Rutherford College is a small family oriented town (population – 1,342) located in the foothills of Western North Carolina, where neighbors know and care for each other and where grandparents pass land on to their children and grandchildren. Our Town is a sort of traffic nucleus, with Charlotte approximately 60 miles to the east, Asheville 60 miles to the west, Lenoir 20 miles to the north, and Shelby 45 miles to the south. We are, in essence, a connector town for Caldwell County and Interstate 40, and looking even further south, to I-85, which takes you into South Carolina and beyond.
The Town of Rutherford College was named for the college that was located here years ago, in the area where Valdese General Hospital now resides. The hospital clinic was set up in one of the college dormitories, more recently used as an administrative building for the hospital. This last remaining college building was torn down in May of 2007 for the expansion of Valdese General Hospital.
Owl Hollow School in the community of Rutherford College was operated by Reverend Basil Gaither Jones until 1850, when Reverend R.L. Abernethy, a preacher, a teacher, and a Lincoln County native residing in Lenoir, North Carolina, was asked to take over the school. The school expanded in 1853 and was renamed Rutherford Academy due to the financial help provided by John T. Rutherford, one of the richest men in Burke County. In 1857 the school had forty students. When the Union divided, military tactics and philosophy were taught, but the school was forced to close at the beginning of the Civil War. In 1868, R.L. Abernethy returned to the school and reopened it as Rutherford Seminary, a four-year college, and the small community around the school incorporated as Excelsior. Three years later the town was renamed Rutherford College. In 1888 Rutherford Seminary had ten professors and 200 students. In 1891, the college burned at its original site (where the First Baptist Church now stands), but was rebuilt in 1893 at the present site of Valdese General Hospital. In 1894 R.L. Abernethy died due to a fall from a horse. His son, "Will," became the president and held the position until 1899 when the school was sold to the Western North Carolina Conference of the Methodist/Episcopalian Church-South. The school operated until 1933, when the Methodist Conference was forced to consolidate its schools due to the great depression; thus, Rutherford College merged with Weaver College in Buncombe County and Brevard Institute in Brevard, North Carolina, becoming Brevard College, which still operates in Brevard, North Carolina. The town was dissolved in March 1933, and was reincorporated on June 1, 1977.
The Town of Rutherford College is bordered on the north by Lake Rhodhiss on the Catawba River, and on the south by the Mineral Springs Mountain. The main street, Malcolm Boulevard, runs for approximately three miles, with numerous homes, churches (two Methodist and two Baptist), two banks, two pharmacies, four doctor's clinics, a car dealership, three convenience stores, and a post office. Our Town also is home to two large industries: Beiersdorf-Jobst and O'Mara texturing.
Our Town has a Manager/Council form of Government. The Town has three full-time employees and three part-time employees.
Services offered in Rutherford College are zoning, street lights, free garbage pickup, water, sewer, and a satellite office for the Burke County Sheriff's Department (with a deputy assigned to our area).
We are 45 minutes from the mountains and about six hours from the beaches of North & South Carolina. Churches of every denomination are found within a twenty- to thirty-mile radius of our Town, and restaurants abound in the area within that radius as well.
On Oct. 23, 2010, the North Carolina Society of Historians presented retired WPCC educator, Lynne Galvin with the WILLIE PARKER PEACE HISTORY AWARD for her book "RUTHERFORD COLLEGE, THE TRUE LOVE STORY AND THE LEGACY". Rutherford College is proud of it's heritage and thankful to Lynne Galvin for researching and compiling the story which tells of the college and it's founder, Dr. Robert Laban Abernethy, a young Methodist circuit rider. The college was named for it's benefactor, John Rutherford of Burke County. This book may be purchased at Rutherford College Town Hall, The Burke County History Museum, and Lindy's Furniture of Connelly Springs, N.C. Cost is $25.00.