Suzassippi’s Mississippi: Rural Gymnasiums

Hickory Flat gym 2

The Hickory Flat (Benton County) gymnasium was constructed c. 1948 according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory.  During the 1930s,

…rural schools grew into small villages composed of several buildings dedicated to specialized purposes, most commonly teachers’ houses, vocational buildings, gymnasiums, and cafeterias (p. 43). (Jennifer V. Opager Baughn, 2012, A Modern School Plant: Rural Consolidated Schools in Mississippi, 1910-1955. Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 19(1), 43-72)

The state’s practice of providing free standardized plans using ‘best practices’ in regard to lighting, directional orientation, and ventilation helped ensure that the efforts to build better rural schools also resulted in buildings that were designed to enhance educational environments.  Some 300 gymnasiums were built between the years of 1920 and 1955.  Only 12 of those were built at rural schools for black children, and most of those were constructed after the 1953 Equalization laws.

Hickory Flat gym 3

Hickory Flat’s concrete block building was a later incarnation of the early wood-frame gymnasiums first constructed, with a standardized plan that included windows high on the exterior walls (Baughn, 2012).  By the end of the 1940s, the State Department of Education’s School Building Service provided “eleven or more” standardized plans, and

…more ambitious gymnasiums, which became numerous in the post-war era, were brick veneered, often with a steel truss roof system to shelter a large, high space (Baughn, p. 66).

One example of the early wood-frame gymnasiums is the Zama Consolidated School’s 1938 gymnasium in Attala County.

Zama gym

The gymnasium from the Thyatira complex, designed 1940-1941 by Emmett J. Hull and Eugene Drummond for rural Tate County, is the only remaining structure of that school system.

Thyatira gym

Another late 40s era gymnasium was the 1947 Lynville gymnasium in rural Kemper County.

gymnasium

Does your rural county still have an extant gymnasium from the 1930s and 1940s?  They may not be as architecturally appealing as some of the other buildings in your community, but they represent an amazing goal of the Mississippi Department of Education: standardizing consolidated school buildings to improve rural education facilities (Baughn, p. 49).



Categories: Historic Preservation, Schools

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38 replies

  1. E.L., what is the story on the gym at Bentonia?

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    • It was a 1949 addition to the classroom building, which was built in 1929. When they tore down the main building, they left the gym standing and at least at that time (c.2010), I think it was in use for maybe a boys and girls club or something like that.

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  2. I love this post! Such interesting wood gymnasiums.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Zama Consolidated School’s 1938 gymnasium in Attala County looks like the Lawhon School (formerly East Tupelo Consolidated School which included a high school until the late 1940s) gymnasium in East Tupelo.

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  4. The c.1946 Picayune Colored Gymnasium was a 2007 MHT 10 most endangered structure. I believe it was demolished in 2012.

    https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=101746&view=facts&y=984

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  5. There is one in White Oak that I was told was built in tge early 1930’s.

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  6. Suzassippi’s posts are always interesting. Thanks!

    H

    Harry Connolly

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  7. Does anyone remember the gym at Central High School in Jackson? It had spiral stairs at the southeast and northwest corners (I think) leading down into the locker rooms. Just a railing to prevent the players from flipping into whatever was down there. Two questions: Has anyone ever seen that arrangement anywhere else and how was the CHS gym repurposed after the state acquired the building?

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    • Boy do I remember those spiral stairs. The north stairs went to the boys dressing room and the south one to the girls. I have been to the CHS building a number of times since the State took over, but not sure how they handled the gym area.

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  8. One of my favorite wooden gyms in the state, another GM7 plan, is the one at the old Lena School. The inside walls are covered with beautiful painted advertising signs that are signed by John Ladd of Harperville and dated 1950. John Ladd, Jr. restored the signs in 2010 and also signed his name. It’s the most amazing gym interior I’ve ever encountered.

    See pictures at https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=2145894673&view=facts&y=1160

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  9. As a child, I was told that when the rural schools consolidated, each community could choose to keep 1 building, but the rest would be destroyed. The old Barnes School in Leake County close to the Attala County border chose to keep the “Main Building” which had the principal’s office and home economics room. I believe that building is still standing and in use as a community center.

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  10. Not sure of its date of construction but i believe this is the Pachuta Consolidated – Gymnasium

    http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/series/schoolphotographs/detail/160714

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  11. This looks like it could be a gymnasium outside Columbia.

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