Skip to main content

The Madison Era: 1888-1912


Robert Madison

Robert Lee Madison

Robert Lee Madison (1867–1954) at about the time he became principal of the Cullowhee Academy in 1889. He served as first president of Cullowhee High School, which later became Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School, from 1889-1912 and also from 1920-1923. He was twenty-two years old when he began teaching at Cullowhee. Edna Robinson Clapp, who attended the school in the 1920s, wrote: "Professor Madison must have had students like me in mind when he had the vision of establishing a school for young men and young women of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it is to his everlasting credit that from these early beginnings not only the mountain students but others from all over have been fortunate enough to be numbered among those who have enhanced their own lives by attending Cullowhee State Normal, now WCU, and in so doing have been able to help others have a more abundant life."



Top Picture: School photograph from about 1898 of high school and primary students and some faculty. Madison is fifth row, fifth from left. To his immediate left are Zeb Watson, school treasurer, and W. Dallas Wike, teacher-in-charge of the normal department. Very little of the forest on campus had been cleared at this early date. Notice the men’s hats hanging in the trees.

Bottom Picture: By 1898, the school had been generating graduates for a little over a decade. This photograph identifies several of the “professors” along with the alumni.

Cullowhee Valley


This is a view of the Cullowhee Valley that Western Carolina University would eventually fill with its buildings.




This photograph was taken from where Forest Hills is today. It looks north over the Cullowhee Valley, before the first school buildings were erected.  

Rural Classroom


The Oscar school in Cullowhee Township, Jackson County, North Carolina, was typical of early rural one-room schools. Cullowhee Academy provided teachers to schools like this.


Annual State Appropriation


This line drawing recreates the story of Madison's arrival at Cullowhee and the establishment of a state-supported normal department. They were prepared by an unknown artist to accompany Madison's account of the school's early years that was published in the 1939 college yearbook, the Catamount. 


New Cullowhee Academy


The academy building where Madison first taught, the front section and left wing comprised the original structure. The liberty school building was added at the back, and the right wing, where the normal students were taught, was added after 1893. The building was painted green with dark green trim. After the construction of Madison building in 1903, the old structure was used for the primary grades. Even later it served as a residence.  


Columbian Literary Society


A meeting of the Columbian Literary Society in 1923. The societies continued to be an important feature of extracurricular life. All students, both in high school and junior college divisions, belonged to either the Columbian or Erosophian literary societies and attended their Saturday evening meetings. 


Erosophian Society


This Erosophian Society postcard bares the society banner with the date of its founding and the initials of the Cullowhee normal and industrial school. Madison appears along with Bob B. Brown, the normal departments second teacher-in-charge and first society advisor. 

Households of their Own


A group of students in front of their cabin in 1896. Charles W. Henderson (Seated at right) said in a 1974 interview: "six of us stayed in a building back in the woods just east of the school building the first year. It was not uncommon, at a time when the school did not provide dormitory accommodations, for male and female students of related families to share a cabin, a practice referred to as "Shacking."

Old Madison Building


Madison Building was the school’s first major building and the first to be constructed with state funds. Framed in timber and faced with stucco, it was the finest school building west of Asheville at the time. At the left corner is a bell tower. Eddie Marie Wike Sutton Duckett, who grew up near the campus, recalls: “We listened each day for the sweet tone of the large bell in the Madison belltower. It rang out loud and clear and could be heard for almost a mile from its high promontory, especially if the wind was right.” Over its thirty-five year lifespan, Madison met a variety of needs, providing classrooms, offices, and an auditorium. Until Joyner was built in 1913, it housed the normal department and served as the school’s major classroom building. This original Madison Building was referred to later as “Old Madison” after it was replaced by a dormitory of the same name in 1939.


Davies Home


Top Picture: Davies Home nearing completion (Note the construction debris in the foreground). Davies was opened for occupancy in January 1910. Now for the first time, the school offered accommodations to female students.

Bottom Picture: Davies Home.

Office of Web Services