This icon identifies the buildings, facilities and notable places that have come and sometimes gone as WCU has grown from one room to millennial campus.
No school or institution can exist 125 years without developing endearing customs unique to it – here are some of WCU’s memorable ones.
Achievements, victories, awards and other milestones of illustrious degree in the life of WCU can be found marked by this icon.
Western Carolina is the fifth oldest institution in the University of North Carolina system:
1789 – UNC Chapel Hill
1867 – Fayetteville State University
1887 – UNC Pembroke
1887 – North Carolina State University
1889 – Western Carolina University
Original name: Cullowhee Academy
Enrollment: 18 Students, 1 Teacher
Instructor: Robert Lee Madison (His father was James Madison’s grandnephew. His father was physician of Robert E. Lee.)
Salary: $40 per month
Property: ¼ acre and one unpainted, two-room building
Support (County): $1 per student per year
Support (State): 10 cents per student per year
Tuition: $1-$2.50 per month depending upon curriculum
Lewis J. Smith (1843-1901) - played an important role in the establishment of WCU’s predecessor institution and in the school’s operation during its early years. A Confederate veteran and a teacher, he became Jackson County register of deeds in 1870. Smith was a strong advocate of better education for the area’s children, and in 1883 he built a one-room schoolhouse known as “Liberty School” on his farm. When a more permanent school was established one mile away in 1889, Smith served as first chairman of its board of trustees and the “Liberty School” building in time was moved to the new site. Cullowhee Academy, as it was then known, opened on August 5, 1889, with an enrollment of 18. The school soon prospered and closed the year with 100 students. Key to the school’s growth was the receipt of state aid in 1893. Smith, who served in the state senate in 1889, was the first to suggest such support.
Robert Lee Madison (1867-1954) - was engaged by the board as the Cullowhee Academy’s first teacher and principal in 1889. Born in Lexington, Va., he was educated at East Tennessee Wesleyan University. In 1885 he first came to the Jackson County area, writing for a local newspaper and teaching school in the Qualla community for several years. His “Cullowhee Idea” in 1893 became the seed that sprouted “normal schools” across North Carolina and resulted in WCU and its mission of service to the region. The school’s name changed several times while he taught here, to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School in 1907, to Cullowhee State Normal School in 1925, and to Western Carolina Teachers College in 1929. Madison was the campus’s dominant figure throughout these years of growth and served as the school’s president from 1889 to 1912 and again from 1920 to 1923.
The original Madison Building (named for the university’s first president, Robert Lee Madison, and built for $6,909) was the first building on the campus of Cullowhee High School funded by an appropriation from the state of North Carolina. A stucco building constructed in 1903-1904, it was a multipurpose building of classrooms, offices and an auditorium. A year after the building’s construction, the school’s name was changed to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School. The original Madison Building was referred to later as “Old Madison” after it was replaced by the dormitory of the same name in 1939.
“The School’s Normal Department was the first attempt made by the state to prepare teachers for the village and public schools. This was the ‘Cullowhee Idea.’ Its success is attested not only by the growth and results at Cullowhee, but the adoptions of the same idea in the establishment of the Appalachian Training School at Boone in 1903 and the East Carolina Training School in 1907. The creation of these two institutions is the best possible endorsement of the value of the Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School.” Blanford Dougherty wrote these words when seeking state support from State Superintendent James Joyner for assistance for his Watauga Academy. Repeated attempts began in 1909 to force the school to move to Buncombe County, to no avail.
Joyner Building, opened in 1913 and named for state Superintendent of Education James Yadkin Joyner (1862-1954), replaced the Old Madison Building (torn down in 1938) as the center of student life. In addition to administrative offices and classrooms, it housed at various times the library, post office, book store, snack bar and gymnasium. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by fire in 1981.
So popular that students were encouraged to “bring tents and provisions and ‘keep house’” on the “many charming tent sites on the campus and neighboring knolls.”
Breese Gymnasium was originally the first basketball arena in the area. Built in the 1930s, its stone walls have been a distinct architectural point of interest ever since. Currently, musical theater and dance students keep this campus gem active with a busy schedule of classes and rehearsals. The large studio’s beautiful vaulted ceiling, expansive floor space and sprung floor provide a one-of-a-kind learning experience that is both functional and inspiring.
The Stillwell Building was completed in 1952, and a $26.2 million renovation of it was done in 2008. Stillwell is home to the College of Arts and Sciences, and was named after history professor E.H. Stillwell. The adjacent Natural Sciences Building opened in 1977, and houses programs in biology and chemistry and is filled with laboratories, research equipment, classrooms, professors’ offices and conference rooms. It sits in the location of the former football field, which served until the construction of E.J. Whitmire Stadium in 1974.
Visited by more than 25,000 people in a typical week, Hunter Library provides high-quality intellectual content to support the teaching, research and lifelong learning activities of the WCU community. Local residents may obtain a North Carolina resident’s card ($10 per year administrative cost) to be able to check out materials and use resources within the building. Originally built in 1953 and named for President Hiram T. Hunter (served 1923-1947), it was expanded in 1967 and dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson, first lady of the United States, then expanded again in 1983.
Home of the first three-point shot in collegiate basketball history, Reid Gymnasium was opened in 1956 and now is mainly used for academic purposes and intramural sports. Here, on Nov. 29, 1980, Western Carolina's Ronnie Carr made the first intercollegiate three-point field goal. Aside from the main gymnasium, there also is an indoor swimming pool and a bowling alley used only for academic classes.
Levern Hamlin, Mecklenburg County, was the first African-American student to enroll at Western. The Board of Trustees met to consider her application and said that if she met the qualifications, then she should be admitted. Western Carolina became the first predominantly white state-supported college in North Carolina to admit and enroll an African-American. Hamlin later served as a member of the Board of Trustees at Western Carolina.
This tradition was introduced in 1957 to strengthen school spirit and died out about a decade later. The rules said that freshmen could take off the headwear if the Catamounts won the Homecoming game; otherwise they stayed on until winter break. By 1964, freshmen still wore purple and gold beanies. They all marched together in the “Beanie Parade,” a homecoming event after which they didn’t have to wear the caps on campus anymore. So far, the tradition has never been successfully revived.
WCC Men’s Basketball team competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship game.
Four-time All-American basketball player at Western Carolina, Henry Logan was the first African-American athlete at WCC and the first African-American athlete to compete at any predominantly white public institution in North Carolina. He went on to play professional basketball.
Named in honor of the late Carl Dan Killian, who served as dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions during his four decades of service to the university, the Killian Building is now home to facilities for education and psychology. When it was built, a Cherokee ancestral mound was bulldozed to clear the site. In 2005, the Eastern Band of the tribe and university administration formally pledged a commitment to work together to improve educational and economic opportunities.
The campus hub is the A.K. Hinds University Center, also known as the “U.C.” Inside you’ll find a food court, post office, movie theater, store, video and commuter lounges, Illusions Club, student organization headquarters, meeting rooms and office space. Named for Anthony Keith Hinds (1910-1964), former vice president, dean and professor of mathematics, the University Center opened in May 1968 and was renovated in 1997.
The Killian Annex houses the OneStop Center, where all kinds of university student business is conducted, from financial aid to advising information. Also located in the Annex are the offices of the registrar, career services, disability services and orientation. Based in the Annex, Student Support Services is an academic support program provided to eligible students through the Office of Academic Affairs. For those who qualify, all the services are free. The building was opened in 1968 and was home for many years to the university’s developmental evaluation programs and clinical activities in mental health.
Gail Cureton was the first African-American chosen for this honor at any predominantly white, co-educational school in North Carolina.
A new building for art, named for Carol Grotnes Belk, opened in 1971. North Carolina philanthropist and retailer Dr. Irwin “Ike” Belk contributed to its construction, as well as to a scholarship also named in his wife’s honor and to the Catamount sculpture that greets visitors to the H.F. Robinson Building. The very first Mountain Heritage Day was celebrated in the foyer of the Belk Building. Now it is home to the Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology and its constituent departments, construction management and engineering and technology; the criminology and criminal justice department, emergency and disaster management, film and television production, and interior design programs. The Writing and Learning Commons (WaLC) also is located here.
The university’s administration building was named in his honor; in 2003, a segment of N.C. 107 in Jackson County also was named in honor of him.
E.J. Whitmire Stadium was dedicated in honor of this university trustee in 1974, partly in gratitude for his gift of site preparation. Whitmire was instrumental in establishing natural resources as a course of study at WCU, and studies in that department continue to monitor forested stands at the family’s 1,000-acre Cherokee County farm. Three generations of Whitmire family members have contributed to WCU scholarships, programs and a professorship. The stadium seats as many as 12,000 fans, cheering on the activities taking place on Bob Waters Field. The stadium field is named for the former WCU football coach and athletics director who suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Waters coached from 1969 through 1988 and was the university’s most successful football coach. He passed away in 1989.
Joined the Southern Conference, the fourth oldest National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I conference (founded in 1921).
The Old Mountain Jug - Called “the best football rivalry you’ve never heard of” by Sports Illustrated in the 1980s, the Appalachian State-WCU Battle for the Old Mountain Jug is a tradition that began in the early 1970s. Student Steve White ’67 and a friend at Appalachian State University wanted to create a trophy for the mountain rivalry. They settled on a moonshine jug – “a takeoff on the Hatfields and McCoys” – that a Boone man crafted. App State went home with the jug the first year, in 1976, with the Catamounts bringing it home the second. The jug seesawed through the rest of the decade and into the early ’80s, but it had been sitting in its trophy case in Boone for more than a dozen years when the Catamounts won it back in 1998. The last time WCU possessed the jug was in 2004. In November, 2013, the jug was retired to the possession of Appalachian in a 48-27 loss.Read more stories about WCU traditions.
The H.F. Robinson Building, opened in 1979, houses administrative offices and is named after Harold F. “Cotton” Robinson, chancellor of the university from 1974 to 1984. The first floor comprises the Mountain Heritage Center, which celebrates the natural and cultural heritage of the Southern Appalachian region with ongoing and touring exhibits as well as cultural events in its 100-seat auditorium. It is open to the public, free of charge, and the staff members also plan and conduct the annual Mountain Heritage Day, observing its 40th year in 2014.
Ronnie Carr made the first three-point shot in NCAA history on Nov. 29, 1980 against Middle Tennessee State University, a game WCU won 77–70. The ball he used is on display at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The shot was made from the left corner with 16:09 left in the first half (at 7:06 p.m.).
Hunter Library was enlarged again, making it the largest library in the state west of Charlotte.
WCU’s volleyball and baseball teams reigned as SoCon champions; the volleyball team through 1986 and again in 1989, the baseball team through 1988.
Constructed in 1986 as a facility to house commencements, athletic contests, performances and regional events, the Ramsey Center and its 8,000-seat arena offer the largest seating capacity of any venue in the region outside of Charlotte, Atlanta and Knoxville. Ramsey Center was named in honor of Liston B. Ramsey (1919–2001), a prominent and influential member of the North Carolina House of Representatives for nearly four decades and a friend to Western North Carolina. It is a central location for more than 500,000 residents within a 90-minute drive.
On WCU's 100th birthday in 1989, the tower was dedicated as a symbol of the impression the university made on graduates of the university. It was made possible by a $350,000 alumni fundraising effort and was built by F.N. Thompson Construction Company of Charlotte. Standing 66 feet high, it is located on the lawn of the A. K. Hinds University Center. The tower’s Victory Bell, which originally hung in Old Madison Hall and marked class periods, now chimes every hour on the hour. The Alumni Tower serves as the gathering point for activities from protests to picnics, concerts to festivals. The bell is inscribed “Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
The men’s basketball team won the SoCon championship and played in the NCAA tournament.
In 1996, 1997 and 1999, the WCU's women's track and field team won the Southern Conference Indoor Championship. They also won the outdoor championship in 1997 and then again from 1999-2001; 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
The Honors College began with 77 students and has grown to approximately 1,400. Their average weighted GPA (over 4.00) and average SAT of approximately 1235 for entering freshmen was comparable at that time to the SAT average and entire student population of Wofford College. It was two-thirds the size of Davidson College.
WCU became the first public university in North Carolina and the fifth in the country to implement a computer requirement for students.
The men’s track and field team won the SoCon championship indoor and outdoor and repeated the indoor achievement in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012. They won the outdoor title again in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2013.
This multi-use complex opened in 2005, providing a fresh and inspiring venue for world-class performers and artists as well as for learning. Its 1,000-seat performance hall, with finely tuned acoustics and state-of-the-art lighting system, plays host all year long to a series of arts events by regional, national and international guests. The 122,000-square-foot facility’s design, by architectural firm Gund Partnership, interprets the grandeur of the Great Smoky Mountains, and it was named for the retiring chancellor in 2011.
The Fine Art Museum in the Bardo Arts Center includes nearly 10,000 feet of exhibit space, featuring a growing permanent collection, a continuous schedule of contemporary art and fine craft, and related interdisciplinary education programs. The galleries focus on preservation of the artistic legacy of the region and showcasing cross-cultural innovation in contemporary art. With a full spectrum of wide-ranging forms of expression in the visual arts, the galleries serve the campus, the community and the region as a teaching resource with scholarly research, interactive art education, curriculum support, enrichment, and lifelong learning for children and adults of all ages and backgrounds.
The softball team rose to the top of the SoCon ranks in its first year of existence.
The women’s basketball team claimed the SoCon championship, repeating the feat in 2009.
The Campus Recreation Center opened in 2008 and is located in the heart of campus between Hinds University Center and Reid Gym. The 73,000 square-foot facility includes a walking track, 48-foot rock climbing wall, aerobics classrooms, exercise equipment areas, weight-lifting stations and multiple basketball courts. There also are full locker rooms, conference rooms and two assessment rooms. Membership for the CRC is available to students, active/retired faculty and spouse, and alumni and spouse.
The Pride of the Mountains Marching Band received the prestigious Sudler Trophy, sometimes called the “Heisman Trophy of bands," from the John Philip Sousa Foundation.
The John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center was named in honor of the retiring chancellor.
Dedicated in 2011, the new center of campus features a zero-depth fountain installed as the last phase of a road relocation. The road that traversed through the center of the campus was relocated to the perimeter to create a more pedestrian campus and a Central Plaza area that is a gathering place near the A.K. Hinds University Center, Alumni Tower, the Courtyard Dining Hall and Campus Recreation Center. The fountain operates from spring through fall each year.
Folks in the stands at the first home football game of the season in 2011 witnessed the birth of a new tradition at WCU, the Freshman Run, when hundreds of the newest members of campus sprint with the chancellor and the president of the Student Government Association onto the field just prior to play. Chancellor David O. Belcher was the first to participate, but doesn’t take credit for conceiving the idea. “It seemed like such a great idea – a way to get the new freshmen engaged in the football experience,” he said. “It’s also impressive to people in the stands. When you see that many students coming at you, you get a sense of just how many students came to the university.”
Manteo Mitchell ran an Olympic relay on a broken leg and helped the U.S. team earn a silver medal.
Nestled into the mountainside, the four-story, 160,000 square foot Health and Human Sciences Building is home to more than 1,200 undergraduate students and about 300 graduate students. State-of-the-art technology and expanded labs and classrooms are designed specifically for health-related teaching and learning in fields such as health, nursing and physical therapy. The building, opened in 2012, is designed to exceed silver-level LEED certification standards, and is the first constructed on the university’s West Campus.
The Pride of the Mountains band received an invitation to march in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
A fire spread through the commercial mall on the WCU campus on November 21, destroying the Subway, Rolling Stone Burrito and Mad Batter Bakery and Café restaurants in the building that once housed the longtime campus hangout, the Townhouse. There were no injuries.
Every yearbook for the school, since the very first ones printed, have been scanned into a viewable archive available online.
This brief capsule of the university’s heritage and history was compiled by the Mountain Heritage Center from the book A Mountain Heritage.
The Hunter Library Digital Archive, source of most of this site’s photographs, features many categories like this record of WCU’s earliest days.
Alternating periods of stability and tumult, and many returning faces, mark the content of this gallery featuring the school’s many leaders.
A feature in a 2013 edition of Western Carolina magazine collected many reminiscences of alumni about campus traditions, our “Binding Force.”
In 2005, a plan was devised to expand the campus by 600 acres and to partner with business and industry. See its history.
Download a PDF map detailing routes to stroll through the 125-year history of WCU's campus and visit the sites where higher education came to western North Carolina.