History of Lees-McRae

“Banner’s Elk,” as the village was once called, is said to have been settled around 1850. By the end of the century, the Presbyterian Church was becoming established in the area. In the summer of 1895, Concord Presbytery sent a young student from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia to organize a church at Banner Elk. In 1897, the newly ordained Rev. Edgar Tufts returned as pastor of the church.

In the winter of 1899, concerned with the limited offerings of the district school which was supplemented only by summer school work conducted by the church, Tufts took some of the young people of the neighborhood into his study for further instruction. This small group, called the Class of 1900, marks the beginning of Lees-McRae College.

Tufts saw that this effort was not enough and that there was a need for a boarding school, especially for the girls of the mountain region. In 1900, a frame dormitory for 14 girls and one teacher opened after a small amount of money was raised and labor and lumber was promised. One of the summer school teachers was Mrs. Elizabeth A. McRae. Knowing the devoted character of her work, Tufts named the school for her. When a department for boys opened at Plumtree, he added the name of Mrs. Susanna P. Lees, who had been a generous benefactor. The Lees-McRae Institute was chartered by the state in 1907, and Tufts remained to serve the community until his death in 1923.

In 1927, a fire consumed the Plumtree buildings, and the unit moved to Banner Elk. Lees-McRae Institute became Lees-McRae College in 1931, gradually eliminating the high school department to form an accredited, coeducational junior college. In 1987, the Board of Trustees of Lees-McRae College voted to seek senior college status. In June of 1990, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted Lees-McRae status as a senior (four-year) college.

To complement its four-year academic programs, Lees-McRae began offering degree completion programs in the early 2000s. The 2+2 programs enable students with existing associate degrees to complete their education at the baccalaureate level. The institution serves these non-traditional learners at off-campus sites and through online learning. In 2018, the college added its first graduate program—a Master of Arts in Teaching in Secondary Education. 

More than a hundred years after its founding, Lees-McRae continues the vision of the Rev. Tufts, inspiring students of the Southern Appalachian region and beyond. The College extends educational opportunities and service to diverse populations and continues to fulfill its motto—In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains.

Lees-McRae College Presidents

President Years of Presidency
Rev. Edgar Tufts, Founder                             1900–1923
Edgar Hall Tufts                  1923–1942
Dr. W. C. Tate                     1942–1946
Dr. R. C. Long                      1946–1947
Dr. W. C. Tate                     1947–1950
Dr. Fletcher Nelson                          1950–1957
Dr. Joseph Carter                              1957–1960
Dr. Marshall S. Woodson                               1960–1961
Col. Max Chapman                           1961–1967
Dr. H. C. Evans, Jr.                             1967–1984
Dr. Bradford L. Crain                        1985–1993
Dr. James A. Schobel                       1994–1997
Dr. Earl. J. Robinson                         1998–2004
Dr. David W. Bushman                    2005–2009
Dr. Scott Colley                 2009–2010
Dr. Barry M. Buxton ’11H 2010–2018
Dr. Herbert L. King, Jr. 2018–present