The Signal Mountain Grammar School first opened its doors in 1926, acting not only as a school, but as a community gathering place for the young town of Signal Mountain. Until 1957, it was the only public school within the town limits. Today, it is the oldest remaining public building on Signal Mountain. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
The original building was designed by a local architect in the Craftsman style, with exterior walls of coursed fieldstone and steep gabled roofs. The main entry is made up of a distinctive five arch portico. At one time, a bell tower existed above the main entrance and signaled the beginning of the school day. The V-shaped building has classrooms along the outside, and a 200-seat auditorium in between.
In 1949, a large addition was constructed at the end of one arm of the original V-shaped building. This addition increased the number of classrooms from four to twelve, and added a dining area and kitchen. Portable buildings were added later, putting the total number of classrooms at 16.
Much of the building, both inside and out, still looks as it did when constructed. The original wood and tile floors, plaster walls, wooden doors, and large windows can still be found. A few of the original milk glass fixtures still light the way inside.
The school eventually changed its name to Signal Mountain Elementary, but students were not the only ones who could be found roaming the halls. Civic groups, church congregations, and others have used it as a place to hold meetings and gatherings throughout its history.
When it closed as a public school in 1998, its future was uncertain. A group of citizens worked with the Town of Signal Mountain to lease the property from the Hamilton County Department of Education, and started the Mountain Arts Community Center. In 2009, the property was gifted to the Town.
Today, the Mountain Arts Community Center still calls the former Signal Mountain Elementary its home. Children and adults continue to use the historic building as a place to gather, learn, and grow. Classes are available in everything from painting to martial arts, and from cooking to violin lessons.
As the original building nears its 100th birthday, it is showing its age. Over the years, important and necessary maintenance work was delayed or ignored. Much of the work to be done is cosmetic, but there are also major renovations that need to be tackled. It is our mission to restore, maintain, and improve this historic building so that future generations can continue to learn within its walls.