Having lost the county seat to Princeton, the disappointed people of Concord lobbied for a state school, and on February 28, 1872, the West Virginia legislature passed the necessary legislation to establish a ‘‘branch state normal school’’ in the Mercer County community. The act required that certain land and a building be conveyed to the state, but the owner died before title was transferred.
The act was amended in 1873 and stipulated that the school would be transferred to Princeton if arrangements for land and a building were not completed within one year. Land was donated, $2,000 raised, a primitive building constructed, and, lacking a bell, a cow’s horn trumpet called 70 students to begin classes on May 10, 1875. Capt. James Harvey French was the first principal and headed the school until his death in 1891, a 16-year tenure equaled by president Joseph Franklin Marsh Sr. (1929–45) and exceeded by president Jerry Lynn Beasley (1985–2008). Gregory F. Aloia served from 2008 to 2013.
In 1895, $20,000 was appropriated for a new academic building to replace a small, brick structure built with state funds in the 1880s. With a fine school building, Concord became an institution of major importance in West Virginia. In 1896, ‘‘Athens,’’ for the ancient Greek city of learning and culture, was selected as the new name for the post office and village. The school’s relatively isolated location was promoted in its catalogs as being ‘‘far removed from all those sources of vice and dissipation so numerous in the vicinity of many institutions of learning.’’
A fire destroyed the 1895 building the night of November 22, 1910, but by 8:00 a.m. community leaders arranged for teaching the 300 students in rooms throughout the town. The legislature directed that $14,000 from insurance plus $36,000 in appropriations be used for another new building to be located on 26.4 acres of donated land, and the campus was moved from the center of town to its present site on the outskirts when the building opened for students in September 1912. This building, now enlarged and completely renovated, is the core of Concord’s campus, and in 1997 was crowned with West Virginia’s only true carillon, a 20-ton musical instrument of 48 tuned, bronze bells cast in France.
Most unusual for the early 1900s, a woman, Frances Isabel Davenport, served for one year (1906–07) as principal. The title was changed from principal to president when the ‘‘branch normal schools’’ were separated from Marshall College (now Marshall University) in 1919, and the Athens institution became independent as Concord State Normal School. In 1923, the first baccalaureate degrees were awarded to three graduates, but the number of two-year ‘‘standard normal’’ diplomas exceeded baccalaureate degrees through 1936, when the program was abolished.
During the presidency of J. F. Marsh Sr., the college gained full accreditation in 1931. Reflecting an expanding curriculum, the institution’s name was changed to Concord State Teachers College in 1931 and to Concord College in 1943. Enrollment averaged 657 during the Great Depression, and Marsh added 13 major buildings. During World War II, he secured an Army Air Force cadet training unit that increased enrollment to 950. Following the war and the loss of a military unit, returning veterans, subsidized by the GI Bill, kept enrollment around 1,000 through 1950, and the ‘‘Baby Boomers’’ increased enrollment to 2,019 by 1971.
While French, Marsh Sr., and Beasley hold the records of longest tenures of 16 or more years as head of the institution, two presidents have served for 14 years: Virgil Harvey Stewart (1945–59) and Joseph Franklin Marsh Jr. (1959–73). With post-war growth during the Stewart years, a Science Hall, housing units for married students, and a new athletic field were built.
Marsh Jr., son of a former president, was 34 when he entered office. He continued the expansion of the curriculum, emphasized quality and high academic standards, recruited a cosmopolitan faculty, and added major buildings to the campus. Almost all of Concord’s current physical plant was built during the administrations of Marsh Sr. and Jr.
In the 1970s the Board of Regents proposed merging Concord with Bluefield State College, which was vigorously opposed by all constituencies of Concord. Although legislation failed, the Regents proceeded with an ‘‘administrative merger.’’ After two years, the Regents announced that a return to separate administrations would occur in 1976. Enrollment, which had dropped from 2,019 in 1971 to 1,675 in 1976, increased, reaching 2,356 at the beginning of Beasley’s presidency in 1985.
In recent years, the main academic buildings have been expanded and renovated. A privately funded endowment exceeds $22 million. The legislature approved university status for Concord effective July 1, 2004. Eighty-five percent of the full-time faculty hold terminal degrees. Concord University has modern facilities and residence halls (including the new state-of-the-art Nick Rahall Technology Center) in a 123-acre picturesque setting and has a reputation for high standards. In 2005, U.S. News & World Report ranked Concord among the top three comprehensive, bachelor’s, public colleges in the south. Concord’s fall 2009 headcount enrollment was 2,882. Concord University is a contributor to The West Virginia Encyclopedia.
This Article was written by Joseph F. Marsh Jr.
Last Revised on April 25, 2013