Emory and Henry College was founded by the Holston Conference of the Methodist Church and named for a Methodist bishop and for Patrick Henry, whose sister Madam Russell (see SM24) played a major role in the establishment of Methodism in Southwest Virginia. It was planned as a college for men with liberal arts courses and a course that involved manual labor on the college's farm. Within ten years, the manual labor requirement was dropped, and Emory and Henry became a four-year, liberal arts institution for men until a merger in 1919 with Martha Washington College (see WS9) in Abingdon began its era of coeducation. Today, the college's more than 1,000 students are about evenly divided between males and females.
Within its rambling and picturesque plan, the college's buildings are situated to take advantage of their hilly terrain. On entering the campus there are three two-story hipped-roof Greek Revival buildings: Charles C. Collins House (1845), a five-bay, two-story house with a late-nineteenth-century bracketed cornice and porch; Emily Williams House (1848) that has a late-nineteenth-century cornice and porch; and J. Stewart French Alumni House (1852) with a 1940s portico. These three brick buildings and all others constructed before the arrival of the railroad in 1856 were made from clay taken from pits on the present site of the football field and molded in a six-horsepower dry-press mold. The Williams and French houses were built for faculty and the larger Collins House was built for the institution's first president.
Byars Hall (1837; 1880s rebuilt; 2009 renovation and addition), the oldest academic building, now houses the visual and performing arts department. It is a two-story brick building with a colossal two-story semicircular Ionic portico. Waterhouse-Carriger and Matthews halls (1904–1908) are two-story Colonial Revival residential blocks each with a full-height pedimented Ionic portico and linked by a one-story central lounge area. The two-story brick Georgian Revival Wiley Hall designed in 1912 by Clarence B. Kearfott was rebuilt by Emerson, Stone and Stone in 1929 after it burned. The central columns of its centered three-bay pedimented portico are set farther apart than the flanking pairs and thereby frame the entrance. A tall cupola with an open belfry crowns the building.
Smyth House, a late-eighteenth-century, one-and-a-half-story log structure, was moved to the campus in 1929 as a tribute to its former owner, Tobias Smyth, one of the college's founders. The house has been heavily and idiosyncratically reworked to house historic artifacts. High on the hilly campus, Miller-Fulton Hall (1914) and Stuart Hall (1909) were designed by Pember and Kearfott of Bristol. Miller-Fulton has a central domed observatory, and long low wings provide classroom space. Stuart Hall is a large two-story brick building with central and end sections composed of recessed two-story Ionic porches. In the mid-twentieth century, some utilitarian buildings were added, but in the 1960s, a master plan was developed to preserve a spacious pedestrian commons amid the leafy grounds of the 168-acre campus.