Winthrop stressed physical education from its first years at Rock Hill, SC with the express purpose of keeping students healthy and fit. In 1895 gymnasium facilities were housed in the Main (Tillman Administration Building) Building. Outdoor recreation was held in the courtyard behind the North Dormitory (Margaret Nance Hall), and north of the infirmary (Crawford Hall). A special recreation hall in the basement of the South Dormitory (McLaurin Hall) was used for group games and exercises during bad weather.
In 1915 Winthrop received a $30,000 appropriation from the State Legislature for half the cost of a new $60,000 gymnasium. The other half was donated by the Peabody Fund, which had already generously endowed Winthrop’s original buildings and the Training School (Withers/W.T.S. Building).
The architectural firm of Hook and Rogers of Rock Hill was retained to design the gymnasium. The junior member of this firm, A. D. Gilchrist, was responsible for most of the work and subsequently was hired to help design other buildings. The gymnasium was completed by Will, Boggs & Company of Spartanburg, SC, for $75,000 in 1916.
The three story Twentieth Century Romanesque building with an “H” shaped plan had masonry and stone walls divided into bays by buttresses to support the steel frame roof structure. Masonry parapets, arched over the projecting wing ends, partly hid the hipped slate roof. Peabody had a rectangular two story annex on the south side which housed the original swimming pool, and a one story arcaded entrance porch with a flat roof. Originally, a covered passageway ran between Peabody and the rear entrance to the Tillman Administration Building, but it was removed when the Ebenezer Avenue extension was built for vehicular access to the back campus.
Windows within the bays were double 9/9 sash with triple windows on the wing ends. Third floor windows had semi-elliptical masonry arches. The swimming pool wing had large rectangular window walls facing south for maximum solar radiation and lighting in winter.
The main arcaded entrance porch led to a lobby with a staircase on the north side and a central hall to training rooms, locker rooms, and showers in the back of the building. The second floor had classrooms and offices in the front wing with a large (60’ x 100’) open gymnasium covering the center section and back wing. This two story space had metal balconies along the sides and a large balcony at the east end seating 195, reached by metal stairs. The steel framed open roof trusses were used to hang exercise equipment and basketball goals. This multi-purpose wood gym floor could be used for group calisthenics, gymnastics, team games, and social functions.
The two story swimming pool room (22’ x 60’ pool) featured ceramic tile floors and wainscoat, arcaded alcoves, and end balconies. A partial basement on the north side was exposed by a drop in grade of the hillside on which the building sits. It was used for outdoor sports, equipment storage and maintenance, and was entered only from the outside.
In conjunction with the gym the large depressed stream drainage basin to the north was leveled to make a hockey field. The hillside opposite the gym was carved into an amphitheater with terraces held in place by masonry retaining walls.
In 1958 a large addition to the rear of the 1916 gymnasium, designed by Hopkins, Baker & Gill of Florence, SC, was built by Young Construction Company of Rock Hill for $287,000. This contemporary masonry wing blended nicely with the older structure and greatly expanded the utility of the gym. The main body of the annex was a long, one story office wing with a two-story basketball gym at the east end, and a rectangular dance studio on the west end. A partial basement beneath the basketball gym had a 105’ long bowling alley with four lanes.
In 1976 a new swimming pool, designed by Peritus Engineers of Greenville, SC, was added to the north side of the 1916 building. This metal frame building with masonry walls had a gabled, metal and glass roof. The new pool (45’ x 75’) had concrete bleachers for spectators and classes on the east side and an open sun deck on the west side.
In 1979-1980 renovations were made to shower and locker rooms to create facilities for males. Concurrently, the original swimming pool was covered and the annex converted into training rooms and locker areas. These partition changes did not affect the architectural integrity of the 1916 gym, since no exterior changes were made and the main interior feature, the gymnasium floor, was retained. The new swimming pool was out of character with the original building, but it was partly hidden by the Ebenezer Avenue embankment.
Peabody Gymnasium (1916) was an economical adaptation of the Romanesque style to a building with modern construction and function. The large, open gym with buttressed walls and arched windows was comparable to the nave of a Romanesque chapel. Interior arrangements and spaces were well adapted, and the setting of the building on the shoulder of the hill was perfect. However, the gym was not an unusual structure for the period. It lacked the architectural rarity, splendor or historical associations of buildings like Tillman Administration Building and Withers/W.T.S. Building.
Construction of an athletic center at the Winthrop Farm had little effect on Peabody, since the athletic center was mainly for intercollegiate sports. Peabody however, was razed and replaced by the Lois Rhame West Health, Physical Education and Wellness Center in 2007. At 137,000 square feet, the $24.9 million West Center is the largest building on Winthrop's main campus. The signature facility, utilizing the latest in environmentally friendly construction techniques, houses academic space for Winthrop’s health, physical education and sport management programs, as well as wellness facilities for the campus community.