In 1899, brothers B. B. and D. D. Dougherty founded the Watauga Academy. Beginning with only fifty-three students, Watauga Academy had grown steadily to over one hundred students in the higher grades by March 1901. B.B. Dougherty saw a need for trained teachers in Watauga County as well as throughout North Carolina. Dougherty was instrumental in getting a bill passed for a state-supported school in Watauga County, which became the Appalachian Training School for Teachers. Classes commenced on October 5, 1903 and 325 students attended during the first year. When it began, the school had a public school course, high school course, and a special course for public school teachers.
The school grew steadily throughout the years, eventually attracting students from forty-eight counties in North Carolina during the 1920-21 school year. Tuition at the Appalachian Training School was free for all North Carolina residents agreeing to teach for at least two years. The college offered diverse cultural and athletic activities for students such as music and art classes, student publications, literary societies, and team sports for both men and women. In 1916, Appalachian Training School began operating year-round, including two six-week summer terms. In 1921, the training school was reorganized as a normal school with a four-year high school for students who graduated from the seventh grade and a two-year normal school for regular high school graduates hoping to pursue careers as elementary school teachers. During the 1924-25 school year, 1,097 students were enrolled. In 1925, the school became the Appalachian State Normal School dedicated to training public school teachers in North Carolina. It was a normal school for four years, when in 1929 the name was changed to Appalachian State Teachers’ College and it became a four-year college, the predecessor of the current Appalachian State University.