Lost Mississippi: Institute for the Blind, Jackson

Institute for the Blind, built 1881, architect Alfred Zucker

In response to a reader’s request after last week’s School for the Blind post, it seemed only fitting that I follow up that first-ever in the “Abandoned Mississippi” series with a first-ever “Lost Mississippi” post about the institution that preceded the School for the Blind.

As I mentioned last week, the Institute for the Blind was located at the northwest corner of Fortification and N. State Streets, and at the time it opened at this spot in 1881, it would have still been on the outskirts of Jackson. Over the years, it shared this “outer space” with other large charitable institutions such as the State Charity Hospital (just next door on N. State), the Deaf and Dumb Institute (to the south a few blocks on N. State), the Baptist and Methodist Orphanages (up a ways on what is now Woodrow Wilson Ave.) and the Insane Asylum (about a mile north on N. State St. where UMC is now located).

I don’t know anything really about the workings of the Institute–the state archives is the place to go for that kind of detailed information–but I did find a few photos of the campus that I’ll share here. The main building with the beautiful mansard tower, designed by our old peripatetic friend Alfred Zucker, was apparently torn down soon after the campus moved to the new location on Eastover Drive in 1948. The two other buildings survived for several decades, subsumed into the growing Baptist Medical Center’s campus until their eventual demolition. I’m also including a clip from a Sanborn map showing how the campus was laid out in 1946, right before it was abandoned.

Institute for the Blind, Administration Building, photo by Carl von Seutter. As noted by Todd Sanders in his <i> Jackson's North State Street</i>, this photo shows that the columns in the upper part of the tower were removed, lowering the roof of the tower, probably inthe 1890s.

Institute for the Blind, Administration Building, photo by Carl von Seutter. As noted by Todd Sanders in his Jackson's North State Street, this photo shows that the columns in the upper part of the tower were removed, lowering the roof of the tower, probably in the 1890s.

Auditorium, Institute for the Blind (1916-1984), designed by Jackson architect Emmett J. Hull in the Pairie style.

Auditorium, Institute for the Blind (1916-1984), designed by Jackson architect Emmett J. Hull in the Pairie style.

Boys' Dormitory under construction, Institute for the Blind, 1934. Designed by the Jackson firm of Hull & Malvaney, this building survived almost hidden within the Baptist complex until it was demolished for a parking lot around 2005.

Boys' Dormitory under construction, Institute for the Blind, 1934. Designed by the Jackson firm of Hull & Malvaney, this building survived almost hidden within the Baptist complex until it was demolished for a parking lot around 2005.

1946 Sanborn map for Jackson, showing the Blind Institute along with its proximity to the Baptist Hospital and State Charity Hospital

1946 Sanborn map for Jackson, showing the Blind Institute along with its proximity to the Baptist Hospital and State Charity Hospital

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Categories: Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Jackson, Lost Mississippi, Schools

23 replies

  1. No one can say enough bad things about Baptist Hospital …

    As well as their architectural indiscretions (demolitions, ugly brutalist buildings) … I live across a side street in Belhaven from their biggest, ugliest clinic where all day long their nurses and other clinic staff come to smoke since they are not allowed to smoke on Baptist premises. We call them the Baptist hobo nurses because they sit on the curb under a “no littering” sign and litter their butts.

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  2. The short piece, and photographs of the old Blind Institute brought back fond memories. My grandfather Dr. M.L. Batson was the superintendent from 1938 up to the late 1940’s. My family lived on the grounds until they/we moved to a home on congress street. One of the neat things that we loved to play in were the circular steel fire escapes in the rear. I grew up playing with many of the visually handicapped children. After the move out on the new highway the building was a place of adventure where played. The picture you indentify as the auditorium was later used by the Baptist School of Nursing.

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  3. What an interesting place to grow up! Although you probably didn’t realize how unique it was until later. I also hadn’t realized until I clipped that map that the State Charity Hospital was right next door. And then with Baptist Hospital across N. State, you were just surrounded by fascinating people and events!

    Were the fire escapes circular slides? I’ve seen them often in historic photos of buildings around the state, but I’ve only seen them still in place at the old Batesville School in Batesville. I guess they were considered a safety hazard, but I’ll bet they were fun :-)

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  4. From June until August, 1863 my Great Grand Father Wiley Lewis, a confederate soldier, was a patient in the Blind Asylum Hospital in Jackson, from where he wrote a number of letters, of which I have copies. My research led me to conclude the Blind Asylum at the corner of Fortification and State Streets was converted into the referenced confederate hospital during the civil war, and that the building, whose picture you display, was that hospital in 1863. If you believe I am in error, can you shed any light on the Blind Asylum Hospital I reference (that name was included in the referenced letters) and it’s location and buildings in 1863?

    Thanks
    Roland Lewis

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    • Mr. Lewis, this is very interesting information because this building pictured above was not built until 1881, so it couldn’t have been the one converted to a confederate hospital. Possibly there was a blind asylum on this site before that, in an earlier building, but I’ve never heard of it. It wouldn’t be out of the question, because the insane asylum, built in the 1850s, was even further out of town, located on this same road. I’ll keep my eyes out for information about an older blind asylum, and meantime, maybe somebody who knows more about the details of Jackson history will come along and provide some information here. Thanks for sharing this tidbit and raising a lot of new questions!

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      • Thanks for your response.
        H. Grady Howell, Jr. in his recently published book, “Chimneyville” included an article about Jackson in 1859, written by a Prof. George Steuckrath who was traveling in Jackson at that time. Prof. Steuckrath reports: “—The Institution for the Blind is located in the northern part of the city, and receives a fostering care and pro’ection from the state through all seasons of the year. It is a large frame building with walks regularly laid off and adorned with the rarest kind of shrubbery.”

        On page 30 of his work Chimneyville, E. Grady Howell, Jr. reports that in 1862, “The Mississippi institute for the Blind also became a military hospital and its staff and students forced to relocate to Monticello, Ms.”

        The the confederate defense line, of which I have a copy, appears to have been drawn in close proximity to what is now Fortification St. My great grand father’s letters identify that he was writing them from the “Blind Asylum Hospital in Jackson”, and on two or three occasions reports the “yanks” had overtaken the hospital. This was during the time Sherman burned parts of Jackson on four occasions.

        I look forward to further information being shared on this matter.

        Roland Lewis

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      • While recently researching online the history of the Civil War in Jackson, I came across the list of places Sherman burned. Included in the buildings burned was The Blind Institute on North Street. I also discovered legislation in the 1850’s authorizing the establishment of a Blind Institute in Jackson. I am assuming this was the predecessor of the one that was later built at Fortification and State Streets. I am seeking information, from anyone, on the North Street Institute for the Blind, including it’s Street address.

        Thanks,
        Roland Lewis

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    • (blind Asilome)
      Jackson Miss May the 10th 1863

      This is what William wrote to his Paps,

      *if you do come when you get to the depo go write strait up to the State house and then turn write north and inquire for the blind Asilome. it is near leg a half write north of the State house.

      My Great Aunt married William’s son Joseph…I’m also looking the the old location of the Blind Asylum. I believe William is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave. died, 20 May 1863 in the Asylum, Just ten days after this letter was sent..

      Mike from Arkansas

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      • Mike;
        On this your post of Feb 5, 2014 10;10 PM, regarding the Blind Asylum Hospital during the Civil War. you reference a relative of yours that was a patient there, and wrote his dad:
        “if you do come when you get to the depo go write strait up to the State house and turn write north and inquire for the blind asilome. it is near leg a half write north of the state house.”
        Do you, are anyone reading this, know what is meant by, a measurement of “leg a half”?

        Thanks,
        Roland Lewis

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        • HI Roland, You don’t suppose he meant ( a league and a half ? ) A league is three miles.Thanks to Greyfox for pointing this out, I have looked and looked for the old building with no luck, I had a chat with a lady that works at the Cemetery , this is what she wrote :

          Quote about the asylum :
          Short answer is no, although the old city map hanging in the Chancery Court building may show the location. The Blind Institute was established in 1848, and it struggled until the late 19th century with only a few students and some ineffective leaders. The building was used as a hospital during the Civil War. There are pictures (online) of a newer School for the Blind building in a different location on North State Street near the present Baptist Hospital, built about 1881 and used for about 70 years. The soldier’s description probably indicates a location between the Old Capitol and Fortification Street..

          Quote number 2:

          RE: William Grizzle
          There is a well-maintained section at Greenwood Cemetery for unknown Confederate soldiers. There are no other records, other than the military records, for burials of Civil War soldiers there.

          This is the link for the Civil War letters, you want to read the last few letters on page #2 , the very last letter has the quote.

          Read the W. C. Grizzle Letters
          http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mscalhou/StoriesandlettersCivilWar.html

          Mike Foster

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          • This is William Sherman siege map of Jackson, Knowing that Sherman would not want to cause harm to the Blind and without the map showing a blind asylum building, the (league) hypothesis comes back into play, three miles ” write north ” of the State house is the Insane Asylum . .

            Quote from cwsaywer: ( perhaps this would help: [an 1863 map of Jackson, MS. courtesy of Gen. W T Sherman]

            It shows an “insane asylum” appx 2 miles “write north” of the state house …
            just off Canton Road.
            I have no problem with “insane asylum” and “blind asylum” being the same ..
            based on 1860’s thinking …

            http://usgwarchives.net/maps/mississippi/civilwar/jacksonsiege1863.jpg )

            Mike

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  5. A detail of the early history that I never knew, thank you. After leaving his post at the Blind Institute my grandfather was Cheif of Staff at the Charity Hospital at Manship and North State. Now friends, this was one interesting place. In the hot days of summer all the windows were open and as we played ball in Lindburgh Park next door we we privy to horrible moans and groans. I had a pal who had polio and was confined to an Iron Lung on the second floor. There must have been several dozen of these devices pumping away, giving life to victims of this then mysterious ailment. Poor people from all over south Mississippi kept a vigil on the grounds where they camped out and ate on the grass. The photo that I once had of this building provided by Archives and History went out to sea with Katrina, but, I can see it as clear as day in my mind. How the Baptist Church convinced the city to give them the park confounds me to this day. I played in this park day light till dark for most of my youth. When I return to this area it is like a stranger in a strange land.

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  6. Another new-to-me piece of information–I didn’t realize there was a public park in this area. Was Lindburgh Park to the north of the charity hospital or west? And yes, you’re right, that is interesting that the city gave up a park, and it also explains why Belhaven has struggled to have a park for so long.

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  7. The park in question was named for Charles Lindberg/Lindburgh? If you revisit the Sanborn Map that was sent in, the Park was on the west side of Charity Hospital and was bordered on the south by Manship Street and on the west by President Street. The old Blind School auditorium was once used as domitory for the Baptist Hospital School of Nursing and it was in this park that their Softball team practiced. When they practiced the ballfield was off limits to us heathens. This was an active city park and each spring a portable building was brought in that contained all sorts of equipment, gloves, balls, horseshoes, bow and arrows, badminton set and things us poor kids had never experienced, and it was all brand new.

    People would be shocked today to learn that all the refuse from the hospital was dumped into a large wooden container out back, and I mean the worst of infectious items. It was here that we could, after digging around find old red rubber I.V. tubing from which we made slingshots. No one ever got sick, amazing.

    Will try to order a copy of Chimneyvill today, sounds fascinating.

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  8. Where did you get the map of downtown from?

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    • The Map is a Sanborn fire insurance map. They are available online and some libraries have them also.

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      • To whomever posted last with the excptional photographs of the Blind Institue, bravo.
        Archives and History has a few of the old Charity Hospital that should also be posted to fill in gaps. All in all, thanks to all contributors we are weaving a bit of history for others who may be interested.

        All of the Sanborn Maps are for sale on CD. Google this and you will see the site.

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  9. Dear All:

    Glad to hear the news. Much Love.

    Bam

    Ralph and Katie’s daughter
    Santa Monica, CA

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  10. To my understanding, the MS Institute for the Deaf & Dumb was used as a Confederate Hospital during the Civil War. A part of the building still stands, but it’s in a dangerous part of Jackson. I can’t remember the street name that went to it.

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