As early as 1891, Henry G. Davis and his son-in-law attempted to establish a college by offering matching grants to different denominations that might sponsor a school. The idea became a reality a decade later when the Lexington (Virginia) Presbytery, whose jurisdiction included Elkins, decided to “do for the people of [West Virginia] what Hampden-Sydney, Washington and Lee, and Davidson colleges have done for Virginia and North Carolina.” At their first meeting, on December 4, 1902, the board of trustees named the college after its two sponsors and appointed a committee to plan the buildings. More than likely, Senator Davis had a hand in selecting the Washington, D.C., firm of Harding and Upman as architects. Their Tudor Revival Administration Building contained offices, classrooms, a chapel, a library, a dining hall, a gymnasium, and dormitory space for fifty students—essentially the entire institution—when it opened in 1904.
As the college grew, agitation developed for another location (in a larger city) and for a “more Presbyterian” name (Westminster College of West Virginia was suggested). Hallie Davis Elkins squelched both notions in 1923 when she offered, and the trustees accepted, Halliehurst ( RN1.1), along with sixty acres of land. Mrs. Elkins, by then a widow, accompanied her gift with stipulations that the college be permanently located at Halliehurst and that the name Davis and Elkins be perpetuated. She also insisted that the house not be used as a men's dormitory. Consequently, in May 1924, Manufacturers Record announced that Charleston architect Walter F. Martens would soon call for bids for converting the Elkins mansion into a women's dormitory, transforming the coach house into the men's dormitory, and constructing two new buildings.
In 1941 the college acquired the Davis home, Graceland, essentially completing the area now known as the lower campus. After World War II, temporary structures, including Quonset huts, were used to house the influx of students, but in the 1950s, the college embarked on an expansion program to construct permanent buildings. Typical of post–World War II design, these were built in an area now designated as the upper campus.
In 1967 the college established a long-range planning committee, which recommended that future construction continue toward the northeast. A chapel was completed in 1972, followed by an auditorium in 1976. Booth Library, completed in 1992, is a sensitively designed structure strategically located between the old (lower) and new (upper) sections of campus.
Because of its association with its namesake donors, that portion of the campus encompassing Halliehurst, Graceland, the Icehouse, and the Gate House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996, as the Davis and Elkins Historic District.