From Segregated to Secular; a Brief History of Education in Mars Hill

Julius Rosenwald had gained international fame by the 1920s as the president of Sears, Roebuck, & Co., but most people do not know about his collaboration with Booker T. Washington to partially fund over 5,000 schools for black children. 

His motives seemed legit. Rosenwald was known for being vocal about the struggles of the black community and was against the treatment of black people as second rate. 

To support his convictions, Rosenwald also required the governing white residents of each community to invest their funds into creating these schools as well. However, the creation of these segregated schools only perpetuated segregation rather than fighting it. 

andersonschoolPhoto shared from

More Rosenwald schools were built in North Carolina than any other state, and the one in Mars Hill was built in 1930. It is known as the Anderson School here, and you can still drive by and see it on Long Ridge Road. 

When Julius Rosenwald died in the 1930s, a few other philanthropists attempted to continue his work, but all of it came to halt in the 50s with the Brown vs. Board of Education case ruling against segregation.

As schools and life in general struggled to integrate, often violently, there was no longer a need to build schools exclusively for black children. 

My song for this blog, with absolute randomness, is “The Ballad of Buffalo Jones” by my friends in Ford Theatre Reunion.

Mars Hill is notorious for a different school now, the Mars Hill University.


Before it was chartered in 1893, the town formerly known as Pleasant Hill had already been the home of this liberal arts college for over 35 years.


Mars Hill University is the oldest college institution in western North Carolina and was founded by Baptists, but is now on record as no longer being affiliated with any religion.


In fact, I found it impressive and boldly secular of them to have a plaque with the quote “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge the wing wherewith we fly…” which is a rather fundamental sentiment of Satanism.


On Saturdays, there is often a festival or farmers/art market of some sort on campus. 


Most of the buildings here are original, made with uniform red brick, and are several stories high. 


The Owen/Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre is better known as the SART, and has been producing professional shows since 1975.


The Rural Heritage Museum hosts a variety of changing exhibits about the history, education, crafts, and lives of rural people in Western North Carolina among other topics.  


I totally fell in love with the stone interior covered in ivy and moss. 


Mars Hill has around two thousand residents in less than two square miles, but its population fluctuates as each new semester and season changes.

The town was basically built around the college, and being in such close proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, Mount Mitchell and Max Patch, plus the Wolf Ridge Ski Resort, more businesses continue to open in order to cater to both students and tourists. 


Stack House, The Original Papa Nick’s, Baa’d Sheep Burritos, and the Library Coffeehouse are just a few of these businesses. 

The Library was such a cozy place with tons of fresh-baked pastries, leather seating, a few arcade games, and study areas in the large back room. 


It was a difficult choice but I had a latte with cinnamon and took a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin to go. 


Next door is the Hickory Nut Gorge Brewery inside the old Mars Theatre. Since visiting the original location in Chimney Rock last year, I have been looking forward to seeing the second one.

The Mars Theater was lovely and much of the decor, furniture, and other relics from its cinema days are still intact. You can see more photos here


I anticipate that Mars Hill will continue to develop and have even more to offer in the years to come. In the area for a while? Follow me to Marshall or Weaverville [in progress], and don’t forget to subscribe!

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