Update on Mississippi Industrial College (it’s not good)

As you may recall, Cathrine Hall, one of the several historic buildings left on the amazing but vacant Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs, suffered a partial collapse last June (2009). That news came to me word-of-mouth, and I’ve never seen anything about it in the papers (admittedly I don’t read the South Reporter every day), which is strange. But MissPreser Susan Allen (whose own Suzassippi blog wins Best Title, hands-down) has been up round those parts recently and took some pictures that compared with pictures she snapped last summer show the damage has continued and accelerated. What began as a relatively small section of wall collapsing has now spread to a large portion of the rear elevation and is moving toward the front of the building. This is a common story in the decline of a building–if repairs or even basic shoring aren’t done in a timely manner, the level of structural damage grows exponentially.

The campus, sitting on a prominent location on the west side of Hwy 7 across the road from Rust College, was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered List in 2001. I at least had some hope when the alumni group, unable to raise funds to save the buildings, sold the campus to Rust College. There’s no question the buildings were in bad shape from years of abandonment and neglect, but I haven’t seen Rust doing much to shore up those that can still be saved either. Dr. David Beckley, Rust’s president, commented on the previous post that funding for the campus stabilization had been denied at both the state and federal level, which is surprising if accurate because the MIC is one of the most architecturally prominent African American campus in the state, rivaled perhaps only by Tougaloo.

Susan posted her own thoughts about the damage on her blog, and she is sharing her photos with the MissPres world in hopes of getting some attention to these Mississippi landmarks, so in need of our help. Any ideas out there? This building (and the rest of the campus) won’t wait around for us to get our act together.

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Mississippi Industrial College, as it was in 1933

Categories: African American History, Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Holly Springs, Universities/Colleges

48 replies

  1. I find it amazing that the state can’t find funding for such an architecturally and culturally significant group of buildings. Words fail me at this point.


    • My sister and I drove to Holly Springs recently to visit a friend. We couldn’t believe that these beautiful buildings were literally crumbling. What a great loss to our state. Can’t something be done?


  2. I was the architect for the additions/restorations to several of the buildings on the campus c 1980, when MIC’s funding for these projects went belly-up; much to the heartache of myself and all who worked with me on these projects for this wonderful little school (and certainly even more for President Ted Debro and his dedicated staff at MIC).

    I would offer to help now. But to help do WHAT? All I can see to do is to go there with a camera and to document what one can, being wary of falling bricks, until there is nothing left to document.

    So sad, these slow deaths by disinterest and neglect.


  3. I agree, Tom, the situation is pretty shocking and discouraging, but I do know that help was offered from the state in the past, and there just wasn’t any local will to do something. I guess what’s so surprising to me is that these buildings aren’t in the middle of nowhere–nothing like Prospect Hill in Jefferson County–in fact, their prominence is one of the defining features of Holly Springs in my mind, so the fact that they’ve been allowed to just sit for 25 or more years without any movement even to shore them up, patch the roofs, basic stuff that would have given them a longer life and more hope of eventual restoration is kind of mind-blowing.

    Ben, you’re right, it does seem that the building (and perhaps one or more of the other buildings) are either past the point of no return or right on the cusp. From these recent pictures, it looks like about one-third to one-half of the building is collapsed, but maybe my perspective is off (I say that hopefully). And welcome to MissPres, your experience and thoughts will be a good contribution to our conversation.


  4. Mary Rose Carter and I have been to Holly Springs several times over the past year, photographing the continuing sad decline of MIC. The Carnegie Auditorium, which used to be fairly secure, is now wide open to the elements and vandals…..But if they try to step into the auditorium from the exterior iron stairs, they’re going to plunge two floors into the basement. That auditorium is one of the eeriest sites I’ve seen in twenty years of exploring Mississippi’s vanishing architecture. I will tag on to any campaign that develops to save what is left of MIC. It haunts me.


    • I would very much like to see any photos which anyone has and is willing to share (such as those Mary Carol Miller mentions above that she has made) of the current state of Mississippi Industrial College. I have rather extensive photographic and drawn documentation of most of the buildings c 1980, with a particular focus on the buildings my office in Corinth was working on then:

      1. Hammond Hall and the Gymnasium, which we were linking and the composite of which was to be a new “Multi-Learning Center”. This was our first MIC project, and was 30% through construction when the Reagan administration took office in 1981 and quickly rescinded regional and federal funding for the project. (At the top of the list of perpetrators to the fall of MIC in that coming age of neglect and indifference to social justice, that administration is at the top of the list. If the ruin we see before us now along Faulkner’s road to Memphis is anything, it is a monument to the Age of Reagan.)

      2. Washington Hall and the Carnegie Auditorium, for which we were in working drawings for the partial renovation of those buildings, as well as a new science building which was to link them from the rear, when the funds for the first project were rescinded; and

      3. Feasibility studies for future uses for Cathrine Hall.

      I am certainly willing to entertain opening my files if interested parties can muster a plan for some sort of response to the crisis at hand. (If the crisis has not already, in what would be our saddest of admissions, already past.)

      Please continue to comment here, and pass this conversation along to others with interest, ideas, and/or the political wherewithal to begin any sort of reclamation effort. (No, I am not naïve enough to believe that the word reclamation can be used with much optimism at this juncture – but surely the history of what I then believed and still do believe was a wondrous little social experiment should not simply settle into dust under the kudzu).

      I would also be interested in hearing what Rust College has to say today. Their role or lack thereof in the continued deterioration of this once-upon-a-time architectural gem perplexes me mightily.


      • I should add to my previous post that in addition to federal and regional funding for our projects at MIC, the college also was recipient of state funding earmarked for historical preservation. So there is that history of state involvement, and loss.

        (By the way, if whoever monitors this blog wants to correct my previous typos and redundancies, I’d be happy to have your edit. Yikes! I was so annoyed by the story as I remembered it and retold it that I got in a hurry….)


  5. This has been an ongoing tragedy, startlingly visible to all, for years. Thanks for bringing it to general attention.


  6. I’m trying to figure out how to attach photos (some traditional film, some infrared) from Iphoto on a Mac to this site…..Suggestions for a Luddite? Thanks.


  7. There is more here than neglect; read my article in the South Reporter dated around Sept. 2008


  8. There is more to this story than meet the eye. Read my open letter, ” Wake up, smell the coffee,” to the South Reporter dated August 28, 2008. I graduated Mississippi Industrial College in 1975 (attended 1971-75).

    The story (life and work) of Bishop Elias Cottrell both as a theologian, and as an educator is one of the greatest stories NEVER told.


  9. I’m a student in the preservation program at Georgia State University in Atlanta, traveling around N. Miss. with my mom, a Hattiesburg native. After spending the day in Holly Springs, we were heading out to Corinth when we passed the Mississippi Industrial College. We pulled over to look and were horrified by the condition of these beautiful buildings. Once we got to our hotel, I looked the college up online and found this site. I’m including a link to the pictures I took this afternoon. I’ll be checking back in the hope that something is done to restore these buildings.


  10. “Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

    I can’t say whether I’ve been reading Beckett again lately because I’m thinking of Mississippi Industrial College, or if I’m thinking of MIC because I’m reading Beckett. I usually can usually muster some metaphor for hopeless situations, but the ruins north of Holly Springs feel like they are beyond metaphor. The closest to insightfulness I can get may lie in Beckett’s pessimisms.

    I will be in Mississippi (Corinth) the week of July 26, and plan to go to Holly Springs mid-week to look with my camera, and to brood. If anyone interested in this dilemma would like to meet there to look and brood together, I’d welcome the company and the conversation.

    (In case you haven’t read previous posts, I should note that I was the architect for MIC’s and MIC President Ted Debro’s “renaissance” projects of the late 1970’s, just at the turn when the forces of entropy and apathy and the advent of Reaganism put the kibosh on MIC’s dreams.)

    “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”


    • I would love to meet you there, camera and heart in hand. I fell in love with MIC the first time I drove through Holly Springs on my way to Memphis from Oxford in 2003. I would be honored to meet you.


    • I would like to try to meet you there too–not sure if I can pull it off since it’s mid-week and a long haul from Jackson, but I’ll see what I can do.


    • Susan and E.L. (and anyone else?),

      Let’s be in touch closer to the time. I’m pretty sure I’ll be there either Wednesday or Thursday, July 28 or 29. A gathering of ideas at the site might give us something better to grasp than what we find ourselves with now, facing the continuing deterioration. Though I am not hopeful, I have to say.

      I may also call Rust about visiting the site “with permission”, since anyone going there is, I’m sure, trespassing. Though it may be better to follow the adage of asking forgiveness rather than permission.

      And a word of caution to those you know who are eager to snoop around there: stay out of the buildings. It doesn’t take an architect or engineer to see that they are partially collapsed – i.e., they are in the process of collapsing. Seeing all the (wonderful, I admit) interior shots on flickr and elsewhere is frightening.


  11. I will be in Holly Springs either Wednesday, July 28, or Thursday, July 29. If anyone has an interest in meeting there for a tour and discussion, let me know. You can email me at bl@benledbetter.com, or call my cell: 203-214-4643 (and I’ll of course have my phone with me when I am in Corinth, which is where I will be staying).


  12. Ben, I’ll post a special announcement about this this weekend to draw some more attention to it. Will we need to get special permission to go on the campus? It seems from the photos I’ve seen posted around that it’s pretty open to visitors. My next week is way up in the air. Wednesday is out for sure–it’s possible I could get off work for Thursday, but I’m not sure and won’t be until early next week.


    • I think you are right, E.L., about the ease of access. In this case I’m going to assume it will be better to ask forgiveness than permission. And I do have some excuses for being there re my past history with the place (I could even mention all the outstanding fees I was left holding when MIC disappeared into the night – though as I have already indicated, I do not blame the college for my loss).

      One other person has emailed me about a rendezvous in Holly Springs, and she could come either Wednesday or Thursday. Where would you be coming from? I’d be coming from Corinth, so I’d only be an hour away.


  13. The last time I was there, there is nothing posted about no trespassing other than on the actual buildings themselves. On my last visit, there was a worker there (appeared to be a physical maintenance worker wearing a uniform) and he never asked me anything or approached me. I acknowledged him, he responded. I did not leave the graveled roadway as I was taking pictures, however.


    • I actually hope someone from Rust is there while we wander about (I tend to try to make myself obvious when I snoop). It could be useful to get an insider’s story, however far inside the machinery of neglect that person might be.


  14. Hello all,

    I’m in Mississippi now (Corinth) and am trying to finalize my plans to visit MIC. I’m inclined more toward tomorrow (Wednesday), though could do Thursday if anyone wants to meet and that day’s better. If I don’t hear from anyone by tomorrow morning, I will be at the college by 11 a.m., and could stay in town for a late lunch if anyone does come and wants to extend the discussion. In the afternoon I may or may not go on to Oxford from Holly Springs.

    (Cell 203-214-4643)


  15. I was wondering about the follow up from the visit you (Ben) had to MIC. I’m a native of Holly Springs with family members who attended the college.


    • I’m still game! I guess we have all drifted into a kind of frustrated limbo now. Waiting for Godot? Because Godot, we hear, will bring to us uses for these wondrous buildings in this wonderful place, and baskets full of money to reclaim them…….


  16. Ben and the rest of you MIC fans, I have just heard from a MS preservationist that demolition is about to start. The Tuskegee University Archives has two elevations and one section for Catherine Hall that are signed by Robert R. Taylor, the MIT-trained (1892) African American architect who designed most of Tuskegee during his 40 years on staff. The Holly Springs buildings are, in many ways, uncharacteristic of his work, so much so that I thought it wasn’t his until I saw his name in his writing last week.



  17. Thanks, Ellen (This is you, Tulane Ellen? Or NPR Ellen? Some other Ellen?),

    If you (or anyone else here) know more of the dates for demolition of Cathrine I’d like to know. I will arrive back in Mississippi on April 27, and will be meeting other interested folks at the campus on Sunday, May 1 (on my drive down to New Orleans). But if demolition is indeed imminent, and times with my trip, I might rearrange my schedule.

    Darnit, yes. Damnit, yes. That, amidst all this interest, Rust College – without consulting those of us who have tried (maybe not hard enough) to bring attention to these endangered buildings – would blow one of them away without even a “too-bad-ain’t-it” is shameful. This is not to be naive and to suggest that Cathrine was saveable at this juncture. But there might have been a way to save (a) fragment(s). There might have been a plan (I suspect there is not) to anticipate what will happen on that part of the campus when this building is gone, and to consider preserving some reference to its life. And there might be a plan (I suspect that if there is one it is not a happy one) for the fate of the remainder of the campus.

    Is no one at Rust reading this blog?

    A last word, maybe, alas, for Cathrine: It is part of her uniqueness as a dame of Mississippi architecture that she spells her name without that first e. I think this is worth noting. Maybe Rust will at least save her lovely marble cornerstone to remind anyone interested after her death of what she was called by those who loved her for over one hundred years.

    [ELM: I sent you a photo of the cornerstone in a previous email, should you want to post it here.]


  18. My understanding is that Rust has filed for a demolition permit from MDAH for Cathrine Hall. This is necessary because the old MIC campus is a designated Mississippi Landmark. The Board of Trustees for MDAH meets this Friday, but I’m not sure whether the Rust application will be before them. Usually, the permit has to go before the Board of Trustees’ Permit Committee before it goes before the full board, and this is especially true for something as important as demolition of a designated landmark. So my feeling is that the permit won’t go before this week’s Board meeting, so your trip should still be a go, Ben, barring some unforeseen circumstance or parliamentary procedure.

    Often in these cases, where a building is realistically too far gone to be saved, MDAH does require some sort of memorial or documentation of the building as a rider on its demolition permits.

    That’s such great news, Ellen, that we have real documentation on Taylor’s design for that building, but coupled with the bad news of the building’s continuing collapse.

    P.S. Ben, I’ll try to rustle up that cornerstone and add it to the slide show above. Unfortunately, I can’t add it in a comment.


    • After reading all the feeds here, I’m shocked to know my old school faded into nothing. There’s too much history to allow that to happen. On the other hand, all of you who have voiced out, I salute you. I only wish I had checked in earlier to lend a hand. Please keep me informed, although I’m far away, I can still reach out to my fellow brothers and sisters of MIC,
      The Last reigning Mr. MIC
      James Conway


  19. Hello, all. MDAH was in Holly Springs yesterday because of the situation with MIC.

    I grew up in Marshall County and went to public school in Holly Springs. I had always heard that the church that owned the campus would not sell it or do anything about its preservation. The rumors (for what they are worth) recently say that Rust wants the buildings to collapse so that they can build new ones.

    Whoever is to blame is far less important than the fact that most of the structural integrity of those old buildings is far too weakened to save at this point. I’ve watched them decay over the years in utter dismay.

    And about Bishop Cottrell, he is indeed worthy of remembering. His accomplishments are unknown locally by the vast majority of people; and the significance of MIC and Bishop Cottrell is in danger of disappearing forever.

    I hope that there is something MDAH can do, but I think those of us who have watched the slow demise of that cherished campus and its history fading into oblivion shall be disappointed by the ultimate outcome.

    I would like very much to write Bishop Cottrell’s story and the story of MIC, and I welcome any information any of you might have to contribute. It is absolutely vital that we remember history, and know were here have been, so that we might better know how to get where we are going.

    Larry Thompson, ljthompson1973@hotmail.com


  20. As I write this I am sitting in the parking lot of Rust overlooking MIS. The buildings are still absolutely beautiful to this day despite what has happened to them. They are so intriguing I wish I could go over there and get a much closer look. I really hate that people have allowed this to happen to something so historically significant it really is a shame.


  21. This institution has done alot for alot of people. My first experiences of college life was as a student in upward bound on MI’s campus in 1975. It was the cornerstone of academia in the African-American community not only in Mississippi but Arkansas, Tennessee, Illionis, Northern Alabama and more. As a graduate of Coldwater High School, I can say that most of my teachers were graduates of Mississippi Industrial, predominately, Rust College, Jackson State and Alcorn. As a graduate of its sister school, Texas College, I know what these and many institutions such as these mean to all Americans. We must redirect our youth to attend our colleges and pass the word of their effectiveness and the ability to train our children in a caring way.


  22. I live in McComb, and was taking the backroads from Nashville through Holly Springs yesterday, as I usually do when I go to and from Nashville. I always make time to stop in Holly Springs and give myself a few minutes to view the hauntingly beautiful remnants of the MIC campus, with the cedar trees looming in the foreground as if they were cemetery-like monuments to the desmise of these historic structures. It is heartbreaking to see. The fact that the grounds are still so clean and manicured puts the condition of the buildings in even starker contrast to what their grandeur must’ve been in their heyday. I understand change, the need to modernize, the need for buildings to meet certain energy efficiencies, to meet required conveniences for the disabled, and fully understand the increased costs of maintaining aging buildings as opposed to newer ones. Yet the question I always ask when something like this is vanishing before our eyes is what does the sad condition of these stately buildings say about us as a society and culture, as a people…especially after visiting Ireland last summer, and walking inside so many churches and schools and government buildings which have withstood the many centuries of harsh elements and dozens of generations of change, but they are still in good use, and even today, they still serve some useful purpose and are not abandoned and left to total ruin. It is a question for which I don’t have an answer.

    Ralph C Price
    McComb City, Mississippi



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