The only known image of Locust Dell Academy comes from the scrapbook collection of Oscar D. Lewis
Willingham Hall was built on the site of the former girls' academy called Locust Dell. Locust Dell was once a private residence, surrounded by Locust trees, that was purchased in 1830 by the Hentz family. The school's founder, Nicholas Marcellus Hentz, was a former professor of modern languages at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a native of France. His wife, Caroline Lee Hentz, was an author and also taught courses at the academy.
The academy opened in 1834 with classes held in the house's basement with a dormitory above. The academy closed during the Civil War, and the house was converted back to a private residence. In 1871, Major Henry Wood purchased the house. Shortly after, the college purchased the home from him. Sadly, this historic home was destroyed by fire soon after the college acquired it. The lot sat vacant until Willingham Hall was constructed in 1941.
The Work Projects Administration (previously the Works Progress Administration) was a New Deal agency that started in 1935 under the administration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was an agency designed to put people back to work during some of the bleakest years of the Great Depression, sponsoring and providing labor for public works projects as varied as civic and public buildings, artistic murals, and infrastructure that included roads, dams, and bridges. In addition to the construction of Willingham Hall, the WPA also built the President's Home on campus.
Other identified New Deal agencies present on campus include the Public Works Administration (PWA), which provided labor for the construction of several campus buildings; the Civil Works Administration (CWA), a short-lived job creation program that is credited with construction of the Memorial Amphitheater in 1934; and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), who provided technical assistance executing the campus-wide landscape plan.
Other New Deal projects in the Shoals area include Goose Shoals bridge and the Florence Armory (no longer extant) in Florence; Ft. Decatur Recreation Center; Delano Park; and the restoration of the Old State Bank in Decatur; post offices in Russellville and Tuscumbia, both include WPA commissioned murals inside; Wheeler Dam in Rogersville; and West Limestone County High School in Athens.
Although initially built as a dormitory for male students, the college rented rooms to the Tennessee Valley Authority for their employees and other workers during World War II, beginning as soon as the building went into service. Therefore male students only occupied the space from 1945-1947 when Keller Hall was completed, and the "Old Boys' Dormitory", as it was called, became the girls' dormitory.
On November 5, 1949, the "Old Boys' Dormitory" was officially named Willingham Hall for Henry J. Willingham, a longtime president of the college who had died the previous year. During his tenure from 1913 to 1938, Willingham oversaw construction of Bibb Graves Hall, Kilby School, the central heating plant, and the acquisition of four dormitories. He also promoted construction of Coffee High School, the city of Florence's first high school.
Willingham Hall was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, the same style chosen for the president's home on campus as well as earlier structures Wesleyan Hall and Bibb Graves Hall. Though different from the castellated rooflines found on these earlier structures, Willingham Hall and the president's home both feature brick and limestone, Gothic arches, steeply pitched roofs, and narrow windows, all details typical of the Gothic Revival style. Though less prevalent in residential construction in the early twentieth century, the Gothic Revival style continued as a popular choice for churches and other civic buildings at this time. A good local example can be seen at Trinity Episcopal Church on Pine Street in downtown Florence.
As the girls' dormitory from 1948-1968, Willingham Hall housed as many as ninety female residents at one time. During the Cold War in the 1950s, the building was designated a fallout shelter by the U.S. Department of Defense with a capacity for 392 people in the event of a disaster.
In 1969, the Office of Career Development and Placement moved into the former residence hall. There was also a lounge designed for commuter students and social science faculty offices. In 2008, Willingham Hall underwent $1.4 million in renovations to make the building more accessible and energy efficient. The basement level was also finished at this time for office space.