You may remember from Monday’s post “Mississipp’s Outstanding Post-War Schools” that the elementary school at Benton in Yazoo County was included in a list of Mississippi’s best school buildings constructed between 1945 and 1951. I also noted that this particular building was no longer standing. But thanks to a remarkable survey of schools completed by the State Dept. of Education in the 1950s and now housed at the state archives, we have some really wonderful documentation of the Benton building that I ran across while trolling through lots of archival boxes and acid-free folders.
If you’re interested in learning more about this 1950s survey, click here for a fascinating article about it in the Winter 2005 issue of a magazine called CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship. Here’s a little clip from that article:
This three-year survey was the beginning of Mississippi’s attempt to bolster the state’s system of racially segregated schools—which were, up to that time, separate but by no means equal—by bringing facilities for black and white children to the same standard. As part of this equalization effort, each of the state’s 82 counties was required to survey its school buildings. The surveyors took photographs of each structure and documented condition, number of classrooms, date of construction, and other data. The result was a vast body of material about public schools at that time, including many that were abandoned by the end of the 1950s.
As for the Benton elementary building, it was constructed in 1948 and was designed by the associated firms of N.W. Overstreet & Associates and Trolio & Liddle, both of Jackson. Trolio & Liddle was a young firm at the time, while Overstreet, of course, had been around forever and still had another 15 years of career in front of him.
Obviously, it’s hard to tell colors, but I suspect this was built of that yellowish tile brick that was a larger size than normal brick but not as large as a cinder block. Often this kind of brick had a pattern to it, as if a comb had been run through the exterior face to score it. I can’t quite make out what the band at the top of the taller auditorium section is–maybe red brick? metal? I really love the pattern of the large auditorium windows, with the concentric rectangles.
Within the 1950s school survey information, there’s lots of random stuff–sometimes, there’s almost nothing about a particular building, other times there’s even a floor plan. Luckily for us, Benton falls into the floor plan category–yay! For your viewing convenience, I’ve turned the plan to match the orientation of the photo above.
I’ve seen alot of schools in my day (and not because I spent 5 years in 1st grade), and the only part of the floorplan that I think would have been really progressive is the inclusion of the lunchroom (so much cozier a word than “cafeteria” don’t you think?) with the rest of the building. Normally in the 1930s and 40s, they were still building separate little structures not only to reduce fire danger but also to keep smells out of the main classroom building. Maybe in Benton Elementary they had figured out a way to vent the lunchroom so that the smells didn’t waft through the rest of the building.
On the other hand, the style is very mid-century modern, kind of a transition between Art Moderne and International styles, with the all-flat roofs, intersecting volumes, not a column in sight, etc.
Sometime in the 1990s, the building either burned or was demolished–only the foundation remains.
Much of the rest of the campus, formerly known as the Yazoo County Agricultural High School, is still standing and I think I’ll cover that in an Abandoned Mississippi story that will have to wait for another day.
Oh, and where’s Benton? It’s just up the road from Yazoo City . . .