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Tour of the Belmont Abbey College Historic District
Item 8 of 8
William Gaston Science Building was constructed in 1967 and is currently host to the departments of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physical sciences, and psychology. The building was named after William Gaston (1778-1844), a prominent attorney, congressman, and justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Gaston was a leading figure in the development of the Catholic Church in North Carolina in the early 19th century when no organized parishes existed or permanent churches established.

  • Lithograph print of William Gaston. North Carolina Museum of History
  • Construction of the William Gaston Science Building in 1967. Source: The Spire Yearbook, Belmont Abbey College, 1967.
  • Completion of the Gaston Science Building. Source: The Spire Yearbook, Belmont Abbey College, 1967.
  • Photo of the 1969 protest by Belmont Abbey students at the Gaston Science Building. Source: Fr. Paschal Baumstein, Blessings in the Years to Come: A Pictorial Perspective of Belmont Abbey (1997)
  • Students participating in lab exercises at the Gaston Science Building. Source: The Spire Yearbook, Belmont Abbey College, 1969.
  • Students participating in lab exercises at the Gaston Science Building in 2018. Source: Gaston Gazette, August 2018.
Bishop John England (1786-1842) of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, selected Gaston as one of five Catholics chosen to host religious services at their private homes. Gaston and his Catholic neighbors eventually raised enough money in 1841 to construct St. Paul’s Church of New Bern.1 Gaston's greatest political prominence occurred during North Carolina's Constitutional Convention in 1835. Most notably, he advocated for revision of Article Thirty-Two of the old state constitution, which stipulated that North Carolina’s elected officials and civil servants be Protestants, a reflection of anti-Catholic sentiment during the colonial period. Gaston persuaded the delegates to revise the constitutional requirement and remove the associated stigma against Catholic citizens. While a slaveholder, Gaston also proved a critic of slavery and the racial norms of his day. During the 1835 Constitutional Convention Gaston advocated for the suffrage of African American freeman and for other democratic reforms. As a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Gaston also ruled in favor of an African American slave abused by his master, a case cited in a critical dissent to the infamous U.S. Supreme Court Case decision Dred Scott v. Sanford.2 Gaston also composed "The Old North State," a patriotic anthem adopted as the state's official song by the North Carolina legislature in 1927.3 In honor of William Gaston's public service, Gaston County and its principal city, Gastonia, are named in his honor. 

In 1969, an event that resonated with Gaston's historic connection to the issue of civil rights impacted the campus community. Belmont Abbey College desegregated in 1954, but African American students remained a distinct minority within the student body. Amid the tumult of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, around 4:30 a.m. on April 29, 1969, seven African-American students took to the roof of the William Gaston Science Building and staged a public protest. This protest called for college reforms concerning African American representation in the student body, faculty, and academic curriculum, and for recognizing the birthday of the recently-assassinated Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, a call went out for the police.

In what would become a dramatic 14-hour event, the takeover of the Gaston Science Building became a tense standoff after the arrival of crowds and onlookers from the neighboring community. News of the event was broadcast on the nightly national news and reported by local newspapers for several days. The protest ended peacefully after negotiation with the college administration.  However, the students involved in the protests received indefinite suspensions. The protest became a formative event for that generation of Belmont Abbey students, and the most significant student protest on the campus during the tumultuous Sixties.4

In 2018 the Gaston Science Building underwent extensive renovation to facilitate continued scientific instruction for the 21st century.5

1. Daniel Hutchinson, “Roman Catholics.” In James Clark, Glenn Jonas, and Willis Whichard, eds. Religious Traditions of North Carolina: Histories, Tenets, and Leaders (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Company, 2018): 268-86.

2. J. Herman Schauinger. William Gaston: A Carolinian (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1948).

3. Stephen Case and Amy Kemp, "Song, The Old North State." NCPedia (2017)

4. Matthew Memrick, “45 Years Ago, Abbey Students Issued a Call for Change.” GastonGazette, Gaston Gazette, 3 May 2014, agoabbey-students-issued-a-call-for-change/305039957.

5. Eric Wildstein, “Renovation Heralds Future for Belmont Abbey Science Programs.” Gaston Gazette, Gaston Gazette, Aug 12 2018,