North Carolina Education - Madison County

Year County Established

County Webpage Herein

County Seat Webpage Herein


Madison County


Mars Hill College opened initially as the French Broad Baptist Academy, taking its name from the French Broad Baptist Association. In 1856, Edward Carter donated the land for the institute, and local sponsors provided the financial resources. However, the money supporting the school’s development ran out quickly, and a slave named Joe, owned by trustee J. W. Anderson, was seized and placed in the Asheville jail by the contractor as collateral. Trustees raised the required funds through public gifts, and the institute’s buildings were finished by the year’s end.

Two years later, the North Carolina General Assembly granted the school the title Mars Hill College, after the Biblical passage Acts 17:22: “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill.” The school remained opened during the first two years of the American Civil War, but closed in 1863. Union and Confederate troops were quartered in the college’s buildings in 1865. Several buildings on campus were damaged during the war, and soldiers burned a dormitory and a teacher’s home.

Despite the damage, the school reopened at the war’s end. From 1872 to 1878, the school closed, and the buildings functioned as a branch of the Oxford Masonic Orphanage as well as a “subscription school.” Mars Hill re-opened in 1879, but remained financially unstable and continued to struggle throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. Fourteen (14) school presidents served between 1865 and 1897.

In 1897, the trustees persuaded Robert Lee Moore, a Wake Forest University alumnus, to take the position of president. Moore reformed the school, changing the curriculum and establishing formal guidelines concerning tuition and other matters. Under Moore’s administration, Mars Hill regained prominence and in 1921 achieved junior college status. In 1937, the school eliminated its high school division entirely. The following year Moore retired, and was replaced by Hoyt Blackwell, a Greek and Latin professor.

Blackwell oversaw the development of Mars Hill as a four-year institution, and the awarding of the school’s first baccalaureate degrees in 1964. In 1961, the year before James Meredith was denied entrance into the University of Mississippi, Mars Hill became one of the earliest in the South to admit African American students. The first black student was Oralene Graves, the great-great-granddaughter of Joe Anderson, the slave seized as collateral during the school’s founding. Joe’s grave was moved to the campus in the 1932 and a monument subsequently was erected in his memory.

Mars Hill College presently encompasses over two hundred (200) acres of land with thirty-two (32) buildings. Currently, the school enrolls nearly fifteen hundre (1,500) students and offers bachelor’s degrees in thirty-one (31) majors. The school’s dance team, the “Bailey Mountain Cloggers,” have won thirteen national championships.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


© 2016 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved