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In Search of Alabama’s Most Beautiful Campus: Visiting Troy University in Troy, Alabama

Tonya Prater, Owner

Troy University has been described as “Alabama’s Most Beautiful Campus.” With its classic architecture and mature trees, the campus is reminiscent of the stately colleges found in New England but with Southern accents that give TROY its distinctive flair. While the sprawling campus is genuinely gorgeous, there’s so much more to TROY than stately buildings and verdant landscaping.

I recently spent three days exploring Troy University and its namesake town.

I left my home in Ohio enroute to Knoxville to meet my best friend from elementary school, and she joined me on a road trip to Alabama. The six-hour trip took us nearly fourteen hours as we stopped at one roadside attraction after another, but as each passing mile took us closer to Troy, our excitement to learn about the city and explore the university grew, especially once we turned onto US-231 and spotted several billboards proclaiming the beauty of the Troy University Campus.

Referred to as part of lower Alabama, Troy is located in the southeastern part of the state, a short drive from the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico. You can expect hot, humid summers and mild winters. During our visit, the temperatures fluctuated from the high 70s during the day to the low 30s at night, prompting me to pack an excessive amount of clothing and shoes. As a former Girl Scout, I chalk up my overpacking to my need to always be prepared. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Troy is not a large town by many standards, but it is one of the largest communities in Southeastern Alabama. With a population of just more than 19,000, you’ll find many of the chain stores and restaurants you would probably only see in more populated areas. If you’re looking for a Zaxby’s, Chick-fil-A, or Subway, you’ll find them in the business district along with Lowes, TJ Maxx, and Ulta, but if your tastes run towards mom-and-pop restaurants and boutique shops, you’ll find those too.

A Brief Look at TROY’s History

Troy University was founded on Feb. 26, 1887, as the Troy State Normal School, a school to educate and train new teachers. The college shifted over the years as the need for higher education changed and gradually offered bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Today, Troy University holds to its roots as it continues to train teachers in its College of Education. It has also expanded its offerings to include a College of Arts and Sciences, College of Communication and Fine Arts, College of Health and Human Services, and the Sorrell College of Business. These schools, combined, offer more than 260 undergraduate and graduate programs that are internationally recognized.

Troy University serves traditional, non-traditional and military students at the main campus, satellite schools and through online academic classes and welcomes students from around the world. Before the pandemic, there were students from 75 countries.

What Makes the TROY Campus So Beautiful?

Everywhere I looked, I saw beauty and art. Whether it was the Troy University mascot, a statue of a Trojan soldier towering over the fountain on the Academic Quad, the Sorrell Chapel nestled inside a grove of trees with a sculpture of the Holy Bible nearby or the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park where you’ll find 200 terracotta soldiers on display, Troy University is genuinely remarkable. 

The campus moved to its current location on University Drive from downtown Troy in 1930. University President E.M. Shackleford commissioned the Olmsted Brothers, a well-known landscape architecture firm known for Piedmont Park and Druid Hills in Atlanta and the Cleveland Metroparks System near my home in Ohio, to ensure the 275-acre property would be a work of beauty. 

It was essential to the early founders that the campus’s beauty and the land be preserved for future generations. Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. retains that sentiment. I had the opportunity to sit in his office and chat with him, and he shared, “People need to work in a beautiful setting, and they need to study in a beautiful setting.” And for Troy University, that beauty translates to more students. Dr. Hawkins continued, “If we can get a student to campus, there is a 75-80% likelihood that they’re going to apply.” 

Art and nature are plentiful on the acreage that is now Troy University. “The campus is open, and we invite visitors,” says Dr. Hawkins. “There have been a lot of dimensions on the campus that has attracted people’s attention, but probably more important has been the park and the Terracotta Warriors.”

Things To Do on Campus

The first thing to do when visiting the Troy University Campus is to download this campus map. Visitors may park in the Blue Zones only. If you plan to be on campus for an arranged walking tour, you’ll find instructions in your email regarding parking.

If you’re simply visiting for the day, I suggest you take the self-guided Statue Tour. The best way to see the pieces listed is on foot, so put on a pair of comfy shoes and get in those steps! Also, don’t forget to pack your camera as you will find plenty of photo ops along the way.

Your tour will begin at the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park and International Art Center to see the replica Terracotta Warriors and the Violata Pax. Don’t miss the opportunity to step inside the art museum.

I had the privilege of touring the IAC with the Chancellor’s wife and park’s namesake, Janice Hawkins, to learn about the art collection that features a varied and eclectic collection of student work and art from local artists. The “Alice in Wonderland” exhibit by well-known local artist Fred Nall Hollis is currently on display. This exhibit is recommended for mature adults. 

Check out the “Warriors Unearthed” exhibit on the lower level if traveling with young children. You’ll discover how the famous terracotta statues were found in this interactive display.

Continuing the self-guided tour, you’ll come to the Music Man Statue and Hector, the Trojan Soldier, located in the fountain on the main quad. If you look to your left, you’ll see a red phone booth, another fun photo op. You’ll also see some historical markers around the campus that will provide more insight into the buildings and history of the campus. 

The last stop on the tour is the Troy University Fountain (unfortunately, it was dry during our visit in November). You’ll find a great place to rest your feet at Barnes and Noble. Plus, you can purchase branded souvenirs like keychains, hats, T-shirts, or sweatshirts. 

Military Appreciation Week

TROY has been recognized as a leading institution for military members and veterans. The University strives not only to be military friendly but also set up systems in place like TROY for Troops to assist those members as they seek to reach their goals.

Dr. Hawkins, a Purple Heart recipient who served as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War, said, “The U.S. Marine Corps probably had the greatest influence on me and my development over anything else.” 

Our visit to Troy University corresponded with Military Appreciation Week. As a military mom, I love that the University honors veterans and active-duty personnel and makes distance learning available for those actively serving. My son earned his bachelor’s degree during three deployments and is only a few classes away from earning his master’s degree. 

The TROY vs. Army Game Day Experience

My visit to Troy University wouldn’t have been complete without an authentic game day experience. Luckily for me, I was in town for the most anticipated game of the season, TROY vs. Army at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Tailgating was a new experience and was so fun that I hope it’s not my last. The excitement of Game Day was contagious. We heard Sound of the South warm-up before marching to the stadium, saw T-Roy, the official mascot for the TROY Trojans, imbibed a tasty rum-flavored beverage while listening to POPulus, TROY’s pop music ensemble, and had a front-row seat to the Trojan Walk as the team entered the stadium.

The game drew record crowds, and we had a great view of the field from the new North End Zone lounge. Food and drinks were available.

This was a great vantage point to kick back and enjoy the game.

Both teams played an excellent defensive game. I wasn’t sure who the winner would be for a while, but in the 4th quarter, the Trojans pulled ahead, satisfying the fans who filled the stadium.

Downtown Troy & Beyond

Eighth-generation Troy Mayor Jason A. Reeves and Troy Community Development Director Leigh Anne Windham met us at the charming and newly opened Fuse Coffee Shop to share the story of downtown Troy. Fuse has a cute aesthetic with partially exposed brick walls, comfortable seating and their own roasted coffee blend.

Jason shared that, like many communities, downtown Troy has struggled through the years but is making a solid comeback.

Ten years ago, the square wasn’t much to look at. Businesses had left, and downtown was dying. It was then that Jason took a trip to Oxford, Mississippi, another college town that is thriving. Inspired by the look and feel of their downtown, he set out to transform downtown Troy.

Today, you’ll find a vibrant community with charming boutique shops, a white tablecloth restaurant, and a bakery among long-standing staples like the Douglas Brothers Jewelry and Gift Mart, Pike County’s oldest business, which has been in operation since 1871.

We learned that in the aftermath of Hurricane Opal, residents went three weeks without electricity, and Byrd Drug Company, a staple in the community since the 1940s, provided many community members, including Jason’s grandma, with a good cup of coffee: a kind gesture in the face of hardship. I’m told they serve the best bacon, and if you visit The Square in the morning, you’ll smell the coffee brewing.

Amid the shops and restaurants, you’ll find beautiful architecture including a historic district, a Carnegie library, that now serves as City Hall, and plenty of murals that are part of a project to share the history of Troy. Don’t miss the Troy Postcard Mural, the newest piece added to the collection.

Nedra and I spent several hours checking out the shops downtown. We popped in The Confetti Crate, Rustic Linen and Heritage 1843. I wish we would have had time to go to all of them. 

We explored downtown Troy and also ventured out of town to the Pioneer Museum of Alabama for a history lesson on Pike County and beyond. This museum is a must for history lovers! Our favorite part of our visit was stepping inside the General Store, which looks like a time capsule of bygone days.

I traveled to Troy to visit Alabama’s most beautiful campus, but what impressed me the most during my visit was the Southern hospitality that those on the campus and downtown Troy exuded. We met people everywhere who were eager to welcome us to their hometown. I may have traveled to Troy searching for the most beautiful campus, but I found a community of kind and beautiful souls. My job has taken me around the country, but few destinations have impacted me as much as my visit to the charming Southern city of Troy, Alabama.

Is Troy University on your list of places to visit? I think it should be.

Candice

Monday 16th of January 2023

Love this! I've spent time in Alabama but haven't made it to Troy yet. Thanks for sharing.

Tonya Prater

Tuesday 24th of January 2023

I hope you are able to visit Troy, Candice. It's such a charming southern town.

Sabrina

Monday 16th of January 2023

Wow i should definitely visit when i Go to Alabama (:

Carrie Rice

Friday 6th of January 2023

What a beautiful article! I’m so proud to be a Troy graduate and now Troy citizen!

Tonya Prater

Tuesday 24th of January 2023

Wow! That's awesome to hear, Carrie. Sure sounds like Troy grew on you during your time at the university. I can't wait for a return trip. Do you have recommendations of things I should check out next time?

Teresa Harrell Moten

Saturday 24th of December 2022

Troy is beautiful now! When I graduated in 1982, it was a nice place: however dorms were cold in winter and too hot in summer! Campus was much smaller! Education was good! I am glad that I chose Troy! Many of older buildings have been torn down!

Tonya Prater

Wednesday 28th of December 2022

I'm glad that you have fond memories of Troy and that you're happy that you chose to further your education there. Have you been back to see the campus since you graduated? Thanks so much for your comment, Teresa!

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