The first school building in Grand View sponsored and constructed by the American Missionary Association (AMA) was Jewett Memorial Hall. Three floors in height and located at the very edge of the plateau, it was named in memory of Charles Jewett Sr., the father of Lt. Charles Jewett Jr., a Piney Falls resident. Affording a "grand view" of the Tennessee Valley nearly 1000 feet below, it contained a library, a study hall, a chapel, classrooms and rooms for boarding students.
GNI was the first school between Cincinnati, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia, to offer twelve complete grades of education. As people in the region learned of the new school, a flood of students enrolled, some coming from as far as California and Havana, Cuba. The first chapter of the Christian Endeavor Society in the southeastern U.S. was organized in Grand View (ultimately 61,000 chapters were organized worldwide), and entire families relocated to Grand View to ensure their children received a quality education. Soon, nine large, wood-framed structures populated the school campus.
In 1888, one year prior to the opening of Jewett Memorial Hall, GNI graduated its first class. Appropriately, the school's first graduate was a native of the Grand View community - Edith Townsend. For the following three decades over two hundred students would follow Edith's path across the graduation stage. Just over 2000 students attended GNI during its 37-year history. Most came for a brief period to learn reading, writing and "counting." It was not uncommon for teenagers and even grown men and women to be placed in the primary grades.
No matter the length of time spent at the school, the students' lives were permanently enriched. At a time when Tennessee's rural schools were of the poorest quality and the school year was no longer than three months, GNI offered continuing classes nine months out of the year, taught by teachers from Dartmouth, Harvard, Vassar, Welsley and Yale. Studies listed in the school's 1889-1890 catalogue include, "Latin, Greek, Music, Art, Morals and Manners, Geometry, Bookkeeping, Natural Philosophy, Tennessee Geology, Botany, School Economy and Primary Methods, Zoology, U.S. Constitution and Government, English History, Ancient and Medieval History, Trigonometry, Surveying, Instrumental Drawing, English Readings and Composition."
Those previously destined to become subsistence farmers became doctors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, writers, artists, bankers and scientists. As revealed by their letters written later in life, GNI students remained forever grateful to the school which made them the best they could be.
GNI was a private boarding school relying on tuition-paying students. At the turn of the century, a free public education was more available, and by 1919 county governments were operating their own "high schools." That same year the AMA discontinued its total financial support for GNI, but monies from local residents matched with reduced funding from the AMA kept the school open. After two years, the AMA discontinued all support and the Grandview community was unable to locate another sponsor for the school. GNI's last commencement exercise for graduates occurred in the Spring of 1921, and "public school" classes began on the old GNI campus the following school year.
When the Grandview Normal Institute permanently closed its doors in 1921, over half of those teaching in Rhea County public schools were GNI graduates.