The first known school in the Whitnel Community was established in the year 1859, two years before the beginning of Civil War. This was a one-room log building located on the old Hickory highway, three miles south of Lenoir. It was known as the Nelson School. The first teacher of the school was Redric Sherrill. The next was Billy Hagler, who was later killed in the Civil War. At this time there were thirty or forty students in attendence. Most students walked several miles to school.
The next school was established in 1869. This was a log building and was known as the Thorton School. It was located a mile and a half southwest of the present Whitnel School. In 1872, the Thorton School was discontinued, and another school building was built on what is known as the Jim West property on Miller Hill Rd. This was called the Underdown School. In 1879, the school was moved, and a building was constructed near the overhead bridge. It was still called the Underdown School, and the school term that had been previously three months, was extended to four by 1880.
In 1889, another log school was built on land owned by the late S.N. Swanson. It was located two miles south of the present Whitnel on Highway 18. It was called the Swanson School. It did not take the place of the Underdown School, but served a different part of the community. The materials for the building and the labor for constructing it, were entirely donated by the patrons of the school.
In 1904, the Swanson and Underdown Schools ere consolidated in a building where American Efrid Mill now stands. It was known as Treland, getting its name from all the beautiful trees found on the property. It was later changed to Whitnel, being named for the late J.L. Nelson and F.B. White. The "Whit" from White and the "Nel" from Nelson became one single entity, which it continues to be today. In 1909, an additional room was added to take care of crowded conditions.
Whitnel School was moved in 1916 to a two story building constructed with four classrooms on the first floor and an auditorium upstairs. There were three teachers at the school the first year and R.B. Bush was the principal. This is the building that served as the Caldwell County Education Center for several years as well.
In 1920, four additional classrooms were added and the school became a Junior High that enrolled 392 students. Ten years later, crowded conditions necessitated sending high school students to Hudson High School. It was then that Whitnel became an elementary school. In 1930, the Mt. Herman School, which had been establisded in 1886, was consolidated with Whitnel. In 1933, Millerhill School, which had been established in 1913, was also consolidated with Whitnel. Another addition was made to the building in 1935. At the time, the auditorium was built on the first floor with space above it on the second floor for three classrooms. In 1940, these rooms were completed to help care for the Hudson students after their building burned. In 1935, steam heat was installed throughout the building. There were twelve teachers and 478 students at this time.