The settlers who came across the mountains around 1800 developed the village of Hixson according to priority, building their homes, their houses of commerce, and their church. For many years “school” was a one room cabin located wherever a citizen could spare the use of such a building. The faculty was one schoolmaster who used the rod often and well, and whose salary was paid by the parents. Among those in the Hixson area were Methodist-owned Barker’s Chapel on Ely Road, Clinch Hill School on Mill Road, John Hixson School near our current high school building, the Sarah Arnett Johnson Boarding House School on Old Hixson Pike, some 300 yards north of the railroad crossing, and the Gann School on Cassandra Smith Road. Barker’s Chapel was described as an austere little cabin, furnished with rough-hewn benches, a pot-bellied stove, a water bucket and dipper, and, reportedly, several carefully selected and frequently used “hickories,” a description which was probably representative of the others, as well. A “subscription” tuition was charged those parents who could pay with the deficit made up by the more prosperous landowners and merchants.
The settlement was not officially named Hixson until the late 1870’s. Railroad builders called it “Lookout” because they got their first glimpse of Lookout Mountain from the village. The first post office was called Lakeside, but later renamed in honor of Mr. E. F. Hixson, the first postmaster and member of the County Board of Education.
As early as 1883, a small tract of land, now occupied by the Masonic Hall, was given to the county by Ephraim Hixson. With little more than approval by the county officials, a two-story frame building was erected using materials salvaged from the old Dallas Bay Courthouse. In addition to the 3 R’s, several “secondary” subjects were added and basic requirements for the upper grades were set up for earning certificates and diplomas. Several early local and state leaders in education attended this school. In 1905, Hixson had a well-operated secondary school and was selected as one of the four places for the location of a Hamilton County High School.
In 1906, a twenty acre tract of land was given to the county by Mr. and Mrs. P.A. Rogers. Historical documents conflict in reporting the cost of this building as either $12,500 or $18,400, but in the fall of 1908, the new building was ready for occupancy. Before construction was complete the school was granted a “first-class” status, allowing it to grant diplomas to the graduates of 1909, the end of the first school year in the new building. The student body of about 120 included twelve grades and was served by Principal G. M. Swingley and three teachers, Miss Hallie Hixson, Miss Hartley Embrey, and Mrs. Ruby Wolfe. Only Miss Embrey was designated as a high school teacher to the forty-eight high school students. Hixson was the only school in the area offering high school work.
The first graduating class from the new high school, the Class of 1909, consisted of three girls: Lula Gooden (Lewis), Anna Pitts (Clarke), and Carrie Watkins (Foster). All three became “career” teachers, their combined record amounting to more than one hundred years in educational work.
In 1915 a school wagon with two horse power was the beginning of our transportation system. Only students living more than three country miles were permitted to ride. Reportedly these passengers spent much of the time in transit pushing the wagon up steep hills and through mud holes. Before the school bus system developed, students from Red Bank, Mountain Creek, Falling Water, Ganns, Miller’s Grove, Gold Point, and Daisy commuted to Hixson by various means of transportation. Some walked, while others rode horses, bicycled, or came by horse and buggy. The Daisy students rode a twice-daily train called The Accomodation.
In 1924 six new rooms were added to serve the expanding school. In the early 30’s one of the large halls was partitioned and a separate two-room frame building was added. This building housed the primary grades and was located behind the school. When it was no longer needed for classrooms, it was dubbed the “Shot House” because the county health nurse came twice a week and set up a clinic to give immunization shots.
The building of the Chickamauga Dam in the early 30’s brought new families into the area and many became permanent residents. The resulting school population increase caused an overcrowding and by 1935 a site adjoining the High School was purchased for a new building. At a cost of $120,000, it included fourteen rooms with gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, science laboratory, and an industrial arts room. Grades nine through twelve moved into the new building in 1937. At the dedication, Professor J.T. Jones, principal, accepted the building on behalf of the Hixson Community. The elementary school occupied all the vacant rooms of the old building and the “Shot House” was left for storage and the health clinic.
The completion of the DuPont Plant between 1946 and 1948 brought an influx of families with demands for new homes. This in turn brought a steady growth in the school population and new facilities were added in 1957 including a library, study hall, and science department.
In 1959 Hixson High School was accredited by the Southern Association of Secondary Schools.
In 1961 Hixson Elementary was built moving grades 1-6 and opening the entire campus to grades 7-12.
The continued growth in the school population again caused overcrowding, and in 1964 plans were begun for a new high school building to house grades ten through twelve. The building was completed at a cost of $1,304,047 and a formal dedication ceremony was held in the fall of 1966. This school, Hamilton County’s first circular and twin-domed building, offered all basic educational courses as well as a variety of electives.
The 1908 building was torn down in 1971, making room for the addition of a cafeteria and industrial arts shop to Hixson Jr. High. In 1975, the city of Chattanooga annexed a large portion of the Hixson area and the Hixson Schools became a part of the Chattanooga Public School System. Hixson High School became the largest high school in the city system.
While relieving the overcrowding at the School Drive facility, the new site remained little more than a school building. Athletic contests were still conducted at the old site with students and fans traveling the two mile distance to sell-out crowds. Encouraged by the endorsement of nearly every civic group in Hixson, Co-chairmen Tony Martino and Howard Sompayrac began their public solicitation of funds with a kick-off in August of 1976 to build a Hixson Community Stadium. Coach Martino stressed that Hixson was the only school in the city system without a stadium, yet with a large and loyal following of fans. It was time for the school to have a stadium on site. With the total involvement of the community, faculty, student clubs, parents, and the Chattanooga City School System, the Hixson Community Stadium was funded and built. Dedicated in prayer, as noted in the cover pages of the 1978 Wildcat Yearbook, “On this 16th day of September, 1977, we the citizens of the Hixson community do dedicate this new, spacious, and lovely stadium….”
Between the years of 1983 and 1986 Hixson High School was recognized for its excellence, statewide and nationally. HHS won the Carnegie Award for School Excellence in 1984 and was named one of six top high schools in the State of Tennessee. Recognition also came from the U.S. Dept. of Education as a National School of Excellence in 1984 and 1985.
In 1985, the Chattanooga Department of Education purchased an additional 10 acres of land behind the school at a cost of $48,000 to accommodate additional parking and provide a practice field for the band. At this point the school was using 10 portable buildings to house classrooms.
A two-story instructional wing for the mathematics, the music, and the foreign language departments was added in 1986 to alleviate overcrowding. The 1986-87 school year brought other changes, as well, as the No-Pass/No-Play rule was enforced in athletics and a new 60-40 desegregation policy was enacted resulting in teacher and administration transfers. The Chattanooga City Schools opened the first magnet school in Chattanooga and Hixson High School joined the Coalition of Essential Schools focusing on the concept of small schools benefiting student achievement.
The fine arts program at Hixson High School boasts an award winning Marching and Concert Band which has over the years traveled internationally. The Choral Department produced many musicals and sent the Varsity Choir on a European tour. Students and audiences alike, continue to enjoy the dramatic performances of our Theatre Arts program. Currently, Hixson is the only high school outside the magnet school programs offering Orchestra and Advanced Placement Art.
The Chattanooga School System embraced middle school reform and by 1992 all junior high schools in the school system had been restructured to middle schools except for Hixson Junior High. Hixson Junior High School was the last junior high awaiting space at the high school plant for 9th grade. In 1992 ground was broken for a $2.3 million addition which included 14 classrooms, 2 chemistry labs, 2 home ec labs, a student publication room, teacher work areas, locker space, and an elevator. The music department was also expanded, the Guidance and Administrative offices moved, and the Commons enlarged allowing 450 students to have lunch at the same time. Hixson High welcomed a freshman class in the fall of 1993.
The next high school reform in 1996 brought block scheduling with faculty and students alike adjusting to fewer, but longer class periods. In 1997 the Hamilton County Schools and Chattanooga City Schools merged bringing new zoning districts, as well.
In athletics Hixson High boasts state championships in more sports than any other Hamilton County high school. They include: Wrestling in 1973, 2009, and 2010; Softball in 1983, 1984, 1987, and 1988; Girls golf in 1985; Boys Soccer in 1988; Boys Golf in 2004; Girls Bowling in 2006; and Boys Bowling in 2007. Improvements continue on our campus sports complex with the relocation of the softball complex in 2006 and the addition of a shared concession building for the softball and soccer facilities in 2011. Through the generous support of NFL players and Hixson Class of 2001 alumni Josh and Daniel Bullocks, the Bullocks Strength Complex was opened in 2007 for the benefit of all Hixson athletes.
The Hixson High School Hall of Fame inducted its first members in the spring of 2004 honoring a wide variety of alumni who have achieved success and fame and most importantly have given back to the community. With new members nominated annually, it includes alumni in all fields: education, theater, the music industry, medicine, community service, and more.
In 2009, Hixson High School marked its Centennial Year with a year-long celebration. Honoring 100 Years of Teaching, Leading, Achieving, Inspiring, the celebration involved alumni, current students, former and current faculty, and the Hixson Community. We revisited our rich history with an oral history project where current students met and learned from Hixson students of the past; recognized alumni lettermen of each decade including nine members of the first Wildcat football team of 1948; participated in community service projects; hosted the first annual “former faculty and staff reception;” invited alumni to say “goodbye” to the 1937 building which would cease its operation as a school in anticipation of the new Hixson Middle School opening in the spring of 2009; planted a Centennial tree and 100 daffodils; collected 100 soccer balls for an alumnus serving in Iraq to give to the children there; donated 100 books to our library; unveiled a Centennial art piece painted by alumnus, former teacher, and Hall of Fame member Jack Denton; and celebrated a full day on our campus with memorabilia, music, and the awarding of the first Hixson Centennial Alumni Scholarship, made possible through the generosity of alumni with a special check presentation by the 50th graduating class, the Class of 1959.
The principals of Hixson High have included: Mr. G. M. Swingley, Dr. J. T. Jones, Mr. R. W. Bohanan, Dr. Sam McConnell, Mr. S. Dean Peterson, Mr. I.K. Snyder, Mr. Thomas O. Dye, Mr. Robert A. McCabe, Mr. James L. Milburn, Mr. B.E. Edwards, Dr. Tom T. McCullough, Mr. Gerald Bailey, Mr. Angelo Napolitano, Mr. Steve McClure, Dr. Don Swafford, Mr. Eddie Gravitte, Ms. Christine Couch, and Mr. Lee Sims.
Considering 1909 as the official year of our first Commencement, we look back with pride over the past one hundred plus years and with high hopes of service, to the challenging years ahead.