Architectural Twins

I’ve been out and about the Magnolia State braving wind, snow, sleet, and broken water mains to scout out cool old buildings and bring you, my loyal MissPres readers, a report of what’s out there. As you remember, I drove up to Carrollton’s Pilgrimage a few months ago, and on my way, I stopped in on an old friend, the Black Hawk School, just off of Hwy 17, south of Carrollton.

Black Hawk School, built around 1925 as the consolidated school for white children in southern Carroll County, is now famous for the many political figures who have given speeches at the building since it became a community center and a regular on the political circuit. The building has been designated a Mississippi Landmark by MDAH. Last time I saw it, several years ago, the windows were boarded and it looked like it had seen better days, but this time, it looked like it’s just undergone a nice makeover–the windows are all clean and repaired, the interior seems functional and there’s even a little kitchen.

On a different trip, I passed another old friend that because of the distance I hardly ever get to see, the Midway School way up in Tishomingo County.

Built in 1926, the Midway School also served as a white consolidated school, and is also a designated Mississippi Landmark. The building recently got a new roof, courtesy of an MDAH Community Heritage Preservation Grant in 2005.

The similarities of the two buildings are not a coincidence–they are architectural twins. Not identical twins–Midway is brick, while Black Hawk is frame; Midway sports a fancy shed dormer, which is missing at Black Hawk; and Black Hawk has most of its windows on the front, while Midway’s are strung along the side.

So they’re fraternal twins, but still twins, born from the same source, the Mississippi Department of Education.

The plan known as 4EW was drawn up, along with a few other standard plans, by Memphis architect Raymond B. Spencer (1887-1959), at the request of the Dept. of Education in 1921, and it was later published in the Department’s Bulletin No. 44, “Rural School Plant” in 1926. The 1920s was a time of major development and evolution in rural school buildings, with the Julius Rosenwald Fund publishing its ground-breaking standard plans, and various state departments of education drafting up their own plans at the same time.

Spencer also played a large role in the early career of our own N.W. Overstreet. Overstreet & Spencer was the first independent practice for both architects, a partnership that lasted from 1912 through 1915, when both partners began practicing on their own. The partnership did produce the Franklin and Webster County Courthouses, and they won a silver medal at the Pan American Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 for their Mississippi pavilion (of which I’ve never seen a picture).

The Black Hawk School does have a little bathroom off the back (I think there’s only one) but I’m not sure it’s original, and the Midway School doesn’t appear to have ever had any indoor facilities. But hey, right now, our own state legislature is still lacking indoor facilities after the latest hard freeze broke all sorts of pipes, so why should the kids of old have had it any better?

I know we all grumble about “homogenized architecture” and the “Architecture of Nowhere,” but standard or published plans are nothing new. Odds are, if you see an early 20th-century school or a small church with architectural pretensions from the late 19th or early 20th century, it has a twin or maybe a whole passle of twins scattered about (or at least it once did), so keep your eyes pealed and see what you recognize.


For those of you in the Jackson area who might have planned to go to the History is Lunch about the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered List yesterday, it was postponed due to the ongoing water issues in downtown Jackson. I hear that they will try to re-schedule it for sometime in the Spring, and I’ll let you know when I hear something more definite.

Categories: Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Mississippi Landmarks, Schools

4 replies

  1. I like the idea of buildings from plans being “fraternal twins”. The differences in materials and the “tweaking” of designs (such as where all the windows are in these two buildings) raise questions for researches about why the differences: Did Carrollton have a lack of funds for the building that forced them to omit using brick or the dormer? Does the placement of the windows in either building have to do with where it was in relation to the elements?

    I also noticed the “share it” buttons for Facebook, etc at the end of the post today – another new feature for the New Year?


  2. My dad Austin Sherrer did the repairs to the blackhawk school in around 2008. My wife and I were married in the little church across the street from the school in 2010. Such unique Mississippi history.



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