Far-Sighted Citizens Forced Need for Science Hill in 1867

Recently, my wife and I attended my 55th Science Hill High School reunion, which included the combined classes of 1959-60-61. We were the “babies” of the attendees.  While many classmates go to these events faithfully every five years, others never attend or make an occasional appearance. Sadly, many have left us; some cannot be present for a multiplicity of reasons, which include health issues. At the urging of Bernie Gray, I want to pay homage in today's column to my three favorite classes by providing a brief early history of our school. I will feature more later.

Science Hill High School as It Appeared When It First Opened in 1868

According to an old 1941-42 scrapbook, Johnson City became the proud possessor of the school largely because of a small group of far-sighted individuals who perceived the need for such an institution of learning shortly after the Civil War ended.

In 1941, Thad Lacy, an officer of the school's Alumni Association, announced that plans were being completed for the annual Science Hill Reunion to be held Friday at the long deceased high school on N. Roan Street.

Mr. Lacy quoted from the original minute book of the first Science Hill Literary Society that resided in the ownership of Mrs. Peter J. Naher of E. Holston Avenue. It showed the interest expressed by society members to obtain an adequate high school or “seminary,” as it was called, for the then-small town of Johnson's Depot. Extracts from the original Minute Book are as follows:

“February 1, 1867. First minutes of Science Hill Literary Society: president, J.H. Wagner; vice-president, M.C. Wagner; secretary, M.F. Young; and treasurer, A.H. Yeager.

“July 19, 1867. Whereas the members of said society were interested to such an extent of education and virtue in our community that they conceived the idea and are attempting to build an institution of learning to be known by the name of Science Hill Seminary in honor of Science Hill Literary Society and for the promotion of the cause of education and virtue and whereas the State of Tennessee granted a charter for the protection of the proposed institution, recognizing H.H. Carr, J.M. Johnson, A.H. Yeager, J.Q. Williams and B.W. Akard. Members of Science Hill Literary Society, as trustees of said institution, have the right to instruct said trustees in regard to wishes of the society, Science Hill Literary Society is head of the author and head of the proposed institution.

“B.W. Akard, 88, of Weatherford, Texas, one of the charter members of the original society, said: “We knew it took gall, grace and greenback, and while we were supplied with the first, we had little grace and no greenbacks at all. But we started a subscription. Not one of us had a respectable suit of clothes, except John Johnson, who was always a tidy looking sort of chap. I subscribed $40; I had $2. I chopped and hauled wood for the railroad through July and August.”

Unidentified Newspaper Clipping about the Opening of Science Hill in 1868

The Science Hill Male and Female Institute, forerunner of the present day high school, which resulted from these pioneers' plans, was dedicated October 27, 1867 and was opened August 24, 1868. N.E. Hodges, principal of Science Hill commented: “We  at the high school are looking forward to homecoming day. We shall have guides to show the visitors through the building and hope many will 'visit on the hill' Friday.”

Tea was served to visitors on Homecoming Day at Science Hill from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Lunch was served in the cafeteria from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., followed by a football game that was played between Science Hill and an unspecified Jacksonville, Florida team. A dance was held on Friday evening in the gymnasium for members of the Alumni Association, their dates, Science Hill seniors and the two teams.

The alumni group was formed early in 1940, largely through the efforts of Miss Regina Eiseman, who is largely remembered for her long tenure as principal of Junior High School that once stood at N. Roan and W. Fairview.