davidson Research Initiative (DRI) project.  The Summer
Research Fellows tackle a wide range of topics spending hours in science labs, working out mathematical models, even traveling abroad.  The Will Project team, students Eleanor Yarboro and Desmond Niegowski and their faculty advisor,  Professor Shireen Campbell, spent their summer hours in the archives and doing oral histories to document the life and times of William Holt Terry, Davidson alumnus, chaplain and Dean of Students.

Will Terry with Nancy Blackwell at commencement 1976

Will Terry with Nancy Blackwell at commencement 1976

Eleanor and Desmond went through dozens of archival boxes and files to get a sense of Davidson’s history and what the campus would have been like when Will Terry was a student in the early 1950s, when he came back as a chaplain, and all the changes during his tenure as Dean of Students, 1971-1994.  They also used their research to prepare questions for interviews with former colleagues.  The result of all their work now appears on the Archives and Special Collections website as part of the Davidson Encyclopedia.

There is a introductory page, a series of essays documenting Will Terry’s life and roles at Davidson, two essays on student life at Davidson, and an interactive timeline for the history of Y Secretaries and Chaplains at Davidson.  The pages aren’t quite finished. We’ll be adding more documentation, including transcripts of some of the interviews.

Below are links to all the research and a few teaser lines to encourage exploration.  We also encourage anyone with Will stories to share them with us – through comments or emails.

William Holt Terry By the Decades:
1950-1959  -At first, however, he had no interest in attending the school. In fact, his mother had to convince him to go and all but packed his bags for him. [3] This young man loved classical music, who loved the beach, the church, dirty jokes, school, and his friends, but had yet to learn to love Davidson.

1960-1969 -Will Terry’s role as a chaplain differed from his time as the Secretary of the Y in several important ways. Firstly, the position of chaplaincy was actually an offshoot of the secretaryship. [3] This position of the secretary had evolved over decades at Davidson, usually filled by recent Davidson graduates; Will himself was secretary when he was only 24 years old. The chaplaincy, however, tended to be held by older men who had already completed their time at seminary and could offer pastoral care.

1970-1979 -The rumblings of conflict in the Davidson College Presbyterian Church over race relations reflects broader tensions about race in the Presbyterian Church United States during the middle decades of the twentieth century

1980-1989 – Rev. Will Terry entered the ‘80s having been affiliated with the college for thirty years. In addition to being the Dean of Students, he also led cooking classes in his home and, following his own four years as chaplain, played a role in vetting and supporting the succession of college chaplains.

1990-1999 -As Davidson College entered the ‘90s, the accumulation of changes over the previous four decades were bearing down on it full-force. Will Terry had adjusted to these changes on a personal and institutional level, but new opportunities and corresponding challenges just kept coming.

2000-2015 -Having settled firmly into retirement, Rev. Will Terry continued to devote his time and energy to the things he loved best. According to general consensus, the majority of that energy went into the Terry Scholarship and Fellowship Program.

Student Life 1950s -In the winter of 1952, a lion cub ran through Davidson’s manicured campus. Sigma Alpha Epsilon ordered their pledges to capture the lion cub. Of the 277 freshmen men, nearly eighty percent pledged, and, of those, 80 percent were the fourteen SAE pledges searching the grounds for a lion cu

 1970s -During the 1970s, Davidson’s biggest student life change was coeducation. The first freshmen class of women entered in the fall of 1972. With the influx of women, there were drastic changes to the campus itself. Prior to coeducation, Davidson had barely any women’s facilities.

Davidson College Chaplaincy Timeline



Say It Isn’t So

This week Around the D is featuring news stories that may have reader’s wishing that it wasn’t so.

Spring 1949 was not a happy for Davidson seniors.

1949 story on an extended semester for seniors.

1949 story on an extended semester for seniors.


According to the story, a loss of all first semester grade records resulted in the decision to have the class of 1949 retake their exams from that semester.  The college did offer to cover fees for the GRE for any students opting to take those as well.

A few years later, controversy struck campus in two events: one involving journalism and the other athletics.

Davidsonian editor in trouble in 1953.

Davidsonian editor in trouble in 1953.

The good news is that the libel suit didn’t involve any Davidson publications, just Mike Myers, good friend of Bill Edwards. While there were no follow up stories, it appears that the suit was dismissed.  The same proved true for the athletes, with the Davidsonian exaggerating their involvement in the “top money fix of all time.”


Even before Bob McKillop, the basketball team had ties to New York.

Even before Bob McKillop, the basketball team had ties to New York.

In 1955, athletics were trouble-free but the Student Government faced unprecedented power shifts.

1955 SGA upset

1955 SGA upset

The article reports on confrontations beginning in Georgia dorm and moving into Chapel resulting in a minor injury to organist Herb Russell.

Less controversial but in the end less successful was a proposed memorial to Davidson’s presidential alumnus, Woodrow Wilson.

Student editorial cartoonist Don Mahy's rendition of the memorial.

Student editorial cartoonist Don Mahy’s rendition of the memorial.

As noted in a previous Around the D, Davidson has hosted some big name concerts. Over the decades campus shows include performers Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, and Ludacris.  Here’s one from  1958 we missed.

You might say the 1958-59 Artist Series took a new twist with this daring selection.

You might say the 1958-59 Artist Series took a new twist with this daring selection.

In the same issue announcing the concert, campus planners received attention for proposing a new style of dormitory.  Intended to be named for Woodrow Wilson, perhaps because of the failure of the proposed 1955 memorial, the dorm would have given the Charlotte skyline a challenge.

1958 proposal for a high-rise for Davidson.

1958 proposal for a high-rise for Davidson.

We can now say “It isn’t quite so.”  If you haven’t guessed it already, all these stories have one important feature in common– being published on April 1.

Happy April Fools Day



New Acquisition Provides Glimpses of Student Life

During this year’s reunion weekend, a document from 1847 came back to the college – and unlike the visiting alumni – stayed. A member of the class of 1963 gifted the archives with pages from the diary of Albert Allison James, class of 1848.

First page of  A. A. James' diary - a little worse for age. Happily the rest of the pages are in fine condition.

First page of A. A. James’ diary – a little worse for age. Happily the rest of the pages are in fine condition.

The pages we have begin with April 5th 1847–which might sound like the end of the spring semester. But in 1846-47, the semester ran from October to February and March to August, making his entries early in the spring semester of his junior year.

His entries describe daily activities. Wonder what a student was doing in July 1847? Here are some entries for July 2- 4:

July 2nd 1847 Friday

After attending prayers, and recitation before breakfast, prepared for going to a picnic part at W. L. Davidson‘s Esq. given by the young ladies to the Senior and Junior classes, we walked out, and after drinking some fine cider we were invited to dinner at which we did our duty. As there was every thing good, that is, cakes, syllabub, raisons, almonds, and a great many other things. Returned at even, almost worn out from fatigue.

July 3rd 1847 Saturday

This day our class had nothing to do. I read during the most of the day finished reading the first vol of Mary Queen of Scots, and commenced the Second. Attended prayer meeting.

July 4th 1847 Sabbath

Read in confession of faith until 11, at which time the president, by request, preached a partriotick sermon from 147th psalm 20th verse which was very eloquent and appropriate for the occasion, a number of people attended. Sermon at night by Professor Wilson.

The picnic party was held at what we now know as Beaver Dam, the home of William Lee Davidson II. It’s now a short drive from campus, but in 1847, the Juniors and Seniors would have walked about 2 miles to get there (and would, no doubt be ready for some cider when they arrived). The young ladies of the town must have been very busy preparing food for 34 hungry young men. (14 seniors and 20 juniors).

Table of contents

Table of contents for Life of Mary, Queen of Scots with notations

The library may well still have the copy of the biography James was reading on July 3rd. We have a 1836 edition of a 2 volume edition of Henry Bell’s Life of Mary Queen of Scots that appears to have been part of the Eumenean Society‘s library (James was a member).

Penciled in the volume in the table of contents are 2 notations- one is Eumenean Society. The other is a variation of the William Trimmytoes counting game:

William a trimmety
He is a good fisherman
He catches hens
He puts them in pens
Some lay eggs
Some lay none
Wire brier limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew east
One flew west
& one flew over the old gooses nest
Clear out you dirty dishcloth

The handwriting in the diary and in the book don’t match, so we can’t blame James for marking up the book. Perhaps the scribbler found the book less interesting than James did.

We’ll be adding the diary to our transcription project pages. If you’re curious about what else is in his diary, you’ll be able to read it online and even have the fun of sharing what you find with others through transcription.

And if you’re wondering about Jame’s later life, he became a minister in 1851, married Sarah Collins in 1853 and served churches in South Carolina. Before his death in 1910, he married 670 couples.

Holiday Postcards Past

To slightly alter a phrase ‘Tis the week of Christmas break, when all through the campus, not a creature was stirring, not even the Around the D crew  – but we still wanted to share a bit of history.

One of our projects is processing (archivist speak for organizing and getting a description written) the papers of Miss Louise Sloan, a long-time Davidson resident.  She attended Peace College in Raleigh from 1907 to 1911 and much of her collection dates from her college years.  She saved dozens of her letters and also her postcards from that time – including some holiday cards.

Holiday postcard

The postmark has faded so all that can be read is Dec. This was sent to Louise from E. Pilsen

holiday postcard

This postcard has no postmark. Louise likely hand-delivered it to Miss Adelaide Withers who lived in the Dilworth area of Charlotte, and may have been a cousin.

holiday postcard

The card postmarked 23 December 1908 was sent to Mr. J. Lee Sloan, Jr., Louise’s father and mayor of Davidson at the time.

Holiday postcard

Another faded postmark – but one definitely from her college years. It was sent by a faculty member, Mary Lyon.

Mary Lyon

Mary Lyon from 1910 Peace yearbook

This card reveals a bit of Louise’s independence and her frequent conflicts with Peace staff.  Miss Lyon wrote:

Am so glad Louise reached home all right. She left without my permission. I wanted her to remain. We are having a lovely time. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  With much love, Mary Lyon. Peace, Raleigh, NC. Dec. 24th


May you all have cheerful holidays.

Rare Book School at UVA

I’m just back from another great week in Charlottesville, VA at Rare Book School.  Founded in 1983 at Columbia University, it has been at UVA since 1992.  Not just for librarians, Rare Book School offers week-long classes, primarily in the summer, to those interested in all aspects of Rare Books…classes which are taught by experts in their fields.  Students include librarians, dealers in antiquarian books, book collectors, conservators, teachers, and students (professional or avocational) of the history of books and printing.  Classes are small (usually about 12 students) and entry is competitive, so I was excited to get my acceptance letter for Printed Books Since 1800, the natural sequential class following my last summer’s class,The Printed Book to 1800. 

The class was taught by Katherine Reagan, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Cornell University, and Tom Congalton, owner of Between the Covers Rare Books in Gloucester City, NJ.  Having two instructors with very different perspectives on Rare Books was both interesting and informative, and made for lively discussions.  I was in class with students from Colorado, California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, New York, and Connecticut, including librarians, rare book dealers, professors, graduate students, and private collectors.  We examined books printed from 1800 to the present, and talked about paper, bindings, book jackets, editions, condition, printers and publishers, the literary line of descent, buying and selling antiquarian and rare books (and other items), and looked at lots of examples of each. 

Evening lectures are also a part of the Rare Book School experience, and we had a chance to hear some wonderful lectures regarding some special collections…Edward C. Hirschland on his collection on Chicago history, and Anne-Marie Eze on the rare books in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Rare Book School is one of the best professional opportunities out there, and on top of that is a great deal of fun.

Now back to Davidson’s rare book collection to apply what I’ve learned!

Tied-card proof of Truman Capote's The Grass Harp

Different printings of Hemingway's Men without Women

Jackson Pollock dust jacket


This Day in Davidson – December 21, 1854

Mary D. Beaty meticulously researched the history of Davidson for her book A History of Davidson College for the 150th anniversary of the college. Now as the college approaches its 175th anniversary next year, Around the D begins an ongoing series on reflecting on an event “This Day in Davidson’s History” by retelling from Beaty’s History of Davidson College:

Major D.H. Hill

By 1854, the rigid disciplinarian D.H. Hill had arrived at Davidson armed with a demerit system to instill a “system of responsibility” in the rebellious Davidson men. Yet the events of December 21, 1854, demonstrated cracks in Hill’s disciplined order for Davidson College.

Innocently enough, as Beaty explains, the young men of Davidson were “blowing-off pre-Christmas high spirits” by gathering in front of the chapel and celebrating in good cheer. The faculty, led by Hill, disapproved however, and all four of them “trooped up to demand that [the students] return to their rooms.” A harmless celebration turned to rioting, as the students responded by throwing rocks at the four faculty — and one hit Major Hill himself. Hill escalated the feud by drawing his sword on the rebellious students. Upon Hill’s direct threat of violence, Beaty explains that the students decided “that they were ready for bed, after all,” in an act of concession to the faculty.

Yet, the events of the December 21st rebellion did not end there! The faculty marched into the dormitories, room by room, to ensure the students were acting in a civilized manner, and they found “every student remarkably deep in study or sleep.” All except one – one room was locked, and thus the faculty thus forced their way inside with an axe. Inside, the faculty “found a freshman named Newton virtuously feigning sleep but still wearing his clothes and boots.”

The faculty did not take the events of December 21, 1854 lightly. Newton was suspended for three months on December 26 on the grounds of “strong circumstantial evidence” of his participation in the riots. The students also did not take this lightly, as 42 students signed a petition in protest of Newton’s suspension on “mere suspicion” as “inconsistent with the principles of justice and contrary to the dictates of reason.”

As the situation continued to escalate, Beaty explained that “Davidson entered upon the darkest period of its history.” The events of December 21, 1854 and the ensuing controversy led the students to collectively leave the college en masse on January 3, 1855.

Without students, there was no college, but the faculty refused to relent! Instead the faculty, backed by the trustees, adopted a new scholarship program to encourage new students to come to Davidson to replace those who left in protest. In the end, the faculty won out – a new wave of scholarship holders replaced the old, and thus the 1855-1856 catalogue shows few upperclassmen, and 48 freshmen. In fact, only 10 of the rebellious students returned, and then only after signing a pledge “to conduct myself with propriety at all times in future.”

The events of December 21, 1854 are important to Davidson’s history, as they show how a little happening had a major impact on the history of the institution!

A really big book club

Last June, the college launched an online book group (see http://forum.davidson.edu/bookclub/).  It started with a tie to the college’s on-going freshman orientation book discussions.  That project started in 1993 with the incoming class being asked to read Waiting for the Barbarians by  J. M. Coetze and continues each fall.

Flyer for Book of the Semester 1960Both of these book groups seek to build and deepen a sense of community at Davidson.  In 1959, another ambitious book program was developed by the college YMCA. It was known as both the Book of the Semester and Book of the Year program.  The first book of the year was Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers.  In addition to a lecture by the author, there were panel discussions, class visits, and a televised interview. Alumni and townspeople were invited to participate in the two-day symposium held in the spring of 1960.

News articles on Leon UrisThe program was a success and was followed by programs and author visits by Leon Uris’ (Exodus) in 1961, John Bennett ( Christianity and Communism Today) in 1962, John Knowles ( A Separate Peace) and Eudora Welty (The Selected Short Stories of Eudora Welty) in 1963.  Despite creating well-attended events with a budget of about $400, the program ended in the mid-1960s as new programs such as the Open End and Great Issues started up.  The last reference I found to the program was a letter in 1966 from  college president Grier Martin to  Theodore H. White.  There are no programs or clippings in the YMCA files for a visit by the author of  The Making of a President. Does anyone remember if he came to Davidson?

News article on Eudora WeltyIt is interesting to note that two of the students active in the Book of the Semester planning went on to careers in the arts and humanities. Distinguished oboist Joe Robinson chaired the committee in 1961 for Leon Uris and former NHE Chair Bill Ferris headed the committee selecting Eudora Welty.

Happy 100th to the Carnegie Building

Photo of Carnegie Building

Carnegie Library showing the class of 1915 gift of light stands

With the prospect of a new year ahead, the last blog of 2010, will celebrate the 100th anniversary one of the loveliest buildings on campus.  Now known as the Carnegie Guest House, it was dedicated on September 10, 1910 as the Carnegie Library.

Interior of Carnegie Library

Interior of Carnegie Library from Cornelia Shaw scrapbook

The name comes from Andrew Carnegie, a 19th century Bill Gates – who took some of the monies made by his companies and helped build libraries across the nation. Most were public libraries but a number of colleges, including Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, received funding as well. Carnegie required matching funds. Davidson started a campaign in 1905 and by 1908 was ready to accept $20,000 from the Carnegie Foundation.

The building was dedicated on September 10, 1910, an event that earned coverage in the Charlotte Observer. The paper reported that,

the ground floor of the Carnegie building was the scene of a bright and pleasing spectacle. The entire building was brilliantly lighted and with its hardwood floors, fine finish, white walls and large corridors, broad stairways, spacious rooms and handsome plate glass windows the new library was something  in which everyone, host and visitor alike, student, townsman, and faculty took genuine pride and pleasure.

Page from Wildcat Handbook

Wildcat Handbook 1942-43

The building served as a library from 1910 to 1941. In 1921, after a fire destroyed the Chambers building, the library was remodeled to share space with college administrator offices. By 1941, the student body doubled from 342 to 689 making a new and larger library necessary.  With the books moved to the new Grey Library, the Carnegie building was turned into a Guest House with rooms set aside for the YMCA. The Wildcat Handbook for 1942-43 included a page on the “New Y Building” noting

The Y.M.C.A. will start its second year in its new home. We think that it’s the finest building of its kind to be found on any college campus, and once you visit it we feel sure that you will agree with us.  .  .  On the main floor there is a very large and “homey” lounge with many comfortable chairs and couches made especially for you and your date or friends, or if you prefer privacy, there is a smaller parlor equipped for comfort. Then too, there are several rooms equipped with pool and ping pong tables.

Image from Wildcat Handbook

Wildcat Handbook 1942-43

Guest House brochureThe YMCA stayed in the building for 10 years. From 1952 to 1972, it served as the College’s guest house.  Between 1972 and 1975 it served as the student union, with the demolition of Ovens Union and remodeling of the Grey Library into a union. In 1976, it became both the guest house and a dormitory, the basement being used to house 12 coeds. The basement has also served in recent years as faculty offices and once again houses student dormitory rooms.

Does this compute

Computers have become integral to colleges and even college archives. It’s hard to remember now when they were not part of every day life.

An article from October 1, 1965 highlights some of the changes.  The headline is IBM Dating Sweeps Country and it describes a new use of computers launched by students at Harvard and offered to students at Davidson for a small fee.

Davidsonian article - IBM Dating Sweeps Country"

Davidsonian article on computer datingThe article mentions an earlier computer dating service initiated at Davidson–just for first-year students.  One that appears not to have worked very well for the Davidson students or their dates.

In the archives, we aren’t trying for any social dating services but we do hope to match people with memories and facts about the college.  We are about to participate in a kind of online gathering – adding photographs to the DigitalNC Images of North Carolina project.  If you have a favorite image from the college’s photograph collection, let us know and we’ll add to our list.