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A brief history of Science Hill High School

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 1, 2019 at 10:08 PM

When taking a look at the growth of any community, one needs to look at its schools and education system. Much like Johnson City itself, Science Hill High School has witnessed a lot of changes over the years. 

On Aug. 24, 1868, Science Hill High School — then known as the Science Hill Male and Female Institute — held its first classes after being established in 1867. The founding of the school and its first class sessions predates the sesquicentennial anniversary of Johnson City by more than a year.

The school’s first building was erected by Tipton Jobe using materials provided by individual citizens throughout the community, who also helped with labor.

This was back when the town was still known as the unincorporated community of Johnson’s Depot before it was incorporated as Johnson City in December 1869. 

In 1880, Science Hill was granted a charter when it continued running as a community school before later becoming a free public school.

It wasn’t until 1889 that the school was organized into a grade system similar to what the Johnson City Schools district uses today.

In its formative years, Science Hill was located on the hill near Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church and adjacent to the old Johnson City Public Library, known then as Mayne Williams Public Library. In the 1910s, the original school was razed and a new building was erected on the same site.

As time passed and Johnson City acquired a public school system and a school board, a 1936 newspaper clipping said the school buildings at that time were “not of sufficient capacity to accommodate the children of Johnson City.”

With a new grade system, overcrowding remained a concern in the 20th century, and as the population of the town began to grow during the Baby Boom of the 1950s and 1960s, the old Science Hill building became too overcrowded. This led the school system to realize the need for a larger school, which led to the construction of the new campus on John Exum Parkway in 1961, where the school stands today.

According to local historian Bob Cox, Science Hill students paid tribute to the old school on the hill in a program titled “Junior Civitan Variety Show — Tribute to Old Science Hill,” which was hosted on May 12, 1961. 

“The location was the former downtown Science Hill School Auditorium. My classmates could have opted to present it in the nice, new auditorium on John Exum Parkway, the location of our new school,” Cox said. 

“I suspect the students much preferred to do it at the then-empty downtown high school as a parting farewell memorial. After all, that is where a great deal of memories about our school years resided. Sadly, several of our classmates have long since departed us.” 

It would be another three years until African-American students at Langston High School joined the students of Science Hill, and another 18 years before the old Science Hill campus was eventually demolished in early 1979.

Additional construction for the new campus – including 11 classrooms and an expansion of the library and cafeteria – was finished in 1997 to meet the demands of a growing student population once again. 

Today, the school serves nearly 2,300 students. 

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