Walter Mathews arrived in Raleigh in early October 1889 to attend the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. When he saw Main Building (what is now Holladay Hall) still under construction, he was a bit curious as to whether this was indeed the college he’d heard about.
So he walked around town before finally going back to the college, finding a caretaker and taking a bed in Main Building’s dormitory area.
Other boys filed in and joined Mathews, who is considered to be NC State’s first student. He is remembered every year when the Alumni Association awards the Mathews Medal to students who have made significant contributions to leadership and service.
The boys got some sleep that night and, then on this day 123 years ago, the faculty held the first classes at the college.
Mathews said in a 1966 archived interview that he took three courses that first semester: mechanics, agriculture and a general studies course.
By the following spring, the faculty had developed two tracks of study, agriculture and mechanics. Students in agriculture had to study the general morphology and the anatomy of plants, vegetable culture and nursery management. Those on the mechanics track would focus on drawing, studying steam machinery, surveying and acquiring skills working with iron and steel during their time at A&M.
“The faculty came in and began to have their registrations, and boys came up to meet them and they got acquainted,” Mathews said of that 1889 day. “Professor [D.H.] Hill, he had the book, and he wrote down the names of the boys, taking them down in alphabetical order beginning with Ashcraft and Allen and Brown.”
And with that roll call, the university was up and running.