The North Carolina Visitor Center




Campbell Folk School

The John C. Campbell Folk School

A Unique History





John C. Campbell, born in Indiana in 1867, and raised in Wisconsin, studied education and theology in New England. Like many other idealistic young people of his generation, he felt a calling to humanitarian work.


At the turn of the century, the Southern Appalachian region was viewed as a fertile field for educational and social missions. With his new bride, Olive Dame of Massachusetts, John undertook a fact-finding survey of social conditions in the mountains in 1908-1909. The Campbells outfitted a wagon as a traveling home and studied mountain life from Georgia to West Virginia.


While John interviewed farmers about their agricultural practices, Olive collected ancient Appalachian ballads and studied the handicrafts of the mountain people. Both were hopeful that the quality of life could be improved by education, and in turn, wanted to preserve and share with the rest of the world the wonderful crafts, techniques and tools that mountain people used in every day life.

The folkehojskole (folk school) had long been a force in the rural life of Denmark. These schools for life helped transform the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. The Campbells talked of establishing such a school in the rural southern United States as an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farm.

Folk School Founders, Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler


After John died in 1919, Olive and her friend Marguerite Butler traveled to Europe and studied folk schools in Denmark, Sweden and other countries. They returned to the U.S. full of purposeful energy and a determination to start such a school in Appalachia. They realized, more than many reformers of the day, that they could not impose their ideas on the mountain people. They would need to develop a genuine collaboration.


Several locations were under consideration for the experimental school. On an exploratory trip, Miss Butler discussed the idea with Fred O. Scroggs, Brasstown's local storekeeper, saying that she would be back in a few weeks to determine if area residents had any interest in the idea. When she returned, it was to a meeting of over 200 people at the local church. The people of far west North Carolina enthusiastically pledged labor, building materials and other support.


In 1925, the Folk School began its work. Instruction at the Folk School has always been noncompetitive; there are no credits and no grades. Today, the Folk School offers a unique combination of rich history, beautiful mountain surroundings, and an atmosphere of living and learning together.



A delivery of chairs. Photo circa 1925 from the Folk School archives.



These chairs were crafted by community members and donated to the Folk School during the 1920s. The chairmakers inscribed their family name on the backs of the chairs they made. Many of the chairs are still being used today. 



Downtown Brasstown, North Carolina, circa 1925



Brasstown community members pose in front of Fred O. Scroggs' store. Fred O. Scroggs donated the first 25 acres of land used to start the Folk School. Many community members filled out pledge cards, offering support in the form of labor, livestock – even day lilies for the grounds! 



Keith House, John C. Campbell Folk School



Keith House, completed in 1929, is the hub of Folk School and Brasstown activity. In the Community Room, Folk School students and community members come together for concerts, contra dances, auctions and weekly displays of student work. 



1-800.FOLK.SCH (365.5724)

828.837.2775 • (fax) 828.837.8637

Contact us by email


John C. Campbell Folk School

One Folk School Road

Brasstown, NC 28902



Office Hours:

Mon.-Fri. 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST


Craft Shop and History Center Hours:

Mon. - Sat. 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST

Sun. 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST


John C. Campbell Folk School is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.