Text: Ruth Douglas Currie, Ph.D.
Copyright 1998, University Archives, Appalachian State University
The polished gem that would become Appalachian State University began as rough-hewn Watauga Academy – in a borrowed building with broken windows, no door, and fifty-three grammar-school students. On July 13, 1899, the local Watauga Democrat proudly announced “we are to have established here in the near future a school of high grade.”(#1) On September 5, classes began. Daniel Baker Dougherty, a leading citizen of Boone, North Carolina, had convinced his two sons, Dauphin Disco (D.D.) and Blanford Barnard (B.B.), to come home to teach.
The tiny town of Boone, population 150 and county seat of Watauga, lay nestled in a small valley of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, in the heart of the southern Appalachians. Destined to become a resort of some note, it was named for perhaps the region’s most famous seasonal visitor, Daniel Boone. Daniel Baker Dougherty, himself sometimes called “Boone,” spoke for the township in its yearning for a school to educate the mountain people. In “his boys,” recent college graduates, Dougherty saw the best hope. Imbuing them with his dream, he and local citizen J. F. Hardin donated the land, while the townspeople raised over $1000 for a new building, which workers began at once. By January 1900, Watauga Academy, already having doubled its enrollment and added high-school classes, celebrated the twentieth century by moving into its still unfinished new quarters, a handsome two-story white frame structure with a bell steeple rising to the height of the grove of white pines in which it stood. The finishing touches continued until November 1901.(#2)
Despite its identity as the county seat, Boone was an unlikely location for a successful school. The northwest corner of North Carolina, the “high country” of the state, was remote. Boone, in its protected cove, stood at 3333 feet. Unrelenting winter winds and ice discouraged even the hardy settlers who made the valley their home; roads were little more than unpaved trails, and no railroads linked the settlement to larger knots of civilization in the lower elevations. The extent of the challenge stamped the school with a mission from the outset. The isolation of this secluded wilderness not only determined the adversity to be overcome, but allowed the school to shape its identity with little outside influence. For more than half a century, first the academy and later the college cultivated life in its own way, creating a heritage unique among educational institutions. When the outside finally took notice, the university which emerged was well grounded in its own tradition, set to preserve the best values of the past while embracing the future and change.
With a vision for the present, the Dougherty brothers poured heart and soul into creating a school of which they and the town could be proud. After beginning as co-principals in the academy, the brothers shared administrative and teaching duties. B.B., who for a time also served as superintendent for the county, spent much of his time securing support for the school from locals as well as from state officials. In 1921, the trustees of the institution elected Professor B.B. president, while Professor Dauph served as treasurer and business manager until his death in 1929.(#3)
Given the drive of these brothers, and in the face of economic realities, it was not long before their plan expanded into a new proposition: a state-supported college for not only teaching mountain children, but also for preparing teachers to serve in other sections of North Carolina. Again the community rallied, providing funds to match those from the state. In September 1903, when state-supported Appalachian Training School (ATS) opened its doors, the Dougherys had passed the dream on to students, faculty and staff, the community, and regional donors as well, all of whom contributed money for a new administration building. In 1925, the North Carolina legislature approved the evolution of the training school into the two-year college program of the Appalachian State Teachers College (ASTC)(#4). With ASTC, Appalachian had found the identity it would cherish for four decades.
The hardships of those first few years required the pioneering spirit that came to characterize the school. In the rather primitive separate boarding facilities for male and female students, and in those for faculty as well, there was no running water or indoor plumbing. Assigned chores for girls included clearing tables or trimming the kerosene lamps in shared living space; and for the boys, chopping wood for the small stoves in each room.(#5)
In 1915, electricity and steam brought welcome changes. Occupants, however, found the new Lovill Home and Newland Hall dormitories cold even with the much-touted steam heat, since the Doughertys taught by example a frugality with the school’s meager resources. Electricity must be reserved for evening; no need to compete with sunlight through the daytime hours.(#6)
Dr. B.B. Dougherty saw the economic vitality of the entire region as interwoven with Appalachian’s future. His leadership in creating the New River Light and Power Company, which served Boone as well as the campus, illustrated the vital link between the two. The town grew with the college and each benefited from the presence of the other.
Transportation in and out of Boone was a critical issue. B.B. envisioned a railroad to link Boone to Wilkesboro, Lenoir, and the thriving Piedmont region of the state. The flash flood of 1916 ended this possibility, however, when it destroyed the new roadbed, as well as the school’s unreliable power generator.(#7) Together, school administrators and town officials planned for a new power facility on the South Fork of the New River, while the eventual rail line came by way of a western route. “Tweetsie,” the train owned by the Linville branch of the Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, operated on a narrow-gauge track that passed between the campus and the Dougherty home from 1918 until the even-more-devastating flood of 1940 left Boone with no railroad. In 1921, Dr. Dougherty persuaded farmers, in need of the means for marketing crops, to support the county tax for construction of a gravel-and-stone surface road joining the Watauga county seat to Wilkesboro. By 1931, largely because of his effort, this “Boone Trail Highway” had become a paved state road from Yadkinville in the east to the Tennessee line in the west.(#8)
Despite the limited comforts and crippling isolation, from the outset Appalachian offered students an impressive array of cultural, athletic, and intellectual activities. Professor D. D.’s wife, Lillie Shull Dougherty, taught music in the very first year; Professor B. B. published the first “Dew Drop” school publication in 1900; students had a new gym for basketball in 1917. By the 1920s, art classes, glee club, literary societies, student publications, and team sports flourished for women and men. In 1933, Appalachian’s “Playcrafters” created an ongoing tradition of live theater for the entire community.(#9)
The academic program targeted teacher preparation in the form of theory and supervised practical application of methods. As the curriculum expanded, the administration added subject majors in the liberal arts to supplement these education courses.
During the Depression years, when enrollment fluctuated between 350 and 900 students in any given year, the college and town together faced hard times. Ledger books reveal the meager wages paid WPA workers who constructed buildings on campus, among them the county’s first hospital (later Founders Hall), which also served as the college infirmary, qualifying for federal funds as "privately owned and operated for public benefit.".(#10)
From the beginning, the summer session was a significant part of Appalachian’s mission to improve North Carolina’s public-school teaching. Not covered by state appropriation initially, the summer school, as a service to teachers, took on a life and mystique of its own, with enrollments in the 1930s and 40s frequently topping the regular sessions by fifty percent. In the early days, the remoteness of the “lost provinces” had been real and a handicap. By the 1930s, college officials cultivated the image of isolation as an advantage. After 1935, the summer school brochure emphasized the beauties of the Blue Ridge Parkway as an enticement for attending.(#11)
Visiting faculty also enjoyed the summer sessions, and by teaching at Appalachian, they brought the credentials of their prestigious universities and enriched the college’s curriculum offerings. By the summer of 1948, Appalachian granted its own accredited graduate degree for teachers, a degree that grew out of an adjunct program with the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, begun in 1942.(#12) Appalachian’s program featured not only visiting scholars but also well-qualified ASTC faculty. At the same time, non-degree workshops for teacher certification continued to be successful summer draws. In 1949, the summer school boasted 586 students from 107 colleges and universities in graduate courses. Dr. Dougherty noted, “We have three important things to offer: instruction, beautiful scenery, and cool weather.”(#13) And so it was.
As with other American colleges and universities in the 1940s, Appalachian State Teachers College experienced a reduced enrollment and a preponderantly female population. “The war has taken about all our boys,” was the lament.(#14) Postwar years, on the other hand, brought a time of growth and new enthusiasm as returning GIs altered the demographics and psychology of the student body. With more experience and increased motivation, ASTC students demanded greater freedom and responsibility than before.
From the beginning, Dr. Dougherty had taken seriously his promise to parents that he would monitor the behavior and morals of his charges. By the 1930s, restive students had long tired of eating facilities, doorways, and halls segregated by gender. One former student recalled the president’s reprimand for whistling on campus. Faced with student “strikes” and discontent, B. B. finally yielded to demands for less control. He himself led the promenade that ushered in a new era of coed dancing on campus.(#15) By the 1950s other changes in student life were inevitable, such as modification of the traditional chapel service instituted by the Doughertys. This service, which had featured school announcements and recited scripture, gradually slipped from a daily to weekly requirement and then disappeared altogether in the1960s. The grade assigned for “human behavior” fell in 1955. Social restrictions for females continued to be particularly severe, however, with early curfews and strict prohibition against riding in cars. By 1957, women could apply to the dean for permission to wear slacks on campus for specific occasions, but winning unfettered freedom from the old dress code required another wave of student protests in the 1960s. It was not until 1970 that dormitory inspections for female students dropped the category for “neatness” and were “for fire and health hazard only.”(#16)
ASTC had been identified for years as “Dougherty’s college.” Dr. Blan, as he was affectionately called, was a legend among North Carolina officials and an icon for students. As he was ever present in Raleigh to plead the case for his college, legislators knew him well and greatly respected him. Cultivating the dictum that he could “do more with less,” and claiming, “we never spend money unless we need it,” Dougherty became a skillful politician in seeking support. His vision, not only for Appalachian but for the entire state’s public schools, guaranteed his sterling reputation and stature. On campus, graduating seniors savored his trademark course in basic lifelong values; faculty regularly received exhortations on every facet of instruction, from daily roll call to maintaining a clean classroom.(#17) Until two years before his death in 1957, Dougherty remained the president of the college that mirrored his standards.
The Appalachian that emerged in the 1960s was remarkably the same, but amazingly different. The things which made the college unique -- commitment to teacher training, community spirit, faculty collegiality, the mountain setting -- all remained secure. The new president, Dr. William H. Plemmons, enhanced these precious commodities with his warm affability and approachable manner. Student enrollment soared to above 2400 in 1958, only to double with baby boomers to over 5000 by 1968; accordingly, the full-time faculty grew to more than 300. During Dr. Plemmons’ tenure, the campus took on a different look, with more than twenty-five new construction projects. He became known as “the builder president” as the facility spread over ninety acres with forty major buildings.(#18)
Dr. Plemmons also became the builder of Appalachian spirit through student activities and sports, seldom missing team events and constantly rallying the support of faculty and students. Homecoming weekends took on new significance and bonded alumni to the present campus. Plemmons recognized the interlocking community as the “Appalachian Family.”(#19)
As the 1960s and 70s unfolded, the outside world came to the mountains and to Appalachian, no longer secluded but reflective of tensions in the rest of the nation. “Students for Action” rallied to support the Vietnam War protesters at Kent State, while others challenged the protesters. National figures such as Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali visited the campus to expound various critical viewpoints. To broaden the outlook of students, and seeking to be “intellectually, culturally, and socially stimulating,” the new Office of Cultural Affairs invited literary and artistic talent to be “provocative” and “philosophic.”(#20)
Faculty interest and enthusiasm spearheaded these initiatives for fresh thinking and new challenges. Faculty-student contact remained the core of the campus experience, even as professional standards for faculty improved and members represented a wider variety of academic backgrounds. With his winsome personality, inspired teaching, and standards of excellence, Professor Cratis Williams became the epitome of the Appalachian spirit. He also helped to develop the graduate program, later known as the Cratis Williams Graduate School, which by 1953 offered degrees in eight specialized education majors. After his appointment as dean in 1958, the Graduate School matured under his sixteen-year guidance to a well-respected program with over thirty subject degrees.(#21) One of these, Appalachian Studies, was a direct outgrowth of Dr. Williams’ own scholarly interest in the cultural milieu of the mountains.
On December 29, 1966, the destruction of the administration building by fire was more than just a campus disaster. It became a symbol for the demise of the old, making way for the birth of the new Appalachian State University, the name the North Carolina legislature bestowed in the following year.(#22) Conscientiously, the administration had been laying the groundwork for an expansion of purpose from a state teachers’ college to a regional university.
Dr. Plemmons prepared the community for the passage by emphasizing the need for a liberal-arts curriculum for teacher training and for a wider understanding of the college’s task. A new two million dollar library embodied his vision of a broad foundation to “undergird” teachers and a renewed commitment to the high academic standards to which the institution aspired.(#23) Dr. Plemmons retired in 1969 as Appalachian’s second president; his successor would become its first chancellor.
In 1971, Dr. Herbert W. Wey presided over the induction of Appalachian State University into the greater University of North Carolina system. Wey underlined Appalachian’s signature commitment to teaching, as he sought the expansion of that mission within the University structure. Christening his tenure the era of “educational innovation and change,” he encouraged faculty members to be as creative as they dared.(#24) The faculty met the challenge with an explosion of experimental ideas to enliven the curriculum and teaching methods. Watauga College, a residential college with enhanced faculty-student relationships and interdisciplinary studies, offered a small liberal-arts setting within the greater University. The establishment of Appalachian’s “New York Loft” and the “App House” in Washington, D.C. allowed for off-campus artistic and scholarly field trips and research opportunities.
Appalachian’s faculty had always been a close-knit, collegial group. As the University’s size inevitably altered that intimacy, administrative concern for faculty well-being continued. Strategies for faculty enrichment ranged from tapping into national endowment grants, which allowed for retooling seminars and released time for research, to the creation of an on-campus development and wellness office, later known as the Hubbard Center, which provided a farsighted program of holistic health and professional growth. Dr. Plemmons had supported the organization of a Faculty Senate in 1967, and by 1970 the chair of the Faculty Senate, as well as the student body president, sat as participating members on the Board of Trustees, participation reflective of an invigorated faculty and students eager to be a part of decision making and planning.(#25)
Equally important for future success was the Appalachian State University Foundation, Inc., created in 1970 to “utilize the ties of interest and affection” that existed with alumni and friends. In its first year, donors gave more than one million dollars toward an endowment to supplement educational projects not assisted by state appropriations. In following decades, the total assets of the Foundation would grow to more than thirty-five million, and this source of private money would help provide “the margin for excellence” to University growth and development.(#26)
By 1979, Appalachian’s student population reached more than 9000, while a series of new buildings gave a different appearance to the campus. Among these structures was the Broyhill Continuing Education Center, completed in 1972, which dominated the hillside of the west tract. An impressive facility, this complex was only the third such residential college of continuing education in the United States and the embodiment of the University’s on-going commitment to improving the quality of life for the entire state.(#27)
Meanwhile, in addition to the enjoyment of the NCAA varsity sports, the student body had discovered anew the wonders of Appalachian’s surrounding. In record numbers, these young adults explored beyond the familiar Howard’s Knob to the trails, waterfalls, and breathtaking vistas of nearby mountain ranges. In the 1960s, the ski industry opened the North Carolina slopes, and winter sports joined the list of offerings. By the 1970s, the administration organized the Office of Outdoor Programs to encourage student participation in various nature exploits year-round. When Appalachian students joined in the first Earth Day of April 1970, they launched the campus into what would become, both academically and philosophically, a wellspring commitment to the environment.(#28)
For Appalachian State University, the decades of the 1980s and 90s became a consolidation of dreams. Now a respected comprehensive university, its reputation included outstanding programs in a wide variety of academic endeavors, athletic success, and cultural excellence. The mission of these years was to open the heart of its people to new challenges while preserving the unique character of its history and place.
The town of Boone had matched the growth of the University and by the 1980s boasted a population of more than 10,000. The historic link between the two was strengthened by the participation of University personnel in civic organizations and activities. Appalachian would be no ivory tower estranged from its surroundings. Dr. John E. Thomas, the chancellor in the 80s, encouraged the enrichment of faculty with what he called “in-depth development.” Good teaching should be supported and enhanced by research and community service.”(#29)
Dr. Thomas also undertook the task of implementing technological advances for the campus. One of his priorities was the internal cable system, Appalnet, which linked various offices and buildings. The early completion of this net and its expansion for use in the classroom led to Appalachian’s leadership in the field of distance learning by the end of the 1990s, as well as the integration of technology, including the internet, with instruction.
In addition to the ongoing signature Reich College of Education, the academic organization of the institution by this time included the College of Arts and Sciences, the Walker College of Business, and the College of Fine and Applied Arts. The physical plant also had expanded, with new residence halls, academic facilities, and support centers dotting the hillsides. In the 1990s, a state-of-the-art laboratory/classroom building on campus and a radically updated Dark Sky Observatory at Phillips Gap bore testimony to the University’s commitment to the physical sciences, including environmental studies. Faculty numbered nearly 600; enrollment continued to climb from 10,000 in 1982, to 11,000 in 1987, to more than 12,000 in 1998.(#30)
As the numbers increased, the population changed as well. While nearly ninety percent of students still called North Carolina home, the student body of the 1990s was more urban and affluent then the founder could have imagined. Only sixteen percent of undergraduates were from Watauga and its contiguous counties.(#31) A growing and strong commitment to minority concerns changed the face of campus from the traditional homogeneous constituency to one more diverse. There likewise evolved an attitude of openness to international ideas and scholarship. The International Studies Program sponsored student and faculty exchanges, including one of the earliest with the People’s Republic of China.(#32) Host families from the community welcomed and frequently housed these envoys from differing cultures.
The administration, long committed to the welfare of students, continued to recognize the multidimensional needs of its clientele. In addition to the expanding variety of activities opened to all, varsity sports offered the entire campus, town, and regions athletic events to enjoy. Now NCAA Division I-AA, Appalachian State University fielded competitive teams in men’s and women’s sports that regularly brought home banners to adorn athletic facilities. For non-competitive training, the Quinn Center offered students fitness and swimming. The greatly enlarged and remodeled Plemmons Student Center and Legends, the student entertainment club, became the weekend meccas that Blowing Rock once represented to other generations of students.
Issues which energized students in the last decades of the century included those of social justice, the environment, and academic freedom. Their own anticipated career paths enlivened interest in a spectrum of fields in addition to education, ranging from business to the social sciences to the performing arts.
With the metamorphosis of a hundred years, Mrs. Dougherty’s simple music class had become the prestigious School of Music, housed after 1983 in the magnificent Broyhill Music Center and Rosen Concert Hall. The University itself became the artistic beacon for western North Carolina, providing for the entire region an astonishing choice of fine performances. The pinnacle of this tradition was the potpourri of guest artists and concerts in An Appalachian Summer Festival, begun in 1984 as the University’s gift to the high country.
From the earliest years, summers at Appalachian had been special. The cool temperatures and bucolic surroundings had long beckoned returning students and teachers seeking ongoing and continuing education. Students from the 1920s recalled rollicking train rides on Tweetsie for shopping in Johnson City, Tennessee.(#33) Graduates from every decade remembered hikes to Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge. Formerly, graduate students had outnumbered undergraduates three-to-one throughout the summer. In the 1990s, this ratio was reversed as programs expanded to include more undergraduate courses and an award-winning Freshman Seminar orientation. Appalachian also became host for a number of summer events for grade-school children and high schoolers through Camp Broadstone, Cannon Music Camp, and the Mathematics and Science Education Center, which provided opportunities for teacher renewal with hands-on student workshops.
Also energized for campus involvement was the year-round staff, the human infrastructure so necessary for the University’s life. In 1943, newcomer Cratis Williams had written of a social gathering, “Those at the picnic seemed to be well acquainted with one another. There was a cohesiveness present, such as one might have found in a family reunion. A few of the workers had been with the College almost from its beginning. I felt that the staff and work force were the hidden empire… that made the college possible.”(#34) By the 1990s, the size of that force had increased to nearly 2000, more than twice that of the faculty. An active organization had created a Staff Council in the early 1970s. By 1995, its president took a seat on the Board of Trustees along with the president of the student body and the chair of the Faculty Senate.
The chancellor who would take Appalachian State University into the twenty-first century, Dr. Francis T. Borkowski, felt a real kinship with the Doughertys. He, as the founders had, faced a new century and its challenge with enthusiasm, bold hopes, and determination. In a world soon to be characterized by the “virtual university,” Dr. Borkowski sought Appalachian’s special niche, the taming of technology for the humane campus setting, where faculty would “involve students in the kind of intellectual ferment that integrates and transforms information into education.”(#35) Dr. Borkowski’s vision blended academic excellence for faculty, individualized and student-centered instruction, artistic and cultural leadership, as well as service for the region. All this could be accomplished, he believed, with harmony as well as diversity among the campus constituencies of faculty, staff, and students. It would be the realization of -- and even surpass -- the founders’ best dreams.
2 Blanford Barnard Dougherty, interview, typed transcript, 29 Nov 1956, University Archives, Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C. Hereafter B.B. Dougherty, ASU University Archives; Ruby J. Lanier; Blanford Barnard Dougherty, Mountain Educator (Durham: Duke University Press, 1974), 26-27.
6 Broyhill interview, 26 Sept 1996; Carlton, "Appalachian Remembered;" New River Light & Power Company Application to Adjust Rates and Charges Testimony Before the North Carolina Utilities Commission," 16 Nov 1972, ASU University Archives.
8 B.B. Dougherty, speech to Good Roads Conference of Northwest North Carolina, 23 Sept 1926, Boone (N.C.) Watauga Democrat , 7 Oct 1926; Jules B. Warren, "New Economic Empire Blossoms from Educational Vision of Doughertys," We The People, N.C. Citizens Association (1949): 16-21; Lanier, Mountain Educator , 79, 84-86.
10 Keith Foster Lynip, "Not the Old Research Degree: A History of Graduate Education at Appalachian State Teachers College, 1942-1967," (M.A. thesis Appalachian State University, 1996), 35; Cratis D. Williams and Ruby J. Lanier, "A Short History of Appalachian" in Appalachian Faculty Emeritii," ed. Richard D. Howe, 4th ed. (Appalachian State University, 1994), 6-7; Ledger Books, Robert E. Coffey Papers, ASU University Archives.
13 "1949 Summer School, Appalachian State Teachers College, Distribution of Student Enrollment by Counties," Blanford Barnard Dougherty Papers, ASU University Archive: B.B. Dougherty, quoted in Boone (N.C.) Watauga Democrat , 9 Dec 1949.
16 D.J. Whitener, "A History of the Office of the Dean of the College," n.d. [1963?], 22-23, William Howard Plemmons Papers, ASU University Archives; "Transition and Inequality: Female Students at Appalachian State University, 1939-89," Lisa Alanna McGurk, (M.A. thesis Appalachian State University, 1998), 51-57; Nita Hilliard, "Wey Approves Conduct Codes," Boone (N.C) The Apalachian 45, no. 1 (Sept 1970).
17 B.B. Dougherty, "Brief on Request for Additional Funds for Summer School to Improve Teaching in North Carolina," photocopy, Dougherty Papers, ASU University Archives; Jennie McBride Boyer, interview with author, videotape, 25 July 1997, ASU University Archives; B.B. Dougherty, "Some Requisites of a Great Teacher," 22 March 1954; memo, B.B. Dougherty to Faculty, 2 Jan 1951; "The Challenge of a Good College into an Excellent College," 8 Jan 1949, Dougherty Papers, ASU University Archives.
20 Geroge P. Antone, interview with author, May 1997; Rogers Vance Whitener, interview with author, tape recording, May 1997, ASU University Archives; "Campus-wide and Public Programs Committee Philosophy," 20 Nov 1974; "Artist and Lecture Committee Minutes," 10 Nov 1975, Rogers Vance Whitener Papers, ASU University Archives.
24 "An Appalachian White Paper: Becoming a University," n.d. [1972?], Herbert Walter Wey Papers, ASU University Archives.
25 "Appalachian State Teachers College Faculty Senate Record," 12 May 1967; J Frank Randall to W. H. Plemmons, 21 May 1969, Plemmons Papers, ASU University Archives.
26 "The ASU Foundation First Annual Report," Appalachian State University Foundation, Inc. (1971), 2, ASU University Archives; Siegfried E. Hermann, "Newsletter to Appalachian State University Faculty," University Advancement, (16 March 1998), ASU University Archives; Verdola Cook, interview with author, March 1998.
30 "Annual Fact Book, 1987-1988;" "Appalachian State University Fact Book, 1997-98," Appalachian State University, 1988, 1998, Office of Institutional Research, Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.
32 "Implementation Plan for Exchange Program Between Appalachian State University and Northeast Institute of Technology," Agreement signed 12 February 1981 by Chancellor John E. Thomas and President Kang Min Zhuang, Thomas Papers, ASU University Archives.