Mars Hill College History
In the mid 1800s, there was a town in the area known as Pleasant Hill. The four families living here wanted their children educated and instructed in the Baptist faith. And so Mars Hill College was founded as the French Broad Baptist Institute in Madison County in 1856 with land donated by Edward Carter (whose house is now the Asheville Savings Bank at 105 N. Main Street).
When the money donated by local families to provide the financial resources ran out, a slave named Joe, who was owned by trustee J. W. Anderson, was seized and placed in the Asheville jail by the contractor as collateral. Trustees raised the required funds through public gifts. Released Joe and the Institute was completed.
The name was changed to Mars Hill College, inspired by Acts 17:22 of the Bible which relates that while in Athens, Paul was invited by philosophers to speak to them at the forum. “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill and said, ‘Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” Thus the founding fathers named the college for a famous site of learning and of Biblical significance.
Founders Hall plaque
The college was chartered by the State of North Carolina in 1859. It operated as an academy or boarding school offering college-level courses until 1921 when it was reorganized as a 2-year junior college until 1962 when it became a 4-year institution. It remained so until August of 2013 when upper level courses were added and it became Mars Hill University.The college struggled to remain open during the first two years of the Civil War and had to close in 1863. Union and Confederate troops were quartered in the college’s buildings in 1865. Several buildings on campus were damaged during the war, and soldiers burned a dormitory and teacher’s home. A Civil War Trail’s historical marker; Mars Hill College, Strategic Location Divided Loyalties, commemorates and provides the story of this incident. You can find that marker on College Street at the south end of the college’s main quad.
Approximately twenty buildings make this the largest educational historic district in the state. All of these building are on the quad except two. Of these, Founders Hall is the oldest and was built in 1892 from bricks made in the community. Some actually have remnants of thumbprints of those who made those bricks. Spilman Hall was built in 1907, Marshbanks in 1910, and Montague in 1919. McConnell Hall, originally built as a gymnasium, was designed in 1924 by Richard Sharp Smith who was the head architect for the Biltmore House and the Madison County Courthouse.