UNC Asheville Celebrates 90 Years in 2017-18


UNC Asheville, North Carolina’s designated public liberal arts university, celebrates 90 years of educational excellence in 2017-18. Its history includes deep roots in the region, having been established as Buncombe County Junior College and growing into one of the founding institutions of North Carolina’s community college system. Today, UNC Asheville is a four-year baccalaureate university that leads the state and nation in the public liberal arts.

“Congratulations to the UNC Asheville community on reaching this important milestone. Since its founding, UNCA has provided a high-quality liberal arts education to thousands of intellectually curious and talented students,” said UNC System President Margaret Spellings. “The university’s success is a tribute to its visionary founders who sought to provide greater educational opportunities to the citizens of North Carolina—and I look forward to joining Chancellor Grant and the Asheville region in celebrating this significant moment in the life of this esteemed institution.”

UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant and students stand at the Historic Biltmore School on July 11, 2017 – 90 years after initial discussions for Buncombe County Junior College.

UNC Asheville’s 90th Anniversary Celebration will kick-off at Convocation – the official welcome for new UNC Asheville students, which takes place on move-in day, August 18, 2017. The festivities to follow throughout the year include Founders Day events on September 12, a combined Homecoming and Family Weekend on September 22-24, and a 90th Anniversary Gala in the spring semester. Annual events such as the university’s Greenfest, Farm-to-Table Dinner on the Quad, African Americans in Western North Carolina Conference, history lectures, musical performances, theatre shows, and each semester’s Undergraduate Research Symposium will be a part of the 90th commemoration. Additional details will be announced later this summer.

“First as mayor of Asheville and now as Board of Governors chair, I have been able to witness first-hand UNC Asheville’s vital part in the growth and success of the City of Asheville. I’m excited to join the entire Asheville community in celebrating this milestone and wish the university many more to come,” said UNC Board of Governors Chairman Lou Bissette.

Students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends are encouraged to join the celebration on social media and share their stories using the hashtag #UNCAVL90years. Social media posts and photos may be featured on the anniversary website, which will launch in the fall, and include digital downloads and details from the university’s history.

“UNC Asheville’s 90th anniversary celebration is a testament to the Asheville community—a community that saw a need for accessible higher education in 1927, and has continued to rally around our mission-driven institution for the past nine decades. Thank you to the community leaders, board members, faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have supported UNC Asheville becoming a leading public liberal arts university. We are excited to celebrate our shared history with you this year, and look forward to 90 more years as Asheville’s university,” said UNC Asheville Chancellor Mary K. Grant, who on July 11, 2017, stood on the grounds where the university started. Biltmore High School off of Hendersonville Road housed the first discussions around starting the college, as well as the first classes.

Building a College/University

Buncombe County Junior College, the predecessor of UNC Asheville, started as a two-junior college in 1927, when initial discussions between A.C. Reynolds, then the superintendent of Buncombe County Schools, and T.M. Howerton, L.D. Maney and D.S. Roberts of the Biltmore School Committee, led to a mass meeting on July 11, 1927, to discuss the feasibility of starting a junior college at Biltmore High School. The idea received a good reception at the meeting, followed by coverage in the July 12, 1927 Asheville Citizen, now part of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Just two weeks later, teachers had been appointed and according to the Charlotte Sunday Observer, the State Inspector of High Schools J. Henry Highsmith gave his approval, calling it “pioneering work for public education in North Carolina.” The first classes started on September 12, 1927, now celebrated as Founders Day at UNC Asheville. Eighty-five students enrolled at Buncombe County Junior College for its opening day. At the time, the college was the first in the state to be operated by a county, and tuition was free. The Historic Biltmore School, as it is known today, is located at 4 Vanderbilt Park Drive in Asheville and was also built in 1927.

Buncombe County Junior College, later became Biltmore College, followed by being chartered as Asheville-Biltmore College, with campuses located at the present site of Mission Health’s Memorial Hospital Campus on Biltmore Ave., David Millard High School on Oak and College Streets, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Merrimon Ave., and Seely’s Castle on Sunset Mountain. The college purchased land for its current location in 1958, with a groundbreaking in 1959, becoming UNC Asheville a decade later in 1969.

Historic Biltmore School

The first home to UNC Asheville – then Buncombe County Junior College – also has seen its share of changes over the past 90 years, undergoing renovations in 2012-2014.

Now called the Historic Biltmore School, the building houses a variety of businesses, foundations and professional medical services. Over the years, it has been home to Biltmore High School and Biltmore Elementary School, as well as the Buncombe County Sherriff’s Department and the 911 Call Center.

Biltmore Property Group along with its investor group bought the property and began an extensive renovation while maintaining the historic integrity of this 90-year-old property. The goal was to preserve the building’s character as it was adapted to newer technologies. After two years of construction and an expenditure of $12 million dollars, the project was completed in 2014.

The restoration, led by architects Alan McGuinn and Bryan Moffitt of ARCA Design along with local contractors Rick Grant, Allen Peele and Chris Smith of Beverly-Grant, earned a Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit from the Historic Preservation Foundation of North Carolina, the Griffin Award from the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County and was one of Biltmore Property Group’s projects that helped John Bell, its CEO, earn the Counselors of Real Estate – Creative Thinkers Award. Biltmore Property Group continues to manage the property.

UNC Asheville will share more stories about the people and places that have defined its history during the 90th anniversary celebration. Visit the Special Collections and University Archvies blog to learn more.


#   #   #


UNC Asheville is the designated liberal arts institution for the UNC system and one of the nation’s top 10 public liberal arts universities. Enrolling 3,800 students and offering more than 30 undergraduate majors and a Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences degree, UNC Asheville encourages students to take part in a nationally acclaimed undergraduate research program and participate in interdisciplinary learning. From internships and hands-on projects, to study abroad and community engagement, students experience an education that extends beyond campus into the vibrant City of Asheville, the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and the world. Learn more at www.unca.edu.