Mars Hill University
A modern look at the Mars Hill University entrance. The institution was established in 1856 and became a university in 2013.
Founder’s Hall, on the left, is still used today.The building on the right was the first campus building (1856-1901). Photo courtesy of Southern Appalachian Archives.
The Sesquicentennial Archway on the campus of Mars Hill College in the winter of 1930. Photo courtesy of Southern Appalachian Archives.
Early twentieth century view of campus. Photo courtesy of Southern Appalachian Archives.
Present day Founder's Hall, the oldest building on campus.
Backstory and Context
The original land for the 1856 French Broad Baptist Institute was donated by Edward Carter who wanted his children to have a Baptist education— a view that was shared by many other local families, as well. The land Carter donated was part of his farm, and his ancestors still own the land surrounding the University. Mars Hill College served as a high school and preparatory school up until the early twentieth century when President Robert Lee Moore worked to turn it into a junior college in 1926.
During its early years, students took classes in a singular building which was destroyed in 1910. In 1897, Founder’s Hall was built; it is a two-story brick building and is the oldest in the historic district. The early history of Mars Hill University also has a dark side that involved a slave named Joe Anderson. The institute began to decline financially within the first year of its existence, and as a result, a slave owned by trustee J.W. Anderson was used as collateral by the contractor, so that the first building could be built. This disconcerting part of Mars Hill’s history is often romanticized but it cannot be denied. In 1932, a memorial was built and in 1935 and an amphitheater was constructed to honor Joe Anderson.
The Mars Hill Historic District is made up of nineteen buildings. Eleven of the major academic and residential buildings were planned or built during Dr. Moore’s tenure as president. During his presidency, which lasted from 1897 to 1938, Mars Hill College began to assume an identity within the community. Dr. Moore left a lasting legacy on the university because of his strategic planning of historic buildings even beyond the original four acre quadrangle. The appearance and character of the heart of the campus are forever indebted to this influential man. Hoyt Blackwell, the following president, brought progress to the college, and in 1962, it became a four year college. In 2013, under President Dr. Dan Lunsford, the institution officially changed from a college to a university.