The History of Western Carolina University

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Cullowhee Academy



Works cited

A Growing Academy takes over the countryside:
Physical changes to Western’s campus from 1888 to the mid 1950’s

by Todd Burkett

An educational institution marches down the hill and occupies the valley.

The early years of the educational institution currently known as Western Carolina University were ones of vast development and growth.  During the first fifty years of WCU’s life the university experienced two periods of rapid building and growth that elevated the school from an secondary level academy to a normal school and finally to a multidisciplinary college.

Cullowhee Academy

Western began its existence as Cullowhee Academy.  The school consisted of two buildings above the little village of Cullowhee.  Surrounded by farmland, the school taught a variety of subjects to mostly local children and young adults.

In 1903 the school built its first substantial edifice, the original Madison Building.  This multipurpose structure housed classrooms, administrative offices, and an auditorium.  It was also the first building to be constructed with funding from the state of North Carolina.

1910 saw the Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School build its first all Women’s Dormitory, known as the Davies home, built on the present day site of Reynolds Hall.  Davies not only held sleeping accommodations for women but also dining facilities for all students.

In 1913 the Joyner Building replaced Madison as the center of the growing school.  It contained almost all the classrooms until the 1930’s as well as administrative offices and a larger auditorium.

War-time growth

During the Great War, CNIS did not experience physical growth.  All the school’s buildings were located on the hill that stands near the site of the old Cullowhee village.  During the 1920’s the school acquired several acres the west of the hill, setting the stage for the first period of rapid growth.

The 1930’s saw the advent of the first period of rapid building in Western’s history.  At the beginning of the decade, the school consisted of four scholastic buildings and one physical plant that provided heat and power.  By 1939, the campus was beginning to evolve into its present state.  Hoey Auditorium, the McKee Building, Breese Gym, the current Madison Hall, Graham Infirmary as well as a football field and a separate baseball field were all added during this time.

Drift towards the center

These newer buildings were all located on lands the school gained during the 1920’s.  They spread across the bottom of the hill and began the trend pushing the center of campus, geographically and otherwise, away from the hill and towards the nearby Cullowhee Creek.

The next phase of development occurred during the 1950’s.  By 1952 both the Stillwell Building and Hunter Library were standing, though they would both be expanded in later years.  Western’s football stadium, located behind Stillwell and the library, received continuous improvements during this time.

The last major addition to Western’s campus during this time was Reid Gym, which opened in 1957.  Located across the baseball field from McKee and Hoey, Reid marked the geographical direction the University’s planners were continuing to take.


The Illustrated History of Western Carolina University
   by Curtis W. Wood and H. Tyler Blethen