New Deal and 101 Places in One: Church Street School

Church Street School front elevationRemember the “101 places in Mississippi to see before you die” list?  It’s been a while since we have stopped by to see one on Suzassippi’s Mississippi, what with hunting down all the New Deal Administration buildings in the state.  But wowie zowie, two for the price of one this week!  The Church Street School in Tupelo came in #3 in the regional polls, with 115 votes, or 8% of the total for the area, and thus earned a spot in the final cut of 101 Places.

CSS entranceIn addition, it has been described as

…one of the best examples of the Moderne style of architecture in Mississippi. It was designed by the Jackson, Mississippi firm of Overstreet and Town, whose work was recognized internationally. (Susan M. Enzweiler, 1991, nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places)

Take a look at the nomination form for additional detail about the building–it’s worth the time it will take. The school was also one of the schools built under the New Deal Administration. Enzweiler explained

The modern essence of the design relied not only on this progressive architectural strategy but also on the aesthetic qualities of the building material, i.e., concrete. Overstreet and Town began to use reinforced concrete as a building material because during the Depression buildings had to be constructed with few funds, but a large number of unskilled laborers. They quickly realized that the material was perfect for achieving the simplicity of form intrinsic in the architectural styles of the day. …streamlined forms that reminded one of progress, speed and efficiency…that would promote renewed hope and confidence in the future. (Sachs, 1986, as cited by Enzweiler)

Construction began in 1936 and was completed in 1938.

CSS interiorA peek through the windows of the front doors was an unexpected delight.  While simplicity may have ruled in this “ultra modern” design (Hays’ description according to Enzweiler), the entrance to the building and the auditorium is stunningly beautiful.  Although it is credited to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Historic Resources Inventory database, it more likely was constructed under the PWA (Public Works Administration) which built schools during the period of 1933-1938, before ending in 1939. WPA focused more on direct employment of the unemployed, whereas PWA was engaged in larger building projects including schools.

Check out building details below!



Categories: 101 MissPres Places, Historic Preservation, Modernism, New Deal, Schools, Tupelo

13 replies

  1. My children went through elementary school here and I had the pleasure of going through those doors most days for four years. Every time I went in, it seemed that I discovered some hidden treasure, little jewels of inspiration that the architects had tucked in somewhere. I was a latecomer to Tupelo, but the “natives” insisted that this building was concrete because most of the town’s academic infrastructure was destroyed during the 1936 tornado, including the school which preceded this one. When it was time to rebuild, the community wanted a place with the sturdiest possible walls and a full basement, like one big storm shelter.

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  2. A building full of memories. I attended Church Street in the 1950’s and last toured it in 2010 when one of my best friends was principal there. The building is beautiful and has been lovingly cared for over the years — as much as the coffers would allow. This building should be repurposed as something that can be seen and enjoyed by generations to come….

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  3. The exterior and as well some of the interior resemble Durant School in Durant, Mississippi, which was built by Overstreet in 1942.

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  4. Started school here in fall of 1961!

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  5. In 1939, CONCRETE magazine had a very interesting article about the construction of the school. I have a scan of a photocopy of the article that I will gladly share with anyone who would like it.

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  6. Started school here when I was six years old. First grade with miss Winnie Henson in 1953 .

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  7. I began my teaching career at Church Street Elementary School in 1985. It was a wonderful place to begin a teaching career and learn more about the history of this building and of Tupelo. My mentors were teachers at Church Street that valued the history that this building held and how it added to the educational experience of all that entered those doors!

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  8. Love this school and all my Church Street friends! As a teacher there, I have many fond memories! The history of the building and surrounding neighborhood created a since of warmth and belonging. My co-workers and students became family. The nostalgia of the building invited curiosity for learning to my eager students. With a grand stage for performing, our school plays became productions and displayed the learning and hard work that took place there. Every year at “daffodil time”, I treasure my time spent at Church Street!

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  9. Those two teachers above welcomed my children to Church Street in the fall of 1992: Jim Miller in 1st grade Links, Emily Miller in 4th grade Stars. Wasn’t it a wonderful place to teach children about historic architecture?

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