Mars Hill University Today
A walk around the Mars Hill University campus opens up some interesting avenues to the history and culture of the area. Many of the buildings around the Quad bear plaques with dates and information. The university has a regional emphasis and so, there are gems to be mined in the Liston Ramsey Center for Regional Studies which is in the Renfro Library on the campus. The extensive collection of photographs, manuscripts, sound recordings, and artifacts document aspects of mountain life and culture. You can find a wonderful exhibit of Cherokee artifacts, some of which date back to 10,000 BC as well as some more contemporary exhibits. Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s instruments are on display along with an extensive scrapbook of his writings and manuscripts to rival the one in the Library of Congress. The entire collection contains 1500 ballad manuscripts, 146 phonograph records, a National Education Television film, 800 pages of letters and memoirs and more. Another scrapbook that draws interest is one detailing the history of Jesse James Bailey’s terms as sheriff of Madison County and later of Buncombe County during Prohibition. Sheriff Bailey’s moonshine-still-tracking ability is legendary in this area. These collections provide a way to preserve the Madison County culture. And, it is open to the public (when the university library is open–so call first at 828 689-1262 so that you will not be disappointed) for viewing! The Southern Appalachian Archives are some of the best in the southeast.
The Rural Heritage Museum on the campus is a place to explore Southern Appalachian culture and history in a unique museum setting. The building itself is one of the oldest buildings on the campus but the inside has been renovated to protect the items in each revolving exhibit. It is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.
A special treat is the carvings on the doors of the Broyhill Chapel on the campus. Dr. Fred Bentley, who was President of Mars Hill College, from 1966-1997, showed another side of his personality and a talent that lives on for public view. Using a gift of construction materials from the Broyhill Family Foundation, the Chapel and Fellowship Hall was built with the volunteer efforts of 423 individuals. Dr. Bentley decided to participate by designing and hand-carving the entrance doors to the Chapel. He spent 200 hours creating 20 scenes from the Old Testament on the left-hand door and 20 scenes from the New Testament on the right-hand door.