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



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     An institution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 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 girls and one teacher. He named the institute for the teacher, Elizabeth McRae. A few years later a boys department opened twenty-five 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 coeducational 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, coeducational, junior college. The trustees in 1987 voted to seek senior college status. It was granted in June 1988 by the Commission of Colleges and Schools of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Lees-McRae College website:
Lees-McRae College Catalog (1989-1990)
William S. Powell, Higher Education in North Carolina (1964)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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