Watauga Hall has the honor of being the oldest residence hall on North Carolina State University’s campus; it was the designated residence hall for NC State’s first Black students and first women students. The University built Watauga Hall in 1896 and named the building after the Watauga Club, a group of prominent, young, white men in Raleigh whose efforts were integral in creating North Carolina State University, then, the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.
While the Watauga Club was meant to be a Progressive club, the members did not want to call it “Progressive Club,” which would have stirred up controversy amongst politicians. In his book, Universal Education in the South, founding member Charles W. Dabney explains the members chose the name Watauga because, “this would suggest nothing in particular to the public.” In many publications Watauga is credited as being an “Indian word” but does not specify the national or linguistic origins. Many competing translations have been given such as “sparkling water,” “the land beyond,” or “the river of many islands.” For the men, the name Watauga also connoted the Watauga Association, an early group of white settlers in Western Appalachia, as well as North Carolina’s Watauga County.
The Club began as a forum for members to discuss economic issues facing North Carolina after the U.S. Civil War. Members set themselves in opposition to the old-guard legislators whom they referred to as “fossils” and “mummies” and who Club members saw as inhibiting modern education based in scientific methods and principles. Of the members, none were older than their thirties. Early members of the Watauga Club included several well-known men of the era, many of whom are the namesake of other buildings at NC State. William J. Peele, for whom the University named Peele Hall, served as the group’s first President. Peele was a lawyer and also helped to create the State Literary and Historical Association. A prominent member and the namesake of Page Hall was Walter Hines Page. He was a publisher and later ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Woodrow Wilson. He helped create Doubleday, Page & Company, which later became Doubleday press. Page published famous works by Booker T. Washington as well as publishing two works by noted racist Thomas Dixon Jr, who was also an early member of the Watauga Club. The racist film Birth of a Nation was based on Dixon’s 1905 book The Clansman. Dabney Hall is named after Charles W. Dabney, quoted above, who staunchly advocated for public education and industrial education in the United States, following the German model. William Stuart Primrose, who worked in insurance, was the first member of the Watauga Club to have a building named after him in 1896. Another member of the Watauga Club was Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy during World War I and a prominent white supremacist, whose name was removed from Daniels Hall in June 2020.
The young men believed North Carolina needed to industrialize and especially that the state needed an industrial college. A News & Observer article quotes Watauga member G. E. Leach explaining, “The school would unfold a great future, it opens a new era for the poor man.” While the club was able to get an initial bill passed in 1885, it came with no funds to build the school. The Watauga Club kept working towards establishing an industrial school but it was not until they joined forces with Leonidas Polk, editor of the Progressive Farmer, and a powerful leader in a movement for an agricultural school in North Carolina, they were able to secure funding. Finally, a bill was passed on March 5, 1887, establishing the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. While the club was inactive for a time between 1902 and 1924, it continues today.
Watauga housed a dining hall on the first floor and dormitories on the second floor. In 1901 the original building burned down and was rebuilt in 1902. The student residents helped to put the fire out; they were praised by the Board of Trustees for their “courage and devotion to their college.” A News & Observer article from 1947 explains what life was like in the Watauga during the early days. Students were known for pulling pranks involving live animals and reassembling a cannon on the roof of the dormitory. Raleigh Times reported there were even unconfirmed rumors of a liquor still and a bar in the basement of Watauga, which served “Moonshine a la Watauga.” From 1924 to 1943 the building served as the dormitory for seniors and was known as “Seniors’ Paradise.”
In 1956, NC State assigned a few rooms in Watauga hall to house the first Black undergraduate students living on campus. Black students were specifically assigned to room together. As Irwin Holmes, one of the first Black undergraduates to attend NC State, remembered in an oral history for NC State Institutional Histories, “I think when I was there we never had more than two rooms, but we had as many as six in those two rooms, even though there were supposed to be only two...” per room. In 1964 the building went through a major transformation when it became the first women’s dormitory. Like women college students across the nation, women living in Watauga had to adhere to a curfew and were required to check in and out. The dorm became a target for “panty raids” such as the one reported by Technician on the night of November 16, 1964, when an estimated 900-1,000 male students gathered around Watauga shouting for “lace” and “panties.” This phenomenon occurred throughout college and universities in the mid-20th century.
The upper floors were condemned after 1968 and in the years between 1969 and 1984 the first floor of Watauga was used for Information Services. After renovations, it reopened as graduate housing in 1984. In 1988, the Triangle J Council of Government and “The Leader” news magazine awarded the renovations the Triangle Development Award.
Today, Watauga once again serves as a dormitory for undergraduate students.
Original Source References
Dabney, Charles William. Universal Education in the South. United States: University of North Carolina Press, 1936.
Interview with Irwin Holmes, mc00449-oh-holmes-20141020, NC State University Libraries Rare and Unique Digital Collections, NC State University Libraries Rare and Unique Digital Collections. Accessed August 14, 2020. https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/mc00449-oh-holmes-20141020.
Milton Cooper Jr., John. Walter Hines Page: The Southerner As American, 1855-1918. United States: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
North Carolina State University, Office of Public Affairs, News Services Records, UA 014.011 Carton 6, Carton 94, Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/findingaids/ua014_011.
Technician (Raleigh, N.C.) (LH1.N6 T4), Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries.
University Buildings, UA 50.4.8 Box 8, Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/findingaids/ua050_004.
Watauga Club Records, 1884 - 2011, MC00229, Special Collections Research Center at NC State University Libraries https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/findingaids/mc00229.
William Joseph Peele Papers, 1888 - 1923, MC00012, Special Collections Research
Secondary Source References
Allen, Ben, and Dennis T. Lawson. "The Wataugans and the "Dangerous Example"." Tennessee Historical Quarterly 26, no. 2 (1967): 137-47. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42622934.
Berry, Hardy D. Place Names on the Campus of North Carolina State University. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, 1995.
Beckel, Deborah. Radical Reform: Interracial Politics in Post-Emancipation North Carolina. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
Cockrel, David L. “Watauga Settlement” NCpedia, 2006. https://www.ncpedia.org/watauga-settlement.
Knight, Edgar W. "Charles W. Dabney: Pioneer in Industrial Education." The High School Journal 24, no. 1 (1941): 28-31. Accessed August 30, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40367556.
Lockmiller, David A. History of the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering of the University of North Carolina, 1889-1939. Raleigh: [Printed by Edwards & Broughton], 1939.
Lockmiller, David Alexander. "The Establishment of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.” The North Carolina Historical Review 16, no. 3 (1939): 273-95. Accessed August 30, 2020 http://www.jstor.org/stable/23516079.
Murphy, Kate. “NC State University removes name of white supremacist Josephus Daniels from building,” News & Observer, June 22, 2020. Accessed August 15, 2020 https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article243709067.html.
Powel, William S. “Primrose, William Stuart.” NCpedia, 1994. https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/primrose-william-stuart.
The Editors of the Encyclopedia. “Walter Hines Page,” Encyclopædia Britannica, August 11, 2020. Accessed August 29, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Hines-Page.
Snider, William D. “Watauga Club.” NCpedia, April 13, 2009. https://www.ncpedia.org/watauga-club.