Hampton High School is the direct descendent of the Syms-Eaton School, the first free school in America established in the American colonies. Syms Free School was founded in 1647 and soon after, in 1659 the Thomas Eaton Charity School was begun. These two schools operated individually until 1803 when the schools were combined and moved to Hampton. They opened in 1805 as one school.In 1845 Hampton Academy was formed from the joint school but was later claimed by the school commissioners who made it the “district school” in 1855. Boys were taught in one half of the building and girls in the other. The school was burned during the Civil War and the burning of Hampton in 1862.
After the war, the original mortgage bonds were reinvested and the second Hampton Academy was constructed on the same site as the original. It included the first high school building which opened in 1875. High school classes were introduced between 1887-1890. Hampton High School had its first commencement in 1896 with the graduation of two students, Miss Bessie Birdsall and Miss Blance Bullifant.In 1900 the Hampton Academy building was moved tothe new West End Academy, with 108 students in attendance. The building was for all primary and high school grades. It had no cafeteria, auditorium or gym. There were no school buses. Students rode bicycles or horses. Students at West End Academy played football for fun and won their first state football championship in 1912. As the school grew, commencement was moved to Old Soldiers home (site of the present Hampton Public Library).
Due to an increasing enrollment, a seperate high school building was provided in 1914, officially taking the name of Hampton High School. On June 25, 1921 Hampton High School became an independent school used exclusively for the education of high school grades. It was located near Darling Stadium and opened with 496 students. It was known as Hampton High and Elizabeth City County High School. The building contained 19 classrooms, labs, a library, gym and auditorium big enough to hold the commencement exercises. Curriculum was expanded to include general, college preparatory, science, commercial, home arts, electrical classes, physical education, and music appreciation.
Hampton High was rated in the top ten school in the state of Virginia and the West Point Military Academy acknowledged that it accepted Hampton graduates without the standard entrance exam.In 1956 construction was begun on the current site. Due to the building’s shape and “seemingly endless halls” it became known as the “little pentagon”. Enrollment continued expanding requiring students to attend in shifts. When Kecoughtan High School opened in 1962 they took on the overflow.Hampton High has always excelled in challenging its students. In 1984-85 it was selected as one of the best schools in the United States when it received the national Award of Academic Excellence from the Department of Education. Hampton High has seen “the glory of a maturing nation and the pain of depression and warfare. Yet through it all, the school has always respected and upheld the traditional values of educational achievement and pride in one’s community…”
“Integrity, honor, and loyalty embody the true spirit of Hampton High School, and it has only improved with age.”
Hampton High School–A Century of Excellence–a commemorative booklet, 1996