William Newland -- champion for Appalachian and Avery -- built life in Lenoir

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 05:45 PM

Anyone with a black-and-gold jersey or an Appalachian State seal on their degree owes a debt to a man from Lenoir.

So does anyone who lives in Avery County.

William Calhoun Newland was born in McDowell County in 1857 but lived in Lenoir, except short break for three years at West Point, from 1873 until his death in 1938.

Newland was a lawyer, a three-time mayor of Lenoir and a North Carolina lieutenant governor. He was instrumental in the creation of Avery County. And, while in the General Assembly, he introduced the bill that created the Appalachian Training School for Teachers – which later became Appalachian State University.

The Caldwell Heritage Museum’s board of directors nominated Newland for this year’s Caldwell County Schools Hall of Honor. It’s the first nomination the directors have made, but they plan to follow up with more in the years to come, board member Mike Gibbons said.

“The museum has the task of trying to preserve all of the relevant history of Caldwell County,” Gibbons said. “You know, some of these long-dead people were very, very important to Caldwell County.”

To this day, Newland is the only person educated in Caldwell County to have served as lieutenant governor of North Carolina.

The Caldwell County school system that Newland attended was a predecessor to a predecessor – worlds removed from the school system here today. He attended high school before there was a West Caldwell, South Caldwell or Hibriten High – and before Lenoir High School.

His degree came from Finley Academy.

Newland was admitted to the bar in 1881 at the age of 21. The story is that he was a masterful lawyer, Gibbons said.

“They say he had a way of mesmerizing people with his voice,” he said. “He was very commanding.”

Newland later served three terms as mayor of Lenoir before being elected to the General Assembly and then, from 1908 to 1913, serving as lieutenant governor.

During that time, he pushed for legislation to create the county that’s still North Carolina’s youngest. Avery County was pieced together from parts of Caldwell, Mitchell and Watauga counties in 1911.

While in the General Assembly, Newland led the charge for a state-funded teachers college in Boone. He was one of Appalachian’s original trustees and when he died was still serving as chairman of the board.

At Appalachian, you can walk through a freshly renovated dorm, perched at the edge of the stadium parking lot, that bears Newland’s name.

In Avery County, he lent his surname to the county seat.

But in Lenoir, there aren’t many signs Newland was here – at least, not anymore.

There’s a small street off Hospital Avenue called Newland Street. The old Caldwell Hospital – now Hilltop Rest Home – was built on property that once belonged to Newland’s father.

But other than that, “the Newland name has almost disappeared from the county,” Gibbons said.

The heritage museum board thought Newland was worth remembering.

He’ll be inducted into the Hall of Honor today at 6 p.m.