Flora School Mystery

Flora school front elevation

Here is another one of those intriguing mysteries that I cannot solve, and I have been trying since August 4th.  The building pictured is currently being used as the Administration Building for the Madison County School system, and is located on NW 4th Street in Flora.  Based on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database, this building is the 1937 Art Deco elementary school constructed by architect N. W. Overstreet.

Flora school entrance

Look at what appear to be double sidewalks, with an added center fill-in.

Look at the high school photographed in 1937.  That building was constructed in 1922-23 with “steel sash windows and fireproof halls” and was still standing as late as the 1940s, according to photographs in the Madison County digital library.  It would appear that the decorative images and possibly some part of the core of the earlier building were retained in a renovation/remodel of the building at some point in time, and the Historic section of the Town of Flora website indicates the building above was the Flora High School in 2010.  I could not locate a cornerstone.

What is clearly the same is the design and decorative detail, featured in the photographs below.  In comparing the current building with the photographs of the 1922-23 building, the center of the building above appears to me to be the center core of the old two story building, reducing to one story, with wings added to either side.  Either that, or the front center facade is a replica.  The evidence of the “double sidewalk” referenced in the photograph of the building in 1937 is present.  A 1932 photograph of the womens basketball team shows them in front of a brick building with the same square tile on the corner of the window, and brick pattern, as present in the detail of the current building.

In 1969, the Flora, Mississippi school was ordered to desegregate.  In 1970, the Tricounty Academy, a private school currently serving 280 students, was established.  The Madison County desegregation plan called for Flora High School to be closed and students reassigned to East Flora (“Panel modifies ‘mixing’ plan”, Laurel Leader Call, October 1, 1970, p. 14).  The nearest public high school for Flora students now is located 15 miles away, which translates into a 2 1/2 hour bus ride one-way from Flora to Madison or Ridgeland. (Author Update 10/06/2014: The 2 1/2 hour figure was alleged in information related to US vs. Madison County, in 2000, during the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/app/briefs/madison1.htm.  Part of the settlement agreement reached included reducing transportation times for African American students living in rural Flora area to less than 45 minutes by increasing the number of busses serving the route, and this was allegedly achieved.  However, this is a complex issue in Mississippi, and extends beyond the scope of the initial article, which was related to history of the building.  Segregated architecture is the subject of scholarly study outside the intention of this article.)

In 1972, the main building of the old Flora High School was destroyed by fire, as were six portable classrooms on two other campuses in Flora (“Arson alleged in Flora”, Delta Democrat Times, June 14, 1972, p. 8).  Other articles regarding the fire describe the 2-story school and indicate the “upper story of the 40 year old main building” ablaze, and that it contained 25 classrooms serving grades 1-8 (“Separate fires destroy Flora school”, Hattiesburg American, June 2, 1972).  That would indicate the building was constructed in 1932, so that is inaccurate, assuming the Madison County library information is accurate.  I can find no reference following that regarding the high school or the building, or any possible remodels/renovations after the fire.  The school was described as a “total loss” and as “burned school ruins.”  I cannot find reference to Overstreet’s Art Deco school, although there appear to me to be Art Deco details present in the existing building.  What happened to the 1922-23 two-story Flora High School building with these distinctive decorative details?  What happened to the 1937 Art Deco elementary school?

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Categories: Architectural Research, Schools

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35 replies

  1. This is so interesting.

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  2. I believe the original two story 1923 school building was for grades 1-12, with the upper floor for grades 9-12. When the fire destroyed the second floor, the Town of Flora and the Flora school board at the time, decided to only restore the first floor. There was never a separate elementary school building. This information can be doubled checked with Mr. Posey (Flora’s local historian and author of “The Flora Book”).

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    • Thank you for adding some information. Do you know when the East Flora school was built? I find references to it in some of the later newspapers, but no information about its construction, where it was, or when it closed.

      There is still that question about that 1937 Art Deco building by Overstreet looming out there. TR, where are your Sanborn maps?

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      • Haha you know me too well. :) I already looked and unfortunately for us Flora was too small for its own Sanborn maps.

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        • It is documented that N W Overstreet designed the 1937 building, but refers to it as the Administration Building, and gives the location as the site of the building featured above. There is also on the map a location for the Flora Middle School as a separate building, yet the address is the same as the Administration building. So, clearly, Overstreet built something there in 1937, but the question is what, and where is it? So far, I cannot find anything about it in the newspaper archives, but that is where I turned up the references to the East Flora schools. MDAH says the Flora school for African Americans was constructed in 1947, but there is no other information about it.

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          • Here is a 1968 aerial of the complex. In looking at the aerial photograph and the subsequent topo maps, I think the gym wasn’t built until 1968. But it is curious, what would be the second story of the 1922-23 building casts no shadow.

            www.historicaerials.com

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      • I believe East Flora Consolidated School closed & became East Flora Elementary School in 1991. As far as being built, the ORIGINAL structure was probably built in the 1950s, but probably when it became an elementary school they added on to the school and completely renovated parts of it.

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  3. East Flora school for African Americans is still in use on Hwy. 22 east of Flora. I’ll look into the history of East Flora and let you know what the Principal may have onsite. To me, that building is not Art Deco. However, I do have two aerial pictures of the Flora school dated 1950’s. The additional buildings are not brick. How can I send you these photos?

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  4. I was going to recommend Henry Presley Posey as well. I believe that he works some days at the Madison Library.

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  5. The survey of schools completed by the State Dept. of Education in the 1950s should contain some information about the Flora school buildings. It might have some period photos and even possibly a floor plan.

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  6. The 1937 date for this building came from the 1956 Dept. of Education survey of Madison County schools. It is possible they got that date wrong, or perhaps they confused a 1937 addition with the original date of construction. I suspect the latter and can change the database record to reflect that once we have some confirmation. I don’t think we’re talking about two different buildings. This one has a lot in common with Overstreet’s 1923 Canton High School: http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?view=imageFromFactSheet&factImageID=24196&x=1920&y=1160

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    • Thank you so much for some clarification! I was actually later researching the Canton high school building for the Living New Deal research because of the 1937 addition, and noticed the similarities, including more than just about the architecture.

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  7. The buildings ornament is very interesting. The materials look like a combination of cast stone, terracotta, and cast iron. Kinda hard to tell with all the paint on the parts, but were the material more recognizable in person? The subject matter of the ornament is interesting also; a combination of Sullivanesque and Americana. Its probably nothing more than something ordered out of a catalog but the Americana themed ornament is not something that is often seen. Very Cool Stuff! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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    • You are welcome–this was one of those “accidental” finds where I stopped at a stop sign, looked to my left, and made a sudden change of plans when I saw the building with all the detailed ornaments drawing my eye. The paint is pretty heavy, so I couldn’t tell for sure, and that not being my area of expertise, wouldn’t know anyway. However, I assumed that it was cast stone and that the little squares were terracotta. Looking at it now, I can see the parts (I think!) that might be cast iron.

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  8. I went to school at Flora High School in 1970. The grades 9-12 were up on the second floor.

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  9. The arson of the Flora schools is interesting also. The perp turned out to be the night shift police officer. There was only one on duty at night.

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    • According to newspaper archives, the only indictment (I could find no indication of conviction or additional indictment) was that of the “night marshal”–who was 19 years old–for the arson of a portable building at the East Flora School, allegedly unrelated to all of the other fires at the schools, including Flora High. Was there more?

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  10. As a former student, it was hard to see them turn the school into the administration building. So many great memories in those halls, friendships made that have lasted a lifetime. I was sad to learn that my children wouldn’t be able to walk the same hall that I did, as did my father.
    What you are referring to as East Flora for African Americans is now called East Flora Elementary. The principal ‘ s name is Capucine Robinson.
    And yes indeed the old Flora High is a beautiful building!

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  11. don’t like that comment about East Flora for African Americans ,whites go there and been going there , I love my home town and hate that they’ ve taking our schools each town or city should have there own schools

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    • My reply was in regard to East Flora when it was originally built as a Black school, not as it stands now. Follow the thread and do not jump to conclusions.

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  12. Must there always be conflict. Yes it is both W & AF now. We are talking about the History of the schools right?

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  13. Hello All: Interesting discussion. Respectfully, I would suggest you check the introductory comment that Flora students ride 2.5 hours each way to attend high school within the District. I do not believe that is correct. Thanks

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    • From the US vs. Madison County in the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, “MCSD officials hired Gary Bailey as a consultant to develop the plan for new construction and renovation of the county’s schools (Tr. 45-48). Bailey is not a demographer (Tr. 51), did not review the desegregation orders or consent judgments, and testified that he has no understanding of the school district’s desegregation obligations (Tr. 55, 161; see also Tr. 1132-1133 (Garvin)). He testified that he was responsible for determining a site for the new high school that would relieve overcrowding at the existing Madison Central High School (Tr. 38). In making site decisions, Bailey did not use or create any pupil locator maps, which would show where black and white students live within the county (Tr. 56, 135, 193), and he made no determinations as to the commuting times for black and white students attending Madison Central High School (Tr. 56, 208-209, 216). Bailey admitted that he was unaware that 63 black children commuting from Flora travel 2-1/2 hours each way to attend Madison Central High School (Tr. 208-210, 214; Plt. Exh. 136). He conceded that using a pupil locator map would have informed him of this travel burden, and that he did not have this information when he developed the school district’s plan for new school construction (Tr. 210, 214-215).”

      The court did not dispute this testimony. If there is information that suggests this is in fact in error, which would, I assume, seriously place in jeopardy the testimony of the attorneys and expert witnesses in this case, I would be most interested in learning of it.

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        • It has been ongoing since 1969, and that particular appeal was in 2000. According to an attorney who is working on the research with me, it was settled by consent decree in 2008. The issue with the distance apparently is the amount of time it requires to do pick-up of all students and get them to Madison. It’s probably not unique–children in this area get on a bus as early as 6:00 or 6:30.

          The issue had to do with the fact that a school could have been more centrally located (the district owned property closer to Flora that was not considered as a site) so as not to unduly burden some students in the district, and yet, they did not. Students are still being bussed to Madison to high school from the rural areas around Flora. I suppose it is possible commute time could have been shortened, but since traffic is likely worse now than then, and the distance between the two has not changed, it does not seem probable. None the less, I will correct the time if there is information that students do not currently commute 2 1/2 hours.

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  14. This information is extremely interesting. I attended East Flora (was East Flora High which was no longer a high school after my kindergarten year and Madison Central was opened I think) kindergarten through 5th grade 1989-1995. Then I attended Flora Middle School (was Flora High School) my 6th grade year 1995-1996. It was then closed and made the central office. I went back to East Flora for 7th and 8th grade 1996-1998. I then attended Madison Central High School 1998-2002. This makes me want to look for more information. I have heard of another school that was here in Flora for children of color. I think it was said to be close to town as well I can’t think of the name of the road. Does anyone know??

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  15. The Flora High School was built in 1924 and closed in 1970 to become an attendance center. It was burned in 1972 by a Flora Policeman who was bored being on the night shift. He also set other buildings on fire before he was caught. The Flora Library has complete info on this.

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