A Walking Tour of Mars Hill University

A walking tour that explores the historic campus of Mars Hill University.

A Walking Tour of Mars Hill University

Mars Hill, North Carolina 28754, United States

Created By: Mars Hill University

Tour Information

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Founded in 1856, Mars Hill University is the oldest surviving educational institution of higher education on its original site in western North Carolina. The original campus of Mars Hill consisted of four acres donated by Edward Carter. As the institution continued to grow and expand over the years, the Historic Quadrangle remained the heart of campus. During the spring of 1989, Professor of History Dr. Harley Jolley worked tirelessly with senior history majors to research the buildings located on the grounds. In 1995; following the recommendation of Dr. Jolley, Richard Dillingham, and state historic preservation officials; Mars Hill College President Dr. Fred Bentley’s support of the Historic Quads placement on North Carolina’s Study List for possible listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the late 1990’s, President Dr. Max Lennon made the decision to continue working towards recognizing campus for its historical significance. Architectural and landscape historian David Ford Hood was hired to research the campus while Richard Dillingham would serve as a history consultant for the project. Through his research, Mr. Hood recommended that the Mars Hill College Historic District include all sites fifty years or older. Thus, the institutional period for the Mars Hill College Historic District became 1856-1955. The proposed historic district would cover twenty-seven of the one hundred eighty-seven acres that make up Mars Hill’s campus and would consist of nineteen contributing sites.

Around this same time, Mars Hill College applied for funds from the Getty Trust in hopes of evolving a preservation plan for the historic buildings on the Historic Quad. The Getty Trust awarded Mars Hill College a total of $125,000 in anticipation that the camus would be designated a historic district. During the campus sesquicentennial celebration, President Dr. Dan Lunsford adopted the Mars Hill College Historic District project.Through the work of a variety of individuals both on and off campus, the Mars Hill College Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 12, 2006. As of 2017, the Mars Hill College Historic District is amongst the largest educational historic districts in North Carolina.

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

The Mars Hill College Historic District is comprised of approximately 27.07 acres of the 187.17 acre campus. This area comprises the historic buildings of what is the oldest surviving educational institution of higher education on its origi... Read more
The Founders Memorial was erected as part of Mars Hill College Sesquicentennial celebration in 2006-2007. Designed to honor the twenty-three known founding families of the institution, the memorial also recognizes the the twenty-two preside... Read more
The founding of Mars Hill University is a fascinating and complex account of personal sacrifice and community collaboration that tends to interest all who study it. Perhaps one of the most fascinating as well as heartbreaking stories from t... Read more
Upon its founding in 1856, Mars Hill University consisted of only one large two-story brick building that stood at this site. Known as the First Building, both the campus and the town of Mars Hill steadily grew around this structure which s... Read more
Next to Founders Hall stands arguably the most eye-catching and visually interesting building on the campus of Mars Hill.  Estella Nissen Montague Hall is a one-story, mezzanine T-plan stone building that was erected in three stages over t... Read more
Opened in 1906, Mars Hill College’s First Auditorium and Chapel was the first building constructed under President Dr. Robert L. Moore’s administration. Designed in 1904 by Mr. R. T. Daniel of Weldon, North Carolina and costing roughly ... Read more
Built sometime between 1918 and 1921, the former Jarrett House was originally designed as the parsonage for the Mars Hill Baptist Church, which at the time was located in what is now Owen Theatre. Located on land given to the church by I.B.... Read more
Owen Theatre opened in April 1918, and has served various needs of both Mars Hill University, formerly Mars Hill College, and the community for nearly a century. Since its founding, the history of Mars Hill University and the local Baptist ... Read more
To the right of the Historic Quad stands Spilman Hall. In 1905, Milo Clinton Treat agreed to donate $2,000 dollars to Mars Hill College for the construction of a boy’s club facility under the condition that the institution could raise a m... Read more
To the left of Spilman Hall lies the Sunken Garden. Designed as part of the Amphitheatre in 1935, water from the fountain located in the Sunken Garden would flow to the reflecting pools that once adorned the front of the Amphitheatre stage.... Read more
Completed in 1909, Marshbanks Hall is the oldest surviving building designed by an identified architect, Martin Egbert Parmalee of Parmalee & Sons.Originally containing administrative offices, classrooms, two Literary Society Halls, and... Read more
Across the sidewalk and through the arbor lies the Amphitheater. Built in 1935 by Mars Hill College students under guidance of Bryson Tilson, superintendent of buildings and grounds, who used the natural sloping ground to capitalize the arc... Read more
In 1914, trustee W.C. McConnell of Asheville offered to give $500 dollars towards the construction of a new campus gymnasium to be included in the proposed Sams Dormitory or separately. Upon receiving Mr. McConnell's offer, college trustees... Read more
Adjacent to the Historic Quad lies the Lower Quad as well as the campus athletic facilities including Chambers Gymnasium, the Ammons Family Athletic Center, Meares Stadium, Henderson Field, and the Hart Tennis Complex. To the left of campus... Read more
The Heritage Cabin was originally a one-room school erected on the farm of Robert Wilson Arrington in the 1800s. Named Frog Level School, Arrington’s farm was in Grapevine, a small community northwest of Mars Hill. In the early 1900s, the... Read more
Built in 1925, this one-and-a-half story cottage belonged to Ashbel Edward Carter and his wife, Elizabeth. Mr. Carter was the grandson of Edward Carter, who in 1856 sold property that would soon become the campus of Mars Hill. Mr. and Mrs. ... Read more
In the 1940s, Mr. J.B. Bridges donated a large sum of money to Mars Hill College towards the construction of the new Coyte Bridges Dining Hall, named after his late son who had been killed in a construction accident in 1917. The Coyte Bridg... Read more
The Charles M. Wall Science Building was designed in October 1939 by Henry Irven Gaines, partner of Asheville architectural firm Six Associates. The groundbreaking for the new building was on Founder’s Day 1939, and the completed building... Read more
Across the street you will see the Brenda G. Nash Education Hall, formerly known as the Memorial Library. In the summer of 1953, an anonymous philanthropist offered to donate Mars Hill College $250,000 towards a new, much-needed library o... Read more
Along the sidewalk to the right is one of the many native stone retaining walls built on campus by the Mace family, stonemasons from Madison County. David Mace, who worked for the college in the physical plant, served as the stonemason duri... Read more
In 1890, Mars Hill College President Adonnas E. Booth convinced the college trustees to deed him a lot of land on which a boarding house for female students was to be constructed. Work on the two-story structure began in the 1890s but event... Read more
A particular unique feature of Blackwell Hall is a three-story ceramic mural that depicts traditional Appalachian household and farming implements. Designed and created by Mars Hill College alumni Douglas Ferguson, visitors see the Heritage... Read more


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