Fort Hill High School was constructed primarily as a result of Public Works Administration funding, a New Deal Program of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The Great Depression of the 1930's created a national unemployment rate of 25%, initiating wide spread economic distress and dislocations. New Deal legislation's caused a variety of federal programs and agencies to be formed intending to reduce unemployment in ways that would directly benefit local communities. Two of those New Deal programs were the Public Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. Locally, Constitution Park, Greenway Avenue Stadium, and a variety of other smaller projects fell under the jurisdiction of the WPA while larger public buildings, like Fort Hill High School, came under the authority of PWA guidelines.
New Deal funding relating to Fort Hill was formally initiated in November 1934 and September 1935, respectively, when the PWA committed federal funds not to exceed $230,000. The project was labeled PWA Docket #7323. Other sources brought the total amount pledged for the school to $600,000. Bids were subsequently advertised, prepared, and submitted to local officials. On April 5, 1936, it was announced that George Hazelwood, local contractor, had the lowest bid at $557,809. The initial contract did not provide funding for the auditorium, so the superintendent of schools was authorized to investigate the possibilities of requesting an increase in the grant from the PWA. Subcontractors were William M. Clark of New Castle, Pennsylvania, and Sterling Electric Company of Cumberland, Maryland.
A discussion ensued concerning the naming of the new school. Suggested names were Queen City High School, Potomac High School, Fort and Hill High School and Fort Hill High School. According to official reports, the Board of Education of Allegany County unanimously decided upon the name Fort Hill High School on August 12, 1936. The "Fort" reference was derived from a Civil War skirmish at Nave's Crossroad often referred to as the Battle of Folck's Mill. The high ground above the mill was fortified by Union troops against Confederate forces.
At the time critics questioned the effectiveness of the New Deal government programs, satirically labeling the projects; "We Poke Along," or "We Piddle Along" make-work jobs. Fort Hill High School and Constitution Park stand in opposition to those critics as they have provided eight decades of service to Cumberland residents.
When Fort Hill opened it had 1763 student and 88 teachers. Mr. Heisey was the first principal for Fort Hill and the subjects included; English, Mathematics, French, Latin, History, Home Economics, Physical Education, Industrial Arts, and Journalism. Music was taught to seventh and eighth graders, who were also located here. Assemblies were held every week with the junior high and senior high alternating weeks. Many say Mr. Heisey completely controlled the school and student body while principal. It is said that Mr. Heisey could enter the auditorium and walk across the stage at an assembly of almost 2000 students and one could hear a pin drop. Margaret Smith, part of the first group of students, suggested "Res, Non Verba" as the school motto. The latin phrase translates into "Deeds, Not Words" and is still the school motto today.
The school has under gone renovations and additions over time. In 1980 a new gymnasium was built adjacent to the original facility. The entire building underwent a major renovation in 1991-92 with the additions of a music wing, greenhouse, and art rooms. One of the striking features of this renovation is the layout of the courtyard with its multiple features including added classrooms, a playground, and patio with picnic tables.