In 1937 a $302,000.00 grant from the Federal Public Works Administration was secured for the auditorium/conservatory and a home economics building. This grant was conditioned upon the state providing matching money. Senator J. Strom Thurmond, then in the State Senate, sponsored a College Buildings Bill authorizing $1,350,000.00 in bonded indebtedness to match P. W. A. monies. The two Winthrop buildings, McKissick Library at U. S. C., the Textile Building at Clemson, and a dormitory at S. C. State College were funded by the bill. Without Senator Thurmond’s assistance from his position in the Senate Committee on Education, it is doubtful whether the State would have financed these projects.
Winthrop’s home economics program was installed in 1895 though Governor Benjamin R. Tillman’s influence. Established in 1886, Winthrop had specialized in teacher training at its Columbia campus. When Winthrop became the state’s female institution paralleling Clemson, an industrial (home economics) program was added to match Clemson’s agricultural curriculum. The Name “S. C. Industrial and Winthrop Normal College” was not changed to “Winthrop College” until 1920, after Governor Tillman’s death.
Winthrop’s original home economics classes were housed on the third floor of the Tillman Administration Building. Curriculum included cooking, dressmaking, sewing, and home management. Seniors lived in the practice home, to practice housekeeping in a setting similar to a rural southern home. The practice home was originally a Victorian-style cottage on the campus, but was moved to the Stewart House on Oakland Avenue in 1912.
The architectural firm of Hopkins and Gill, of Florence, S. C., was selected to design the new building with A. D. Gilchrist of Rock Hill as associate architect. (Gilchrist was also associate architect for the auditorium) The home economics building, including the attached nursery school (Macfeat), was completed in 1939 by J. J. McDevitt Co. for $240,000.00.
The three story masonry building, with a symmetrical “H” shaped plan, has a raised basement and full attic. The gabled roof has a center gable over the entrance, gabled dormers with arched windows, and a denticulated wood cornice. Its two story entrance portico, with flat roof, is supported by groups of “Tower of Wind” wood columns and pilasters like those on Joynes Hall. Stone quoins run from roof cornice to a plain stone frieze which conforms to semi-circular arches over first floor windows on wing ends. Windows are 9/9 sash with wood frames and plain stone stills. The front entrance under the portico features an arched doorway with pilasters, broken pediment, and a Palladian window on the second floor.
The main entrance leads to a vestibule with symmetrical divided flight stairways to the basement and second floor. A wide entrance hall in the main section runs through to wings on each floor. Dog-leg stairways on the north sides of halls in both wings connect all floors with an elevator adjacent to the east wing stairwell. Offices, classrooms, and labs open on both sides of the central hall. The attic contained bedrooms, kitchen and dining room for the model home, transferred from the Stewart House in 1939.
In 1988, a speech was delivered by U. S. Senator J. Strom Thurmond to rededicate the Thurmond building as the home of the J. Strom Thurmond School of Business Administration. The school of business had been moved to the building in 1987. The building was updated with new paint, carpet, and furniture.
The Thurmond building is the largest Neo-Georgian structure on the Winthrop campus and the last fully detailed period building. Later buildings lack the symmetry and trim that give the illusion of the 18th Century. However, the massive scale of this building begins to dominate its elegant details and therefore the building lacks the architectural distinction of earlier Georgian architecture at Winthrop (Kinard, Joynes, Roddey).
The Thurmond Building, like Byrnes Auditorium, is a massive monument to the New Deal, of state wide historical significance as one of four major college buildings in South Carolina constructed with P. W. A. funds.