Harry N. Austin, classic and unclassic Millsaps College

As you may recall from the post a few weeks back about Jackson architect Harry N. Austin, Austin moved to Jackson from Massachusetts, possibly already a friend of the Millsaps family, and married Mary Buie, the niece of Major Millsaps. It should come as no surprise then that Austin became the go-to architect for new buildings on the Millsaps College campus, and since his tastes ran in the classical line, the early buildings on the campus were stately temples of learning.

According to my research, Austin designed four buildings on the Millsaps campus: Murrah Hall (1914), Burton Hall (c.1920), the Library (1925), and Science Hall (1929). Of these, only Murrah and Science Hall remain.

Murrah Hall, Millsaps College (built 1914, H.N. Austin, archt.)

When Murrah Hall was built, it stood at the grand entrance to Millsaps on West Street and was the image of Millsaps. Unfortunately, due to the decline of the neighborhood across West Street, Millsaps decided years ago to build a tall fence on that side of campus and make the State Street entrance their public face. This has left Murrah standing a bit forlorn facing the wrong direction, but it’s still a grand, I would even say Beaux Arts building.

Science Hall is the only building I could find on campus that sported a nice bronze plaque noting its construction and architect. As y’all may know, when I become the Ruler of the Free and Unfree Worlds, my first act will be to require all new buildings to have a plaque or, preferably a cornerstone (because those are harder to remove and sell for scrap). These informational tablets will always contain the date of construction, name of architect(s) and builders, and then if there is room, the owners can put whatever else they want. I trust I will have the support of the MissPres universe on this important edict.

Anyway, when I went over to Millsaps to take pictures of Austin’s classical gems, I also snapped some shots of other buildings on campus that I thought needed to be photographed. Apparently, after Austin died in the 1930s, Millsaps used our old friend R.W. Naef as their campus architect. This makes sense–Naef was also a Methodist, and thankfully for Millsaps, he was also a classicist, although he did some more modern (but well proportioned) buildings after WWII. For Millsaps, Naef designed the new Belhaven front of campus that faces State Street (Whitworth Hall [1939] and Sanders Hall [1951]) that now is the image most people have of Millsaps College.

It’s possible, but I don’t know for sure, that Naef was also responsible for the Modernist student union building [1957] that strangely enough boasts a colonnaded full-length porch. And he might also have designed the Christian Center (seriously, why can’t “chapel” suffice?), which was built in 1950.

Then in the early 1970s, our other old friend, Tom Biggs, of Biggs Weir & Chastain took a major left turn off Millsaps’ Classical road with his Ford Academic Complex. I think I’ll probably have more to say about this massive award-winning building in another post someday, but for now, you can just enjoy the pictures and see which buildings appeal the most to you.

And if you find yourself on the Millsaps campus, make sure to walk all the way around the sports complex, up the dirt road along the West Street fence, and you’ll find the oldest structure on the Millsaps campus, a designated Mississippi Landmark, the James Observatory built in 1901 (which also has a great marble cornerstone). Pretty cool in my book.

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Categories: Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Jackson, Universities/Colleges

1 reply

  1. In case you didn’t know, the Student Union Building had a lot of work done on it in the early 2000s – mostly interior work I think, but there were a few exterior changes (mostly on the side leading to the football field I think). I’d have to see if I have pictures from before the renovations to figure out what else they may have done to the exterior.


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