North Carolina Education - Watauga County

Year County Established

County Webpage Herein

County Seat Webpage Herein


Watauga County


The Valle Crucis Episcopal Mission was founded in 1842 under the direction of the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina, Levi Silliman Ives. The mission thrived under Ives’s leadership until 1852, and under his successor William West Skiles until 1862, but later became inactive. In 1895, Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire reorganized the mission and, after 1903, the new Bishop of Western North Carolina, Junius M. Horner, furthered its development. Since the 1960s, the Valle Crucis Mission has served as an Episcopal Conference Center.

In 1840, a New York botanist searching for exotic plants stayed for a few days in present-day Watauga County, in a fertile valley at Valle Crucis. During his return trip to New York, the botanist met the Bishop Ives in Raleigh. The botanist reported to Ives, who was hoping to start a mission in western North Carolina, about the beauty of the mountain region. Traveling to the area in July of 1842, Ives promised local residents to establish an Episcopal mission in the valley, naming it Valle Crucis, the Vale of the Cross. In December of 1842, Valle Crucis Episcopal Mission officially was launched when Reverend Henry H. Prout arrived in Watauga County to serve as the new minister.

Bishop Ives contributed to the development of the area, and by 1844 had purchased 2,000 acres, constructed a saw mill, and begun construction on mission buildings. Of the original buildings, Ives’s log cabin is still standing, although it has been moved from its original location. Ives hired Skiles, an experienced farmer, to run the agricultural operations. Skiles became an active member of the mission, and was eventually ordained as a Deacon in 1847. The mission originally contained a classical school, but it was closed in 1847 when Bishop Ives instituted the Order of the Holy Cross. The Order was active for about five years.

Bishop Ives resigned from the Diocese of North Carolina in 1852 and joined the Roman Catholic Church. When he did so, he removed himself from involvement in the Valle Crucis Mission and sold his lands in the area. Skiles remained as head of the mission until his death in 1862, at which time the mission essentially closed up shop. Throughout the later nineteenth century, Valle Crucis was visited occasionally by Episcopal ministers, but was otherwise inactive.

In 1895, Bishop Cheshire went to Valle Crucis to revive the Mission. Receiving a small grant of land that formerly belonged to the mission, Cheshire rebuilt the mission. Around the same time, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina was officially divided, and the Reverend Junius M. Horner was made Bishop of the Asheville District. Horner was an ardent supporter of education, greatly influencing the course of the Valle Crucis Mission. Under his direction the mission repurchased 435 acres of its original lands, constructed a sawmill and hydroelectric plant, and began to provide education from first grade through high school. The mission expanded and thrived, increasing its size throughout the early 1900s.

The onset of World War II led the Mission to close its school, which served as a women’s boarding school from 1936 until it closed in 1941. It became a summer retreat for the Episcopal Church during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, the Valle Crucis Episcopal Conference Center opened, and still functions as such today.

The first school - 1842 to 1847 - was located in Ashe County at that point in time. The second school, which closed in 1941, was in Watauga County.

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

On March 5, 1885, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act to establish a Normal School for white students in the town of Boone in Watauga County. This Act was amended on February 14, 1887 (below) when the school was moved to the town of Sparta in Alleghany County.
On February 14, 1887, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act to amend the earlier Act of March 5, 1885 (above) concerning the Normal School in the town of Boone in Watauga County. This Act authorized moving the school to the town of Sparta in Alleghany County.
On February 13, 1889, the North Carolina General Assembly passed an Act to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquors within two (2) miles of the Skyland Institute near the town of Blowing Rock in Watauga County. The school was opened in 1887 by Emily C. Prudden, who founded fifteen (15) schools in western North Carolina starting in 1884.
In the Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the scholastic years of 1889 and 1890, it was reported that there was one (1) private school for white children in Watauga County:

Private School



No. of Students

Skyland Institute

Blowing Rock

Miss Emily Prudden


An institution of the Presbyterian Church, Lees-McRae College awards associate and baccalaureate degrees. The campus claims the distinction of having the highest elevation (4,000 feet) of any college in the eastern United States. From the front of the campus can be seen Beech Mountain while from the rear is visible Grandfather Mountain.

In the summer of 1895, the Concord Presbytery sent Edgar Tufts, a seminary student, to Banner Elk to organize a church. Two years later the newly ordained Tufts returned as pastor and remained in Banner Elk until his death in 1923. In 1899, concerned with the limited offerings of area schools, the Reverend Mr. Tufts began tutoring some young people in his neighborhood. From this modest beginning the present college marks its origins.

Tufts saw the need for a boarding school and, with money raised at a prayer meeting, constructed a frame dormitory in 1900 for fourteen (14) girls and one (1) teacher. He named the institute for the teacher, Elizabeth McRae. A few years later a boys department opened twenty-five (25) miles south at the Avery County community of Plumtree. It was named for a benefactor, Mrs. S. P. Lees of Kentucky and New York, a friend of McRae. The school was chartered by the state in 1907 as Lees-McRae Institute. In 1927, Lees-McRae became co-educational when the boys unit was moved to Banner Elk after the buildings at Plumtree were destroyed by fire.

Lees-McRae Institute became Lees-McRae College in 1931, gradually eliminating the high school department to form an accredited, co-educational, junior college. The trustees in 1987 voted to seek senior college status. It was granted in June of 1988 by the Commission of Colleges and Schools of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

When it began in 1900, the McRae Institute was in Watauga County. Lees Institute, in Plumtree, was first located in Mitchell County. In 1911, Avery County was created and the Lees-McRae Institute was now in Avery County.

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

In the Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the scholastic years of 1899 and 1900, it was reported that there were four (4) private schools in Watauga County:

Private School



No. of Students

New River Academy


W.M. Franeum


Cove Creek Academy


S.J. Rogers


Skyland Institute

Blowing Rock



Watauga Academy


D.D. Dougherty & B.B. Dougherty


Blanford Barnard Dougherty (B. B.) and his brother Dauphin Disco (D. D.) Dougherty were the founders of what is today Appalachian State University. They were the sons of Daniel Boone Dougherty, a former Confederate soldier and leading citizen of Boone, and his wife Ellen Bartlett.

Daniel Boone Dougherty stressed the importance of education to his sons; both attended Globe Academy in neighboring Caldwell County. The eldest brother, D. D., born March 11, 1869, entered Wake Forest College in 1888. After graduation he joined the faculty of Holly Springs College in Butler, Tennessee, as a mathematics and natural science professor. While there he married and had four children. B. B., born October 21, 1870, entered Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, in 1894. After graduation he enrolled at the University of North Carolina receiving a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1899.

On September 5, 1899, shortly after Blanford’s graduation from UNC, the two brothers established Watauga Academy, intended as a training school for teachers. Within three years the brothers had secured a grant from the North Carolina state legislature for the academy, and the school was officially chartered on March 9, 1903 as Appalachian Training School for Teachers. B. B. Dougherty acted as head, with D. D. as “principal.” In 1925, the legislature changed the name to Appalachian State Normal School, and again in 1929 to Appalachian State Teacher’s College upon the addition of a four-year degree to the curriculum.

D. D. Dougherty, serving as business manager and head trustee, died of a heart attack on June 10, 1929, the first day of registration for the new college. The original library on the campus is named in his honor. B. B. remained president of the college until retirement in 1955, with 56 years of service to the school. He died two years later at age 87. Under his tenure, the school had grown to include a four-year program, a graduate school, and had an annual enrollment of over one thousdand (1,000) students. Twelve (12) years after B. B.’s retirement, the state legislature changed the school’s name to Appalachian State University.

Appalachian State University today boasts an enrollment of nearly sixteen thousand (16,000) students enrolled in over one hundred and seventy (170) programs in five (5) colleges and schools and one (1) graduate school. There currently are 99 undergraduate and 68 graduate courses of study for students to pursue. The school has been ranked among the top fifteen (15) Southern masters degree schools by U.S. News and World Report since 1986 and in 2001 the school was recognized by Time Magazine as the “College of the Year.” After wins in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Appalachian State University’s football team became the first Division I squad to win three consecutive national championships since Army accomplished the feat in 1944, 1945, and 1946.

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


© 2018 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved