Warren Wilson College History

The inspiring history of Warren Wilson College is told in this documentary by award-winning producers John Disher and Steven Heller. The film explores the origins of Warren Wilson as a 19th-century mission school and details its evolution into a four-year college that has earned a distinct niche in higher education.

Historical Overview

Historic AFS Campus 1912

The property was purchased in 1893 by the Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church. The women of the church were concerned that many Americans in isolated areas were not receiving a proper education. The women decided to establish church supported schools in areas where there were no public services. There was a need for a nonconventional grading system as the young people who came to these mission schools usually had no prior formal education.

student on bridge

In 1894, the Asheville Farm School officially opened with 25 boys attending and a professional staff of three people. It was not until 1923 that the school had its first graduating class. In 1936, the first post high school programs in vocational training were begun. It was hoped that this type of training would give the students more prospects in the job market. In 1942, the junior college division was established. The Asheville Farm School continued as a boys unit in high school studies. The Dorland-Bell School of Hot Springs was joined with the Farm School, which brought high school age girls to campus. The Warren Wilson Vocational Junior College was joined with them under our one administration.

African-American Students Registering

After WWII, the public education system in NC improved dramatically and the need for the mission’s high school diminished. The last high school class at WWC was graduated in 1957. WWC was a junior college until March 1966 when it was established as a four year college, offering six majors. In 1972, the National Board of Missions deeded the WWC property over to the college’s Board of Trustees.

In the late 1990s, we added an Outdoor Leadership major and The North Carolina Outward Bound School moved its headquarters to campus. As the new millennium approached, the college raised its target enrollment to 800 and began growing. Many new, state-of-the-art facilities were built including a new science center, two new computer labs, a library renovation, and several new residence halls. In 2003, the college opened the EcoDorm–a residence hall built with sustainable and ecologically friendly building practices and intended to be a live-in educational facility for students. Following its commitment to green construction, the college constructed a new office building designed to meet the LEED’s standard. We continue to grow, change, and improve, but as the time honored cliche states, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Who was Warren Wilson?