Many of the Holston Institute Eagles have soared far beyond the reaches of the former Blountville school, which was established in the late 19th century.
Holston Institute was built in 1886, 13 miles from the city of Bristol, close to the current sites of Tri-Cities Airport and Northeast State Community College. A number of one-room schoolhouses already existed in the community, but none offered the curriculum local parents were hoping to give their children, according to a written history by Thelma Barnes, a former member of the Sullivan County Teacher’s Association.
The original building was brick and there were two stories. Timbers for framework were donated and a local sawmill sawed the logs into suitable lumber. The document states the bricks for the structure were molded and burned on the campus.
The first and second grades were held in a large room on the second floor of the building. Another room on the second floor was set aside for the Masonic lodge.
The school’s founders were Masons, and they set forth several goals for students when creating it: To cultivate within the pupils a love for knowledge, to encourage character-building habits and bring the best training possible within the reach of the people.
The school also held a Sunday school service each week.
The building was destroyed by fire on March 16, 1911. Men and boys alike brought in horses, picks, shovels, scrapers, wheelbarrows, a team of oxen, wagons and other equipment to pull down the remaining walls, clear the debris and begin excavation for a new school, according to Barnes.
The new building cost about $7,000 and was completed by Nov. 1, 1911.
Most teachers lived on or near the school’s campus and some students came from as far away as Gate City, Big Stone Gap, Mendota and parts of Kentucky to live on the grounds. Boarding at the school was available for $6-$8 a month.
A tin bucket and dipper was the first water system at the school. Students thought it was a privilege to be chosen as part of the water brigade. The school eventually installed water pipes inside the building.
By 1920, the campus included three buildings to house the number of growing students. In the early 30s, a gymnasium was added that also served as the school’s auditorium. It was replaced in 1941 as part of a project by the National Youth Administration.
The main building was renovated in 1954 to match the newer buildings on campus.
Sullivan County Commissioner Sam Jones has fond memories of attending the institute. He attended from first through 12th grade and was part of the school’s largest graduating class in 1966.
He said he remembers enjoying the musicals held each year and everyone participated, so they were really good.
The county turned the building into a high school in the 1960s. When the switch was made, new programs, such as Future Farmers of America, were added. The school also had basketball, baseball and track teams.
Jones said basketball was a big deal at the school. He played on the team freshman year but said he wasn’t very good. He enjoyed following the team around the county to watch the games once he stopped playing.
“We built friendships that have lasted all of our lives. When you were in a school like that you knew most everybody,” he said.
The school became a junior high in 1968, when Blountville and Holston high schools merged to become Sullivan Central. The junior high school remained in operation until 1979, when the school fell into such disrepair that it was deemed unfit for students.
Jones said several community members banded together after the school closed to try and reopen the gym and auditorium as a community center in the 1980s, but the school board decided to use the facility as storage space instead.
It is still a storage facility today, but the board is considering other options for the building.