Pittman Center was founded by Dr. John S. Burnett, a Methodist minister and educator who had long dreamed of establishing an educational and medical facility in one of the most isolated sections of East Tennessee. In 1921 funding for this project came from northern philanthropists through the Methodist Episcopal Church, primarily through the efforts of Dr. Eli Pittman, superintendent of the Elmira District of the Central New York Conference. Although the center was only forty-two miles southeast of Knoxville in Sevier County on the Pigeon River in the Great Smoky Mountains, the location was still extremely isolated in the 1920s, accessible only by steep and rugged mountain passes.
From its opening on August 15, 1921, Pittman Community Center filled the educational and medical needs for the surrounding communities. The building itself was a model of modern construction, electrically lighted, steam heated, with modern plumbing facilities. Numerous teachers, primarily from the North, taught the usual subjects and offered courses in home economics for women and agriculture for men. A model farm and cannery at the center provided hands-on education for the students.
By the 1960s, the basic mission of the Pittman Center had been fulfilled as measured by the achievements of hundreds of center graduates. Many Pittman alumni became teachers after completing their education in colleges throughout the state and nation.