Robert Esli Bowen

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Robert Esli Bowen, a native of Pickens County, South Carolina, was one of original seven Life Trustees named in the will of Thomas Green Clemson for the Board of Trustees for the founding of Clemson Agricultural College in 1889.


Robert Esli Bowen was born September 8, 1830, on George's Creek near Briggs Post Office in Pickens County, South Carolina, where his Welsh-Irish family had settled around 1785. "Bowen was educated in common school and apprenticed to his father, from whom he learned surveying. In 1853, he moved to Texas and taught school there for five months. He then traveled extensively in Texas before returning to superintend the family farm." (Reel, page 53.)

Bowen served in the Confederate army. He was at Appomattox Court House at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, and ended his service with the rank of colonel. Bowen married Martha Oliver and they had two children, James Oliver, who died in 1908, and Esli Elvira, who never married. Bowen's father had given him the tract of land on which he and his wife lived.

"Bowen was elected to the state house in 1872 and to the senate from 1874 to 1878, where he served on the committee to investigate the financial condition of South Carolina's government. He probably worked closely with Richard Wright Simpson on the difficult inquiry. In the 1880s, Bowen was involved in several railway ventures as president of the Atlantic and French Broad Railroad (1881-1886) and first director (1883-1886) and then president (1886-1889) of the Carolina, Cumberland Gap and Chicago Railroad. Neither proved successful, but the contacts he gained would aid the college. Like Bradley, Bowen served as a Presbyterian elder. After he died, Clemson College morning chapel on January 11, 1909, was given over to a memorial service. He is buried in the old Pickens Presbyterian churchyard." (Reel, pages 53-54.)

Bowen Hall, on the West Campus of Clemson University, in the Greek Quad, is named for R. E. Bowen.


  • Reel, Jerome V., The High Seminary, vol. 1: A History of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, 1889-1964, Clemson University Digital Press at the Center for Electronic and Digital Publishing, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, 2011, ISBN 978-0-9842598-9-2, pages 53-54.)
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