Picture of Professor James Clayton Bowman

Professor James Clayton Bowman

One of Mitchell County’s earliest and most important educators was James Clayton Bowman. J.C., as he was known, was born in Mitchell County in 1862, married Anna Mary Young in 1885, and then went to Athens Georgia to further his education. He returned and purchased a 3-room house and the land on which he was to build a school in Bakersville. He likely began building the school in 1890. We are told that materials were donated and that local men gave their time without pay.The Bowman Academy opened in 1891. The school had to be self-supporting, for it would be a decade before state funding would be available to school systems. Unfortunately, the school was not a financial success, and Mr. Bowman sold the building to the Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, which established collegiate schools also in Fruitland, Sylva, and Cherokee County to join the one in Mars Hill. These were intended to be stepping stones to Wake Forest College, now University, and the Baptist Female University, now Meredith College. Major support for the school then came from the contributions of Baptist Churches in Mitchell County. Mr. Bowman apparently remained at the newly named Mitchell Collegiate Institute because he also served 3 terms in the General Assembly: 1903, 1905, and 1907. He is credited with having had a significant role in Governor Charles B. Aycock’s school reforms.  The movement was led by the Central Campaign Committee, whose stated purpose was “to advance public education through all possible legal means, such as campaigning for local school taxes, consolidation of school districts, better school buildings and equipment, longer school terms, and better-trained and higher-paid teachers.” Desiring better educational opportunities for his 13 children, Bowman moved to Berea, Kentucky and became Professor Bowman. He and his children returned to Bakersville in 1929 when Bakersville High School was renamed Bowman High School in his honor. He died in Berea at the age of 91 following 2 weeks of “heart insufficiency.”


The Bowman Family Left to Right: Willard Orlus, Thomas Oliver, Ned Ornell, Lela Oleeta, Susan Olina, George Omar, Helen Ophelia, Maude Onieta, Charles Oniell. Frederick Oscar, Joseph Orlando, Robert O’Conner, David Oberon, Mary Anna Bowman, James Clayton Bowman (Unknown Photographer)

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