Historic School Buildings
Historic schools are an important part of the historic fabric of the state and the neighborhoods they were built in. Too many of our schools have been lost to demolition, vandalism, the elements, or replacement with newer modern schools. While natural causes such as Hurricane Katrina have destroyed a handful of historic schools in the past few years, man-made demolition or abandonment is often the more likely cause of death for these buildings. One of Mississippi’s oldest public schools, the Speed Street School in Vicksburg, built in 1894 and one of only five 19th-century public schools, was torn down in March 2009 for its salvaged brick. The 1948 James Q. Allen gymnasium at the old Clinton High School became the center of a local controversy when the school board decided to demolish the building in order to sell the land on which it sat. Although a group of local citizens fought to save the building, the fate of the building was sealed when the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) declined to intervene. The gymnasium was torn down in November 2008. The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program, managed by the MDAH has provided much-needed support for these important community landmarks around the state, including the old Corinth High School; West Clay Agricultural High School (one of the few remaining agricultural high school complexes left statewide); the old Hattiesburg High School; Eureka School, Hattiesburg’s historically black high school; Prentiss Institute’s Rosenwald building; Midway School (Tishomingo County); the old Canton High School; and Pine Valley School (Yalobusha County). These school buildings—large and small, in towns and rural hamlets—hopefully, will remain as useful centers for their surrounding communities for many years to come.
2017 Update – In Progress
Historic school buildings around the state are being preserved and given new life. However, there are still many old school buildings that are in desperate need of help. Two schools that have recently come to our attention are the Old Salem School in Noxubee County and the Old Fayette High School in Jefferson County.
Old Salem School (1914) is currently owned by the Salem Historical Society, a non-profit community group created in hopes of protecting the structure. The group has aged and somewhat fizzled, but there is still some interest in the community. Currently, the floors on the west side of the 2nd floor are sagging considerably. In addition, structural posts on the east side 1st floor are compromised, and some effort has been made to provide bracing. Glazing on a number of windows is gone now, and there are some issues with the roof. The property is at a point now where the structure is intact enough that it can still be saved, and still retain some of the original materials and construction. However, it’s at a point where if no work is done, the main structure of the floor plan might be lost. Noxubee County seems to have a significant number of preserved antebellum homes for a county of its size. The Old Salem School offers a valuable glimpse at a rural structure from the post-reconstruction era, as well as the early days of organized public education in Mississippi in the early 20th century. Today, Noxubee County has an increasingly aging population, and many of the citizens who have memories of community life in the Old Salem School have died. T would be great to see that heritage preserved. The Old Salem School is the last primarily intact public school building that remains in Noxubee County from the early 20th-century era when Mississippi began transitioning from one-room schoolhouses to more organized consolidated school districts. Old Salem School was one of seven community-based schools in Noxubee county during this time period. According to the application for the National Register of Historic Places, the county spent $7000 on the school, and it was used for elementary and high school grades until 1932 when the high school grades moved to Macon High School.
Old Fayette School, constructed in 1928, it is a great example of public-school construction of that era. Today the building is abandoned and completely exposed to the elements. The exterior walls, however, are still intact. With a lot of effort, the build.ing could still be restored.
Another School building we have our eye on is the Old Benton High School(1920) in Yazoo County.