north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Catawba College, the sixth oldest college in North Carolina was founded in Newton by Matthew L. McCorkle in 1851. Prior to its establishment, there was no institution of higher education in Catawba County. In 1834, the German Reformed Church in the area had created the Education Society in order to send young men to northern schools to be educated for the ministry. At an 1848 meeting, the Education Society was called upon to establish a college in their midst to train ministers. Members of the German Reformed Church and Newton merchants provided the land and capital for the school, leading to its opening in 1851.

     As the first college west of the Catawba River, it attracted students from the western parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. The initial enrollment was thirty-eight young men who, at first, met in an old academy building and the Grace Reformed Church. For the first few years, the school was unstable and there was some question if it would continue to operate. The 1858 arrival of Jacob C. Clapp, professor of modern languages insured its survival. He served as president from 1862 to 1900 and kept the college going through its hardest times. The Civil War meant a lack of funds and students to attend the college, and for a time it became an academy, Catawba High School. To rebuild the reputation of the college, beginning in the summer of 1880, the school hosted the Newton Normal School. It was designed to enhance the knowledge of teachers living in the piedmont region, and it became the best-attended teaching institute in the area. Catawba High School regained its collegiate status in 1885 and became a co-educational institute in 1890.

     Just after the turn of the century, Charles Mebane succeeded Clapp as the college president and under his direction the school began a series of expansion and remodeling. World War I and the 1921 recession, however, crippled its growth. Unable to recover, the college closed in 1923. Much to the displeasure of Newton citizens, the Reformed Church relocated the college to Salisbury, which had promised $50,000 to help with its establishment. Catawba College reopened in Rowan County in 1925. In 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ, with whom the college is still affiliated. The campus has grown to twenty-eight buildings on 276 acres. It also hosts a 189-acre ecological preserve, and is well known for its 300-acre wildlife refuge.

William S. Powell, Higher Education in North Carolina (1964)
Gary R. Freeze, The Catawbans: Crafters of a North Carolina County (1995)
Gary R. Freeze, The Catawbans: Pioneers in Progress (2002)
Catawba College website:
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources