In 1912 the Yazoo County Agricultural High School was located at Benton, and it is one of the largest and best of its kind in the state. [A] few years later a Consolidated High School was located here, graveled roads were built in every direction from Benton. [W]ith this added educational facilities and good roads people began moving back to Benton, several new stores were opened, a telephone exchange was established and lines built throughout the eastern part of the county, a deep well was put down.
. . . .
The Agricultural High School is just east of Benton on the Canton Highway, they have as well as the school buildings and dormitories for the boarding pupils, a demonstration farm and orchards and gardens, and raise most of the food they use.
WPA Source Material for Yazoo County, “Towns” (c.1938)
A few weeks ago, I showed a few pictures of the elementary building at the Benton school campus, which was included in a list of “America’s Most Outstanding School Buildings (since 1945)” in American School and University, 1951 edition. That building no longer stands, but three buildings remain at the campus, which has been abandoned since the late 1990s: the administration building, a c.1960 gymnasium, and a frame teacher’s apartment building.
At one time, between 1912 and the early 1930s, almost every county had an agricultural high school: a central boarding school for rural students who desired a secondary education. Roads were so bad and automobiles were still so new and unreliable that driving into town every day was not an option. Yazoo’s agricultural high school, like many around the state, dissolved in the 1930s and became just Benton Consolidated School. Others morphed into our first junior colleges. Only a few “original” AHS campuses remain–the junior college campuses in almost every case have grown so dramatically that they don’t have any of their original buildings or they have been drastically altered; the campuses that were abandoned in the 1930s have mostly fallen down on their own over time. One of the Clay County AHS buildings in Pheba up near West Point is being restored using an MDAH Community Heritage Grant. So, this campus as Benton, even in the disrepair it’s in, is a rare treasure I wish we could find a use for.
I first saw the campus back around 2000–at that time it had only recently been abandoned and everything was locked tight. I could see through the door windows though that alot of school equipment had been left in the building. I’ve seen this before in abandoned schools, where desks, cafeteria equipment, trophy cases, textbooks–all has been left to rot or be stolen–very disturbing neglect of public funds. Anyway, the next time I passed by a few years later, many of the doors in every building were wide open and no equipment was left in the administration building. As an architectural historian, of course, my curiosity revels in open doors, but as a preservationist, I know that they bode ill for the buildings.
Recently as I came back to Jackson from the Delta, I decided to swing through Benton again to check on the school. This time, I found boarded and chained doors, but broken out windows and signs of past vandalism.