In 1806 a boys’ school was incorporated under the name of Hampden-Sydney Academy to take advantage of the provisions of the Compact of 1806 that set aside land for the benefit of county academies. Its name was taken from the Hampden-Sydney Academy established in Virginia in 1775 by the Andover Presbytery. Although it was chartered in 1806, it did not open until 1817. Three years later, the academy and East Tennessee College temporarily consolidated, a union that terminated in 1826.
Hampden-Sydney was reorganized under a new charter in 1830, suspended activities in 1834, and reopened in 1839. In 1850 the academy secured a new charter, but after two years of operation, it closed again. It remained closed from 1852 to 1866, when it was reopened and served as East Tennessee University’s (the University of Tennessee in 1879) preparatory department.
In 1868 the trustees of Hampden-Sydney sold the old academy site and built a new facility at Commerce Avenue and State Street (then State and Reservoir Streets), which was completed in 1877 and tendered to the board of education for use by the public schools. A girls’ high school was opened in the building in 1878. The city sold the old building to S. L. DeArmond for $663.50 to raze the building so that the city could grade the lot and rent it as a parking lot.