Potomac State College of West Virginia University is located in Keyser, the county seat of Mineral County. The college was founded in 1901 when the West Virginia legislature created the Keyser Preparatory Branch of West Virginia University. Col. Thomas B. Davis, a local businessman, donated 17 acres of land for the school on Fort Hill, formerly the location of Fort Fuller. During the Civil War, this fort had played a critical role in maintaining Union control of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Today the site, on high ground overlooking the town, provides a beautiful location for the college.
The institution essentially functioned as a secondary school for the first 20 years. It began operation in 1902 as the West Virginia Preparatory School, with a single building combining offices, classrooms, library, and gymnasium. Lloyd Friend was appointed as principal, with a faculty of four. In 1905, a commercial department was added, as well as music, elocution, and teacher training. Pre-engineering and agriculture programs were added in 1911.
A fire destroyed the school on May 3, 1917. A special session of the legislature appropriated $30,000 for a new building. The legislature established an agricultural, industrial, and vocational department to comply with the Smith-Hughes Act, which provided federal funds for vocational education. In 1919, 125 acres of land was purchased for the operation of the agriculture program. The new building also was completed during that year.
In 1921, the school became a junior college and began offering the first two years of the baccalaureate programs and certain vocational programs. The name was changed to Potomac State School. The first president was J. W. Lakin, who served for the next 15 years; previously the title had been principal. In 1926, Potomac State was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Three years later, all secondary work and teacher training were eliminated and all course work was placed on the college level to coordinate with the lower division work offered at West Virginia University.
In 1935, the college was placed under the management of the Board of Governors of West Virginia University. The legislature changed the name to Potomac State School of West Virginia University. In 1951, the college assumed its current name, Potomac State College of West Virginia University. It began serving as a regional campus of the university and still does. All of the college’s academic and administrative services are coordinated through the university in Morgantown, while the responsibility for budgetary support of programs and activities resides within the college. Potomac State offers 16 degree programs at the two-year associate level, including agriculture, business, criminal justice, and the arts and sciences. In fall 2011, the college had 1,800 students.
Among the distinguished individuals who attended Potomac State College are Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University; John Kruk, former professional baseball player, most notably affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies; and Admiral Joseph Lopez, former commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces in Southern Europe and former commander-in-chief for the U.S. Naval forces in Europe.
Potomac State College website
Written by Donna Hanna-Walker
Conley, Phil, ed. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing, 1929.
Ambler, Charles H. A History of Education in West Virginia: From Early Colonial Times to 1949. Huntington: Standard Printing & Publishing, 1951.
Courrier, Dinah. Summary of the History of Potomac State College. Mar. 2000