Abandoned Mississippi: Yazoo County Agricultural High School

Benton High School, built 1930 by Lumbergh & Hayes (Canton architects/builders), abandoned late 1990s

Benton High School, built 1930 by Lumbergh & Hayes (Canton architects/builders), abandoned late 1990s

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.

Benton School teacher's apartments (possibly built as a dorm for AHS students?), c.1930

Benton School teacher’s apartments (possibly built as a dorm for AHS students?), c.1930

Gymnasium, Benton School (c.1960)--a very cool interior with the clearstory windows going most of the way around

Gymnasium, Benton School (1960, John L. Turner & Assoc., archts.)–a very cool interior with the clearstory windows going most of the way around

Administration Building, Benton School, main hallway--beautiful space that's still salvageable

Administration Building, Benton School, main hallway–beautiful space that’s still salvageable



Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, Schools, Urban/Rural Issues

25 replies

  1. Very neat, E.! Thank you!

    Do you know the Whitfield School in Jones County “near” Ellisville and Ovette?

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    • I do know and love Whitfield–I’ve stopped many times to check on it. Last time I drove passed though, I looked and looked and didn’t see it. That was around Katrina, maybe 2006. Maybe I missed it because I was going south, which is not the best perspective to see it through the trees, but I know it’s possible it’s been torn down. Have you seen it recently?

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  2. Nope, I was wondering if you had. I haven’t been down that way since 2003.

    If you get a chance …

    I’ll check if I ever get down that way again.

    I guess that means no one has ever made plans to do anything with it?

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  3. No, last time I was there, a guy from across the highway came across to see what I was doing, which was good. He said he and his family keep a watch on the building, but even at that time, the roof was starting to have soft areas, the windows were being smashed out, general deterioration. Very sad for such a grand and dignified place.

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  4. The district sold the property to a construction company. It will eventually be demolished.

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    • I live right down the road. The teachers building is no longer standing. And I hear the school is next to go. The gym is nice. Be a nice recreational place for teens to come and play basketball and maybe even raise money to keep the gym. But it’s full of construction machines. Wood. And anything the construction ppl need storage from. Just know if u even step off the road with one foot in the ditch of the school grounds. They’ll try to arrest you.

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      • I graduated from the high school in 1952. I was one grade above Norma Johnson Jasken (see comment from DJ). I attended Benton Elementary School my first six years in school, and graduated to the 7th grade at the high school in 1946. At that time, there were four separate elementary schools in nearby communities, all of which would come to Benton High to start their seventh year. After WW II, a consolidated grammar school was built on the high school property; it opened in 1948, and the community schools — Midway, Fugates, Deasonville and Benton — were closed. Graduation from the lower school then changed from the sixth grade to the eighth, same as the city schools had been doing for years. Laurin Pepper, whose picture hangs on the wall of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, was a star athlete at Benton. In the Yazoo City class of ’52 (my year) one of their boys became a famous writer; that was Willie Morris. We used to see William (as we knew him) and the other city kids all the time at ball games and at the picture show on Saturday. Gene Harlan Powell — Mena, Arkansas

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  5. Sadly the school at Whitfield in Jones County has been demolished. So has the abandoned school at Moselle, and Calhoun near Laurel.

    Earlier in this decade the county floated a bond issue to replace many of the old elementary schools. Now the county has several “state of the art” elementary schools, however, those old school building that were still being used were just abandoned and they became rotting hulks like the former Whitfield school. They are all gone now.

    The only exception is the old 1930’s era elementary school in Ellisville. It is now houses the county’s gifted program.

    I guess we call it progress, and it is, but It is hard to see those old building disappear.

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  6. Thanks for the update. That’s really terrible; it was a really neat building.

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  7. We’ll see if it’s progress if the new buildings are still in good shape and useful in the community in another 40 years, or even 30 years. If they’re anything like the “state of the art” buildings I’ve been seeing lately, little more than steel beams covered with a coat of Dryvet, I doubt they will meet either of those criteria.

    But as Carunzel said, thanks for the update. I hate to see good sturdy and stylish school buildings abandoned with no thought of the public investment they represent or of their future.

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  8. Thanks for this post. My parents, Clark Johnson and Bettye Vaughan, went to school here. My dad and I drove by recently, and he pointed out the spot where he was standing when he learned that Kennedy had been shot. It’s a beautiful building, and indeed, I wish there were a productive use for this building.

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  9. I graduated from Benton High in 1960. It was a Mayberry experience for me and will always be a treasured memory for me. Although the condition of the school brings tears to my eyes, I thank you for this posting.

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  10. I graduated from Benton High School in 1952. I was there when Hugh McLaurim Pepper and David Waters were all-sports standouts. Laurin Pepper, from the Vaughan community, went on to be a star athlete at the University of Southern Mississippi, and then for several years played baseball (pitching) with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League. He lives in Ocean Springs, MS today, where he retired as a winning high school coach and has a stadium named after him. David Waters played semi-pro baseball after high school and was signed by the New York Yankees, playing on their minor league teams (Richmond, VA and Birmingham, AL) for several years. A wild pitch that hit him in the head ended his baseball career, and he and his wife went back home to the farm. All the Waters boys were good athletes. David’s younger brother Herbert played in all sports along with Laurin Pepper at USM. After graduation and a hitch in the Army, Herbert’s hustle as an athlete served him just as well in the business world where he did very well in the insurance business. It has been both nostalgic and sad to pass by the old school, as it sits there deserted and eerily quiet, these years since it closed.

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    • David and Herbert are my great uncles. My grandfather was Their eldest brother, Leslie(Les). I love our rural community heritage! It makes me so sad to see these structures waste away and often precious memories with them.

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  11. What’s that wall cabinet thing on the the right side of the hall in the administration building interior photo? Are those lockers, cabinets, furnace, or what?

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  12. My mom and dad finished at Benton in 1969, Keith Waters and Mary Frances Burwell Waters. We still have the place in midway and ebenezer and I love taking my kids up there to see where their grandparents grew up and went to school. It really is a shame these old schools are deteriorating.

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  13. I started school at Benton in the first grade class of 1959-1960. My first grade teacher was Ms. Campbell and I literally spent the first day of my educational career wandering the halls of the school!!!! I believe the principal at the time was Mr. Roberts (?) whose sudden appearance in the hallway in the late morning caused me find seek out my rightful place in the classroom. I was also very proud (even at that age) to serve as the first grade escort to Ms. Debra King at the school’s homecoming game that year. My second grade teacher was Ms. Abernathy. It is good to read all the replies. I think many of us have reached the age where “looking back” is occurring with greater frequency and it is so good to have these kinds of precious memories to recall.

    I also hope that a purpose can be found for this building. It is a wonderful example of the “agricultural high school” system that existed in Mississippi and provided a means whereby students could obtain a solid education – which by the way we in Mississippi can be proud of despite publicized reports that say Mississippi trails the entire nation. My education in schools throughout Mississippi (my family lived at Vaughan and moved frequently as the railroad transferred us) including graduation from USM led me to enter law school at Chase College of Law in Northern Kentucky and eventually a 20 year practice in southern Ohio.

    Locally here in southern Ohio we have seen several new schools built. Of all things, local newspapers reported that their construction was modeled on prison construction!!!!!! Thank God I have happy memories spent at places like Benton, Ackerman, Vaiden, Jett and Warren Central (Vicksburg), Forrest County (also an agricultural high school still in active operation), and Oak Grove (Hattiesburg).

    It is wonderful to know that the school is still standing, is attracting this kind of attention, which hopefully will lead to preservation rather than being demolished.

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  14. Bill the construction company that bought the old Benton High School property is owned by John Ledbetter. He has used a lot of the old materials to bring new life to a new home for he and his wife. So it has been preserved in making new memories for John and his family.

    Debra King Hartner

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  15. My mom(Norma (Johnson)Jasken,and aunt Gloria uncle Clark and Uncle Thomas all went there.
    That place was awesome to visit as a child it was a whole different world in Houston Texas where I came from. I was in Yazoo city over Christmas it was glad to see some rejuvenation in that area .
    I imagine is a great place to grow up. That was also back when schools were schools now in Texas it’s all about some academic standards test . They barely teach the basics anymore.

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  16. I still live in the Benton community and was one of the first to graduate from the now Yazoo County High School (Class of ’93). The memories that this school invokes….. wow… this was at a time when you know the people entrusted to teach you actually cared about you. I hate to see the disrepair the school is in. I felt then as I feel now that the school could of served a purpose for the community instead of watching it slowly deteriorate. Storing construction equipment is a dishonor to this great school but since I’m not the owner, I guess my opinion don’t count for much. If all the alumni of Benton High would donate just $5, I wonder what we could accomplish in preserving a piece of our history

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    • As a grandson of a lifetime residents Maybell and Thomas Upton Johnson.
      If such a fund is started my whole family
      of Johnsons and Jaskens would gladly support
      I missed an opportunity to save his store but would like to make up for that now

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  17. I graduated Benton High School in 1973 after attending Linwood High prior to integration in 1969. After graduating from Benton High…i attended Tougaloo College from 1973 to 1977. Its been more than 40 + years since i last stepped foot on the campus. I shed tears of sadness thinking of those days long past…and am heartbroken to see that this memory of my youth has been abandoned. Time goes by so quickly, evidenced by the memory of of this longstanding facility seemingly fading away! Many thanks to Mr. Jessie Henderson Sr. for reaching out and reminding me from where I came…Thank You!

    Liked by 1 person

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  1. MissPres News Roundup 3-26-2012 « Preservation in Mississippi

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