North Carolina Education - Avery County

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Avery County


An institution of the Presbyterian Church, Lees-McRae College awards associate and baccalaureate degrees. The campus claims the distinction of having the highest elevation (4,000 feet) of any college in the eastern United States. From the front of the campus can be seen Beech Mountain while from the rear is visible Grandfather Mountain.

In the summer of 1895, the Concord Presbytery sent Edgar Tufts, a seminary student, to Banner Elk to organize a church. Two years later the newly ordained Tufts returned as pastor and remained in Banner Elk until his death in 1923. In 1899, concerned with the limited offerings of area schools, the Reverend Mr. Tufts began tutoring some young people in his neighborhood. From this modest beginning the present college marks its origins.

Tufts saw the need for a boarding school and, with money raised at a prayer meeting, constructed a frame dormitory in 1900 for fourteen (14) girls and one (1) teacher. He named the institute for the teacher, Elizabeth McRae. A few years later a boys department opened twenty-five (25) miles south at the Avery County community of Plumtree. It was named for a benefactor, Mrs. S. P. Lees of Kentucky and New York, a friend of McRae. The school was chartered by the state in 1907 as Lees-McRae Institute. In 1927, Lees-McRae became co-educational when the boys unit was moved to Banner Elk after the buildings at Plumtree were destroyed by fire.

Lees-McRae Institute became Lees-McRae College in 1931, gradually eliminating the high school department to form an accredited, co-educational, junior college. The trustees in 1987 voted to seek senior college status. It was granted in June of 1988 by the Commission of Colleges and Schools of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

When it began in 1900, the McRae Institute was in Watauga County. Lees Institute, in Plumtree, was first located in Mitchell County. In 1911, Avery County was created and the Lees-McRae Institute was now in Avery County.

The above write-up (with edits and additions) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to vew their sources.

In 1952, journalist LeGette Blythe met Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, then almost eighty (80) years old, and they collaborated on "Miracle in the Hills," her life story. The book, the winner of the Mayflower Cup, was in large part the story of Crossnore School, which remains as her legacy on seventy-two (72) acres in Avery County.

The daughter of a mathematics professor at the University of North Carolina and at Davidson College, Sloop was educated at Statesville Female (later Mitchell) College and the North Carolina Medical College. Being the sole female in her class and not permitted to work with cadavers, she could not finish her training in this state and transferred to the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She did meet her husband Eustace Sloop while in school in Charlotte and they wed in 1908. “Both tough as pine knots,” they moved to Plumtree and in 1911 to the mountain village of Crossnore.

Dr. Mary Martin Sloop founded Crossnore School because of the deficiencies of the public school system. As local schools improved, Crossnore’s mission altered to serve orphans and children from broken homes (in excess of 3,000 children over time). Today it is licensed to serve sixty-eight (68) boys and girls, most of school age from the mountains and foothills. Dr. Eustace Sloop founded the local hospital and power company. His wife worked to reduce, through education, the problems of child brides and illegal liquor. She worked on behalf of the Good Roads Movement. In 1951, she was named American Mother of the Year. In 1928, with Frances Goodrich, Olive Dame Campbell, and Lucy Morgan, she organized the Southern Highlands Handicrafts Guild.

The Weaving Room at Crossnore, begun in 1920, played an important role in the revival of Appalachian handicrafts. The crafts program is similar to that offered at Penland School. Of students’ craft work, Dr. Sloop said, “It is their character building qualities which concern us most at the school.” The products have also strengthened the finances of Crossnore School.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


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