GCA enjoys a history that stretches much further back than its founding in 1965. California ranchers Nathaniel and Emeline Hurlbutt bought the property in 1914 in what was then Reeves, Georgia. Having received personal counsel from Ellen White, they observed the work of E. A. Sutherland and P. T. Magan in Madison, Tennessee, before establishing their own institution to care for the sick and orphaned and to train missionary nurses, health educators, farmers, teachers, dietitians, evangelists, and colporteurs. 

Shortly before her death, Mrs. Hurlbutt deeded the institution to the Laymen’s Foundation. In 1944, the medical and educational entities were named for benefactor Lida Scott, becoming Scott Sanitarium and Scott Schools. After an accidental fire, operations ceased on July 1, 1959. Subsequently, the property was purchased by the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for the purpose of building a secondary boarding school. 

Construction of the academy began in 1961. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough money to finish the building project, so the Penny Campaign was born in the winter of 1964. People from across the conference began gathering pennies in an effort to raise enough money for the construction of the school's music wing. There was even a penny shortage in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia due to the dedication of the people collecting the pennies. The campaign was successful and GCA opened its doors in August 1965 to 166 students.