Modernism in the Mississippi Delta

One thing that surprised me when I moved to Mississippi and ventured into the Delta–a place that I had understood from various news stories was a place that time forgot–was how much the region had changed over the latter half of the 20th century. Historic pictures show dirt roads lined with tenant shacks and workers by the hundreds out in the fields. Today, the tenant shacks are almost all gone, and you can go for miles without seeing a soul.

Far from being stuck in the early 20th century, the Delta has a number of examples of Modernist architecture. Towns like Greenville, Greenwood, and Clarksdale must have been booming in the 1950s and even into the 1960s, because they boast some fine Modernist buildings. On a recent trip up into the heart of the Delta, I found a few little “vernacular Modern” gems and a few ultra-Modern, and even a couple of round buildings. Enjoy!

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Categories: Architectural Research, Cleveland, Cool Old Places, Delta, Greenville, Modernism, Recent Past, Universities/Colleges

6 replies

  1. I especially like the Overstreet building!

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  2. The Delta will fascinate me forevermore. So incredibly paradoxical from almost every angle possible! I love it soooo much! Do you all think the Graeber Bros. buildings came from a pattern book of some sort? I’ve seen so many small bldgs like these on commercial industrial sites. Someone must have been promoting the building type as something that could be easily constructed, sturdy, utilitarian, and stylish. Of course Modernists looked to the forms of factory buildings for their designs and factories equal industrialism and so on and so forth. Amazing that these values made it all the way to the MS Delta! Of course today, those little buildings are usually just metal boxes that keel over after, I’d say, about 8 years or so.

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    • I think you’re right. I think all of these buildings are based off published designs except the Overstreet building. I have seen very similar examples of all of the other buildings in the Shoals area of Alabama. The original examples could have come from various pattern books or based off more high-style architecture found in The Architectural Record or other periodicals. The Overstreet design is one-of-a-kind, though it reminds me of the Amory Municipal Building for some reason.

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  3. The Vandiver Student Union is a seriously endangered place. The college wants to demolish the building. Although it certainly needs some repairs, it has great spaces that surely could serve the college community. If only we had some vision…Alas

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    • That is bad news. The Vandiver Student Union looks fairly impractical from the photographs but if it was a Frank Lloyd Wright or Louis Kahn or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe structure that would not matter. People would be clamoring to preserve the impracticality as an example of genius.

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    • Vandiver was my favorite of this whole bunch, excepting of course Overstreet’s building. I didn’t think it was impractical at all, especially for a student union. The large open space in the center seemed like a great place to gather, and then spread out to whatever office or bookstore you needed to go to.

      I can’t figure out why they would want to abandon it, much less tear it down. I did see some rotted wood on the exterior, but presumably it’s a steel-frame building, so the wood is just aesthetic and could be replaced or repaired without too much trouble. The details were very well done on the interior especially–I have a fun little post tomorrow showing the light fixtures. I hate to hear this news, both as a person who love well-done Modernism, and also as a taxpayer. I’m so sick of the flagrant waste and abuse of public monies shown by all of our institutions, but most egregiously our universities and colleges.

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