Founded by two Lutheran pastors in 1842 as Virginia Institute, the college began as a preparatory school for boys with a curriculum based in the liberal arts. In 1845 the school was renamed Virginia Collegiate Institute and after it was moved here in 1847 from its location in Augusta County, it was given the name of Roanoke College in honor of its new home county. The buildings are arranged informally on the tree-shaded campus.
The Administration Building (1847, James C. and Joseph Deyerle, builders) was the campus's first permanent structure. The two-story rectangular block with Greek Revival details was expanded in the 1850s with flanking two-story pilastered brick wings, a Doric portico, and a domed cupola. During a period of the college's expansion, Noah Hockman remodeled the building in 1903 in a Beaux-Arts Classical manner with a projecting Corinthian portico and a third story. Miller Hall and Trout Hall flanking the Administration Building were begun in 1858 and completed after the Civil War as simplified Greek Revival buildings. They were remodeled in 1903 with ornate pediments and portals to complement the renovated Administration Building. The Gothic Revival Bittle Hall (1879), Noah Hockman's earliest building on campus, began as a library. In 1893, James C. Deyerle added an annex and a polygonal apse in the same style. When a new library was built in 1962, Bittle Hall became an office building, and now houses the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1909, the college hired Philadelphia-based architect Frank A. Rommel to develop a master plan. During the next decade, Rommel's designs for at least five buildings were constructed. These included the 1910 Collet Center (College Commons); the Tudor Revival Wells and Yonce halls (1910 and 1913, respectively) that are now portions of a multipart dormitory known as the Sections; and Roselawn, the president's house from 1915 to the late 1960s.
In the 1920s, campus buildings, designed in the prevailing Colonial Revival style, included Eubank and Caldwell's College Hall (1923) and Frye and Stone's Alumni Gymnasium (1929). The campus saw a wider stylistic range among its new campus buildings in the late twentieth century. Antrim Chapel (1970, Vincent G. Kling and Partners) features colliding geometric forms sheathed in smooth brick and stands in stark contrast to Fintel Library (1962, Wyatt C. Hedrick; 1991 expansion, Horner and Associates with Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, consulting architects). The library's modern addition, which faces away from the rest of campus and cascades several stories down a formally landscaped hillside, is a neo-traditional domed structure faced with brick and detailed with cast-stone classical ornament and overscaled multipane windows.