October 29, 2016 was a great day for Carson-Newman’s Phi Mu Delta. The reunion was long overdue. Plus, it was just another footnote in a colorful history of the brotherhood. The fraternity was established before the Civil War as a Literary Society with a focus on debating and healthy discussions. By the mid-1950’s the fraternity started embracing more a more “social” role, and by the time the 1970’s rolled around, Phi Mu Delta’s mission and interests had changed—some say evolved. Sure, there were discussions. And yeah, there were debates. However, most of them were not of a literary nature.
The Philomathean Literary Society was founded in 1851 by James A. Russell, W.J. Burt, W.A. Nelson, J.C. Barb and J.C. Chismitt. In 1857, Phi Mu Delta was chartered by the Tennessee State Legislature and was dedicated to the beauty and harmony of fellowship. The motto was Philodoxia, Mathesis, Kai Dunamis—For the Love of Honor, Learning, and Power. The fraternity initially met in various classrooms, but then in 1892, the first Philo Hall was built. However, it was destroyed by fire on December 15, 1916 with only the mirror, gavel stand and gavel being saved.
The second Philo Hall was built (in Henderson Hall) in 1917 and in 1930, the engraved marble plaque was donated to the hall, followed by the six-legged Baldwin baby grand piano that was bought in 1932. In 1955, chairs (including the President’s Chair) were bought by the brothers selling Bibles (each chair had a member’s name on the back). In 1966, carpet was bought for the hall by selling candy.
The first pledge program was launched in 1962, and it was re-vamped by Mike Frye and Buddy Esper in 1968.
In 1969, the men of Phi Mu Delta dribbled a single basketball (in shifts) from Carson-Newman to Belmont College in Nashville for the Volunteer State Athletic Conference (VSAC) Basketball Tournament. These feat was duplicated in the Spring of 1971. The brothers dribbled non-stop (again, in shifts) through Knoxville and other smaller towns along the way, all day and all night, arriving on the court for the tourney’s first game.
On January 16, 1974, disaster struck again—old Henderson, along with Philo Hall—burned to the ground. Some of the brothers arrived and bravely were able to save the President’s Chair; 37 individual chairs; 7 trophies; 3 dribbled basketballs; a football; the 1970 Senior Class Chariot plaque; the Mister Philo plaque; the gavel stand, stone and gavel, the formal installation table; and the Baldwin baby grand piano.