Whither Sweet Briar?
What Will Happen to Sweet Briar College’s Historic Campus?
Architect, March 24, 2015
On March 4, Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, a liberal-arts college for women founded in 1901, prompted widespread shock when it announced that it will close this August due to “insurmountable financial challenges.” The decision by the board of directors left Sweet Briar’s staff, faculty, and 700 students reeling, unsure where they will go next.
The fate of the college’s pastoral, 3,250-acre campus—located in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia, about 12 miles from Lynchburg—is also unclear. The central campus and many of its buildings were designed by Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), who went on to shape the United States Military Academy at West Point, Princeton University, and Rice University, among other institutions. Cram became known as a master of the Gothic Revival, but at Sweet Briar—his first collegiate commission—he took his cues from Virginian tradition and produced a picturesque campus in the Neo-Georgian style. Architectural historians have compared the romantic classicism of Sweet Briar to the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, the great British architect; Henry-Russell Hitchcock preferred it to many of Cram’s better-known Gothic campuses.