History of Newport Grammar School
The first formal education classes in the new community of Newport were held in Pisgah Presbyterian Church. Later, the Newport Academy was conducted at the Masonic Hall, erected in 1874 by Newport Lodge 234 of the Masons.
When the need for an improved school building was addressed, the city fathers purchased five acres on the hill overlooking the town for $500 from Miss Cynthia McSween on December 7, 1897. If the school was erected, Miss McSween agreed to provide a fifty-foot street on the north side of the tract intersecting with what is now known as Mims Avenue. Land for a street connecting to Woodlawn Avenue was donated by Mr. B. D. Jones.
The new school, consisting of eight classrooms and an auditorium, plus the five acres of land cost $8,000. Bonds in that amount were issued by the Board of Mayor and Alderman. The contractor for the original building was C. S. Kennedy, and the new Newport Academy officially opened its doors in 1898.
The 1904 school catalog describes the school as follows: "The building is of hand-molded brick with 16" solid-brick walls and commands a splendid view of the surrounding country. It is two stories and is located in the southern part of the town, occupying the highest point and facing north. There are eight study and recitation rooms, an auditorium, and large halls. It is equipped with furnaces, is modern in design, and is well lighted. Cost: $12,000. Value of grounds and equipment: $4,000. Total: $16,000. The splendid educational plan was established under the urgent demands of the rising generation for better facilities for mental and moral improvement. It speaks well for the citizens of Newport."
Newport Academy provided both elementary and secondary education for Newport's young people until 1917 when Cocke County High School (previously known as Central High School and Newport High School) was erected. However, Newport Grammar School's original structure remains the oldest continually used elementary building in the state of Tennessee.
According to the 1904 school catalog, the most important duty of the school was "the fixing of correct principles of character and conduct." This goal was obviously an important one to the people of Newport because the aim has remained constant throughout the years.
By 1924, the academy, renamed Newport Grammar School, expanded to accommodate increased enrollment. Bonds totaling $100,000 were issued with $75,000 of that amount designated for the addition of a west wing with three stories. The adjoining wing, designed to create a "new building of classical symmetry," was built by Gordon Woodward. The new structure, also featuring 16" solid-brick walls, added thirteen classrooms, a vestibule, an auditorium, and a gymnasium (now used as a daycare center). Presently located on the north side, the entrance to the main building was placed in the center of the two wings.
Additionally, the school's Parent-Teacher Association (P.T.A.) established a soup kitchen and the 20th Century Mother's Club launched a civic project to provide milk to needy children. The soup kitchen soon proved inadequate, but the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II prevented making any improvements to the program.
In 1950 with assistance from the P.T.A., funds were made available for four additional classrooms and a modern cafeteria to be located at the rear of the auditorium. A $60,000 bond issue made this expansion possible, and a Greeneville architectural firm was hired to construct the classrooms.
In 1960, the Tennessee Department of Education determined that the school campus was inadequate for the student enrollment's size. As a result, the Newport City School Board purchased twelve additional acres of land owned by Joe Woody, increasing the campus's footprint to 18.3 acres. Located south of the current building, the land was purchased for $30,000 through capital outlay funds.
In 1961, another $150,000 of bond money was spent to build eight classrooms, kindergarten facilities, and an extension to the cafeteria (now the school's library). In keeping with former expansion decisions, the new structure was connected with the 1950's addition.
In 1964, when enrollment neared nine hundred students, the Tennessee Department of Education inspected the 1898 structure and questioned its continued usage. Discovering that the building was structurally sound, the school board began to make renovation plans (at an estimated cost of $1,085,000) to improve the student facility.
In 1967, the Newport City School Board asked for and received a one-cent sales tax increase, which provided funds for a modern gymnasium (seating for 1,400), a cafeteria (seating for 400), a health clinic, a teacher's lounge, an audio-visual room, music and band rooms, a trophy room, an elevator, and new administration areas. The architectural firm Barber and McMurry was chosen to design the project, and Scruggs Equipment Company and Bob Smith Construction were hired to build and equip the new addition.
In 1978, four more classrooms and an administrative complex were added, and the older portions of the building were completely renovated. Since that time, modest renovations have taken place from year to year. In 1994-95, a new heating and cooling system was installed, made possible in part by a $178,000 grant from the City of Newport.
In 1997, the Board of Education explored the possibility of building an elementary and middle school. Bonds were issued by the City Council, and $6,000,000 were made available for building and furnishing a primary school. The architectural firm Barber and McMurry was again hired to design the primary school, and in 2000, Hardaway Construction Company was employed to construct the building.
The primary building, which houses grades K-2, was completed in December 2001, and students began attending classes there in the spring of 2002. The new primary wing features an administrative complex, an art room, a music room, a computer lab, a playroom, and a modern cafeteria.
Also in the spring of 2000, Irby Contractors was hired to renovate the bathrooms, stairwells, floors, and locker rooms throughout the main building. These renovations, which were funded through bond moneys, were completed in the fall of 2001.
In 2003, the Niswonger Foundation provided matching funds for a computer and science lab in the main building, and plans to create an outdoor science classroom, partially funded through the P.T.A, began. While portions of the outdoor science classroom such as the greenhouse and auditorium are complete, expansion of the project continues today.
Forty-two administrators, both principals and superintendents, thirty-seven men and five women, have led the educational program here at Newport Grammar School over the past one hundred and eleven years. There are currently five administrators on staff.
Newport Grammar School's impressive 177,000-square foot structure still sits majestically atop a hill overlooking the city of Newport. The school serves as a visible monument attesting to the continued belief of Newport's citizens that a good education promotes the success of its children.