The Peak of Early Success
Following President Brown’s resignation, the trustees advertised for a new president, ultimately choosing Reverend John B. Marsh for the position. According to W.P. Jervis’s 1922 article, “Memories of Mars Hill College,” Marsh was the only applicant to enclose a postage stamp for reply, possibly resulting in the trustees selecting him. In reality, Marsh was the best-qualified applicant for the position. Born in May of 1830 in Colesville, New York, Marsh was educated at the Windsor Academy and worked as an agent for the American Sunday School Union.
It is unclear why Reverend Marsh made the move from New York to North Carolina exactly. A letter dated July 23, 1856 from Marsh to his future wife Ms. Rachel Lanier of Greensboro, North Carolina suggests that the move was due to health concerns. Other evidence points to his work with the American Sunday School Union as the reason. The minutes from the 1857 meeting of the Western Baptist Convention mentions Marsh acting as an agent for the Union working in the mountains of North Carolina.
Under Marsh’s leadership, the institution flourished and reached its most successful point during its first 40 years of existence. The school’s reputation grew in the surrounding area as students came from counties across North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Marsh oversaw the construction of a new residence for teachers of the institution as well as a 16-room dormitory for students. Students enrolled at the school thought highly of Marsh as several wrote positive remarks about him and his leadership in the years that followed.
It was during Marsh’s administration that Mars Hill reached a significant milestone in the institution’s history. On February 16, 1859, the North Carolina General Assembly granted Mars Hill a charter, which granted the school the power to confer baccalaureate degrees to its students. It would be another 105 years before Mars Hill would exercise this authority, granting its first baccalaureate degree to Miriam Carolyn Jones on May 31, 1964.
Reverend Marsh resigned from the position of president in 1861, shortly after the American Civil War began. Those who have studied his correspondence with friends believe that he left his position in part due to his conflicting loyalty to the Union as well as to those closest to him. The end of Marsh’s administration and the coming Civil War would mark the beginning of a dark period in the history of Mars Hill.