Abandoned Mississippi: School for the Blind

I know this isn’t a particularly preservationist thing to say, but one of the things I love to do is find abandoned places and explore and take photographs of them. I guess part of it is the thrill of discovery, but another part is the melancholy of being in a place that once was loved and full of life and now is missing its people. I think the producers of Life After People are probably the same way.

Mississippi has lots of abandoned places, maybe not as many as a place like Detroit, but still, the movement of population in our state has created a lot of ghost towns and places bereft of people. It’s the opposite problem in the suburbs of Jackson, where there’s been a huge influx of people in the last 20 or 30 years. Many historic buildings and farmlands have disappeared, replaced by subdivisions purporting to be Arcadian.

Today will be the start of an occasional series called Abandoned Mississippi, and for our inaugural post, the Mississippi School for the Blind:

School for the Blind campus, north side of Eastover Drive on I-55, Jackson

School for the Blind campus, view from I-55, Jackson

Administration Building, School for the Blind, rear elevation

Administration Building, School for the Blind, rear elevation, natatorium to left

I believe this is the second location of the School for the Blind (the first was located where Baptist Hospital is now), and it was originally a white school–the school for black students was on Capers Drive just north of West Capitol and I believe the campus is still there although used as some sort of detention center. The School for the Blind has now consolidated with the School for the Deaf on the south side of Eastover Drive, leaving this campus on the north side of Eastover Drive pretty much abandoned and deteriorating.

The administration building, out in front of the campus and facing the interstate, was built in 1949, designed by Jackson firm Drummond & Christian in association with Hattiesburg firm Landry, Matthes, Olschner & Associates. The dorms and vocational building to the east of the admin building (you can see one of the dorms to the right in the upper photo) I think were designed by Emmett Hull (the husband of Marie Hull the artist and cousin of E.L. Malvaney) late in his career. I love this campus for its cubist approach–all sorts of intersecting volumes and boxes, and that amazing red brick section on the south end (it houses an indoor pool) with the steel windows wrapping all the way around. It’s so mid-century Modern it can’t help itself–very cool and angular. Unfortunately, I think the developers have big plans for the land once the state sells it to them. Does anyone else love this campus or is it just me?

I don’t usually have good “before” pictures for many of the abandoned buildings I see, but in this case, there’s a wonderful series (Series 2233 for those who simply must know) at the state archives with photos of this school–here’s some to show you what the campus was like when it had its people:

School for the Blind, c.1955--working farm taught vocational skills

School for the Blind, c.1955–working farm taught vocational skills

School for the Blind, c.1955: the swimming pool inside the red brick section on the south side

School for the Blind, c.1955: the natatorium (red brick section on south end)

The natatorium when it was new and shiny

The natatorium when it was new and shiny

Next time you’re flying northbound on I-55, as you come up to the Meadowbrook exit, look over to your right, and give this interesting campus a second look.



Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Recent Past, Schools, Urban/Rural Issues

27 replies

  1. Yes, I love it, too! And thank you for this; I was just trying to find out last week who had designed these buildings (all I came up with was Hull for the dorms).

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  2. What luck! 2 days after you post pictures of the MS School for the blind, I decide to do some research on it for my family tree!

    I believe my grandfather was a student here (most likely at the first campus, though). Do you have any more information on the school’s history? Unfortunately, I live about 1,000 miles away and can’t visit the state archives myself. Any info anyone can provide would help fuel my research!

    thanks in advance!

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    • Well, that just proves that I can, in fact, read minds even at a great distance :–)

      I think I know of some pictures and maybe a little historical information about the first location, but I’m not near my research stash until the weekend, so I’ll get back to you with what I find when I get back into town. If I don’t have anything, you can always contact MDAH and give them a research question. I think they charge $15 for an hour of research for those living out-of-state.

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  3. JMO, just wanted to make sure you knew I had posted some pictures of the old Institute for the Blind at http://misspreservation.com/2009/07/15/lost-mississippi-institute-for-the-blind-jackson/

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  4. It appears that the campus will be disappearing. At least I don’t see evidence of the old in the presentation video fo the District at Eastover…

    http://www.ddg-usa.com/Projects/SS-MM_Eastover/Project.html

    While I like the project, I wonder how much of the old campus will survive. Probably not much. Thoughts?

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    • Thanks for sending this link. There was an article in the Clarion Ledger about it today with a picture of this model, and you’re right, I don’t think anything of the campus will survive if this development gets off the ground. Strangely the article mentioned specifically that the old superintenden’ts house–probably the smallest building on the campus–will be torn down, but didn’t say anything about the other buildings. Nothing in the model bears any resemblance to the school or dorm buildings.

      It makes me sad because I’ve grown to appreciate this campus and I wish others (i.e., those with power and money) could also appreciate it and find a way to develop it with new buildings interspersed with the old and preserve this piece of Mississippi history. Actually, I’ve heard lots of pie in the sky development plans that never got moving, so I’m adopting a wait and see attitude toward this one as well.

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      • Just stumbled across your site. I also hope for the best for all old buildings we have left. I teach a Green Design class for Interior Designers at Antonelli College and I am constantly trying to educate new designers to the idea of reuse and re purposing.

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  5. I did indeed love that campus, as I was a student at the school in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m so sorry to see it fall apart. I live out-of-state now. What is the condition of the old campus now?

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  6. The old campus is still there, waiting for whatever is going to happen. But it continues to decline and is not being maintained other than cutting the grass. The disposition of the property appears to be headed in the same direction, i.e. demolition and re-development as a New Urbanist shopping/living center.

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    • I feared as much.

      I wish there were more pics of the inside of the building. I myself was impressed with the auditorium set-up with all the stage curtains, footlights, and even a pipe organ. Unfortunately, I only heard that organ played once in my years at the school, and even then it was in disrepair.

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  7. i love finding old abandon and haunted places to go and explore.but i can’t seem to find anyone to go with me.i live in braxton,ms and i don’t drive,os if there is anyone out there who loves doing the same thing and is looking for someone go with them look me up.you can find me at facebook under bernadine watkins i’am the one with a pic of me and my husband and son.
    from bernie

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    • I just discovered this site. My interest in the campus stems from the fact that a distant relative on my father’s side of the family was an opthamologist and served as Superintendent of the school in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s. His name was Dr. Walter Scott Sims. The campus still has beautiful grounds. It’s a shame that the state can’t make some use of the property.

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  8. Dearest:

    SEARCHING TO
    speak with you and family members, which are still living. Please contact me RE: the school. My last known address for my auntie, the mail came back return to sender. Volunteer, born in Gulfport, MS and living now in LA, CA. My aunt’s info I will share with those who need to hear. I always always with a smile in her presence.

    Staring at her cooking our food, serving us, keeping the “clothes” of the household, organized. I did see a motor cycle stunt by her, once, while on the back holding on while riding out into the sunset of Biloxi Bay, MS.

    Bam,
    of the Marcus Franklin Shanteau, Sr. Family.
    (310) 452-5033/998-1618

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  9. How did you get on the campus? I went down there back here in May and I got treated to a security guard telling me it was private property and to stay off.

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  10. I took the wide-angle image from the interstate–almost got myself killed for that one. The other one is from the Eastover/Frontage corner, and I think it was just simply luck–in and out as quick as possible. Of course this was 3 years ago. As far as I know, the property is not in fact yet private, but maybe the money and paperwork has finally changed hands.

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  11. I went to MSB at the Eastover location for two years in the mid 1970’s. When the Capers street and Eastover locations were combined I stayed for a year and left for a public high school. Eastover was not maintained in an excellent manner in the 1970’s, but Capers street was horrible by comparison. The most frightening aspect was the belief, by some original Capers street staff, that it was a really great place. Others knew how bad it really was on the campus.

    It was during this period that developers and the Waller administration wanted to move all of the schools to Whitfield Sanitorium and turn the property into a Sears shopping mall. My mother and others discovered the plot for profit at the childrens expense. When it hit the press things exploded in the profiteers face and resulted in emberassment for all the plotters. The facility was designed for education and should remain that way.

    I don’t know why a college or university has not taken it over and used it for the intended purpose. It would be perfect for Jackson State, Tulane, Hinds, or a private college. The side effects on the school and students nearby would have to be taken into consideration, first and foremost.

    Someone asked about the inside of the administrative building, where offices and classrooms are located. The only thing of real interest is the use of transsums and layout for cross ventilation. The offices and auditorium layout are of some interest. Walls and stairwells are of cast concrete. All rather cold and institutional, including the dorms.

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  12. I actually went through the entire complex that wasn’t closed off/bolted shut. I got good photos of the inside of the auditorium, administration offices, and I think the infirmary (?). If anyone is interested, I’ll slowly post these and much more on my blog:

    theabandonedtravels.tumblr.com

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  13. One problem with Jackson is there is so much government property that doesn’t generate any property tax revenue for the city. This is, or was, prime property that could generate some revenue, but it won’t if it remains government property.

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  14. It’s actually being demolished as we speak. The teacher’s house was demolished back on the 19th, and the Superintendent’s house is being moved across the street. Everything else is going within a three month period.

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  15. it’s actually completely gone now. they are going to build a movie theater and offices on the property now called “The District at Eastover”

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  16. Is there a school in Ms at all for the visually impaired ???

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. MissPres News Roundup 9-4-2009 « Preservation in Mississippi
  2. MissPres News Roundup 3-5-2012 « Preservation in Mississippi

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