Montreat College: A Legacy of Christian Education & Growth - TribPapers

Montreat College: A Legacy of Christian Education & Growth

Photo by Clint Parker

Montreat – This week’s history marker is another from the Black Mountain area. located on NC 9 (Broadway Avenue) in Black Mountain, this one reads. “MONTREAT COLLEGE – Presbyterian. Opened in 1916 as Montreat Normal School. First president was Robert C. Anderson. Campus is 2 miles N.”

Montreat, a small yet historically rich community nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, was founded in 1897 by Congregationalist minister John C. Collins. Collins established Montreat on behalf of his Mountain Retreat Association, aiming to create a haven dedicated to the encouragement of Christian work and living through conventions, public worship, missionary endeavors, education, and libraries.

Initially known by the full name of the association, the community soon became known simply as Montreat, a truncated form of “Mountain Retreat.” In 1905, Dr. J. R. Howerton of the First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte played a pivotal role in the evolution of Montreat. He secured an option on the property with the provision that the Presbyterian Church would uphold the original mission set forth by the Mountain Retreat Association. By 1907, the Southern province of the Presbyterian Church of the United States adopted the Montreat enterprise and purchased the Mountain Retreat Association.

The community of Montreat witnessed a significant development in 1913 when Dr. Robert C. Anderson, then president of the Mountain Retreat Association, proposed that the grounds and buildings be utilized for educational purposes during the academic year. This idea took concrete form in 1915 when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church decreed that the property be used for a Normal School. Thus, in 1916, the Montreat Normal School opened its doors. It functioned as a combination of a four-year preparatory school and a two-year college for women, with Dr. Anderson serving as its first president.

Montreat Normal School underwent several transformations over the decades. In 1934, the college department of the school was renamed Montreat College, signaling the beginning of its evolution into a more comprehensive institution of higher learning. By 1945, Montreat College expanded its curriculum to offer a four-year degree program, reflecting a broader academic scope.

The institution’s growth continued, and in 1959, it was restructured as a coeducational junior college, adopting the name Montreat-Anderson College to honor Dr. Anderson’s foundational contributions. This period marked a significant shift, opening its doors to a more diverse student body and offering a wider range of academic programs.

Montreat-Anderson College’s journey came full circle in 1986 when it returned to offering a four-year degree program, reaffirming its commitment to the original mission envisioned by Dr. Anderson. To reflect this renewal and its historical roots, the institution reverted to the name Montreat College in 1995. This name change was more than symbolic; it represented a merger of the original vision with contemporary educational aspirations.

Today, Montreat College is a testament to its rich history and ongoing commitment to Christian education. It has expanded its academic reach to include graduate programs and operates satellite campuses in Charlotte and Asheville, making higher education accessible to a broader audience. The college’s evolution from a small normal school to a comprehensive institution underscores its adaptability and enduring relevance.

Throughout its history, Montreat has benefited from the support of numerous benefactors, notably William Henry Belk and the Belk family, who have been instrumental in the college’s development. Their contributions have helped sustain Montreat’s mission and growth, ensuring that it remains a beacon of Christian education in the region.

Montreat’s identity is also deeply intertwined with its physical landscape. For many years, it was a gated community, and the massive gate that once symbolized this exclusivity now serves as a landmark for both the college and the Presbyterian conference center. This gate stands as a historical symbol, reflecting Montreat’s legacy and its role as a center for religious and educational activities.

Montreat’s journey from a mountain retreat to a distinguished college is a story of visionary leadership, steadfast commitment to Christian values, and an enduring dedication to education. It is a narrative marked by transformation and growth, driven by the foundational mission to encourage Christian work and living. Today, Montreat College continues to honor its rich heritage while embracing the future, preparing students for meaningful lives of leadership and service.