The German Reformed Church founded Catawba College in 1851 in the town of Newton in Catawba County. Due to the need for young ministers, the church formed the Education Society to raise funds to send men to northern colleges in the 1830s. During a meeting in 1848, the Education Society proposed the idea to “found a college of our own in our own midst” (History of the College). Martin L. McCorkle, along with several Newton merchants and German Reformed Church members, donated $15,000 and ten acres for the founding of the school.
Named for the Native Americans who once inhabited the local area, Catawba College opened its doors in 1851. The fledgling institution became a high school academy during the Civil War because of the lack of financial support and lack of incoming students. From 1865 to 1885, Catawba High School taught local students in the region. In 1890, Catawba College regained its college status as a co-educational institution.
In the 1920s, Catawba College moved to Salisbury in Rowan County. With an offer of start-up funds, several acres of land, and a partially-finished dormitory, the Reformed Church successfully transitioned the college to Salisbury in 1925. Presently, Catawba College continues its affiliation with the United Church of Christ (a joint denomination of the Evangelical and Reformed Churches) that started in 1957.
As the sixth oldest higher academic institution in North Carolina, Catawba College has grown to a student body of over 1,300 students. Over forty building make up the 275 acre campus, along with a 189 acre ecological preserve and a 300 acre wildlife refuge. The institution offers four-year degrees in fields such as Arts, Science, and Business Administration and a master’s degree in Education. In addition to these home campus programs, Catawba has a joint study program with Appalachian State University for deaf education, a program with Duke in environmental science and forestry, and physician assistant and medical technician programs with Wake Forest.