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First High School Graduates to Receive “Free Scholarship” from the University of Tennessee


Grandview CampusSituated on Walden's Ridge at the very eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau above Spring City, Tennessee is the small community of Grandview.  It came into being just after the Civil War as a small collection of simple, log structures named “Piney Falls” – a name taken from a 75-foot waterfall located nearby.  Its first residents were an unusual combination of indigenous small farmers and wealthy "northerners" who, just a few years earlier, were enemies on the field of battle.


Among those coming from the north were A. A. Hubbard and M. L. Abbott, who purchased large tracts of land adjacent to the Piney Falls village.  Working in concert with Lt. Charles Jewett Jr., the son of a nationally renowned temperance lecturer, Hubbard and Abbott renamed the village “Grand View” and successfully persuaded the American Missionary Association (AMA) to locate one of its "academies" on a portion of their lands.


The Grand View Academy (later renamed the Grandview Normal Institute to reflect the teacher training mission of the school) opened its doors for the 1884-1885 school year in a pre-existing church building.  Four years later, Jewett Hall was constructed by the AMA – a four-story school building that afforded a spectacular view of the Tennessee River Valley some eight hundred feet below.  


CertificateShortly after opening, GNI obtained a special but forgotten place in the history of the University of Tennessee.  GNI became the first school accredited by the University of Tennessee, with its graduates receiving a full scholarship to the school – no questions asked.  GNI graduates walked across the graduation stage and received a certificate guaranteeing, “Free tuition and registration until graduation or dismission.”    


By 1910 there were ten buildings making up the GNI campus, but despite its academic achievements and its educational contribution to the region, GNI was still a private school dependent on tuition-paying students.  As opportunities for a free education through public schooling became more available in rural areas, the enrollment at GNI dwindled.  The AMA ceased supporting the school in 1925, and the following year just one of the GNI school buildings was converted to a public school. 


During the school’s forty-one year history, two thousand students attended GNI.  Of that number, two hundred graduated with one of the finest pre-college educations available in the South.  The exact number of graduates who acted on the first full scholarships offered by the University of Tennessee is unknown, but from the humblest of beginnings they became doctors, lawyers, ministers and teachers, forever impacting the thousands of lives they encountered.


By B.B. Blevins

To learn more about the Grandview Normal Institute or to donate to the preservation of its buildings and heritage, visit

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