Lewis J. Smith historical marker

Lewis J. Smith (Q-47)

A founder & benefactor of Cullowhee Academy, forerunner of Western Carolina University. Lived 2 miles north.

Location: NC 107 at Cullowhee
County: Jackson
Original Date Cast: 1985

Western Carolina University was established as a private school in 1889 and first received state support in 1893. Lewis J. Smith played an important role in the establishment of the predecessor institution and in the school’s operation during its early years. Smith (1843-1901) was a Confederate veteran, a teacher, and in 1870 became Jackson County Register of Deeds. Throughout his life he was a strong advocate of better education for the area’s children.

Toward that end he built in 1883 a one-room schoolhouse known as “Liberty School” on his farm. When a more permanent school was established one mile away in 1889, Smith served as first chairman of its board of trustees. The “Liberty School” building in time was moved to the new site. Robert Lee Madison was engaged by the board as its first teacher and later principal. Cullowhee Academy, as it was known, opened on August 5, 1889, with an enrollment of eighteen. The school soon prospered and closed the year with 100 students. Today the institution is known as Western Carolina University.

Key to the school’s growth was the receipt of state aid in 1893. Smith, who served in the state senate in 1889, was the first to suggest such support.

William Ernest Bird, The History of Western Carolina College (1963) Max R. Williams, ed., The History of Jackson County (1987)
Jo Ann Smith, By Chance or By Plan (1982)
Jackson County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives

Related Topics: