Backstory and Context
Niswonger Commons incorporates two historic buildings (the gymnasium and Simerly Student Union Center) on campus to create an updated center for student activity. Almost 100 years ago where Niswonger Commons now stands used to be the Tusculum Gymnasium. The ‘old gym’ was constructed in 1927.1
The original gym housed several of Tusculum College’s sports teams including the swim team and the basketball team. In 1968, a loan was negotiated for a new Student Union building to replace an earlier structure located between Annie Hogan Byrd and Katherine Hall.2 Construction was completed in 1970. The initial vision was to provide a space that included a cafeteria, snack bar, recreation rooms, a bookstore, and several offices and banquet halls.1
In 1977 the building was renamed as the Simerly Student Union building in honor of Robert Jennings Simerly and his mother Mary Benton Mitchell Simerly. The Simerlys had developed connections with Tusculum through a Presbyterian secondary school that had ties to Nettie McCormick and Charles Oliver Gray.1
Niswonger Commons officially combined the two buildings into a new structure in 1999. The building is named after one of Tusculum's contemporary benefactors, Scott M. Niswonger.
2Sexton, Don. A Heritage of Two Centuries of Memories. Greeneville, TN. Tusculum College, 2006.
All photos from Tusculum University Archives