Yesterday was this blog’s seventh birthday, and as is traditional, we start our new year a day late and return to our first love, the subject of our first post, the Old Capitol in Jackson. I was flipping through the various albums on the MDAH Historic Resources Database for inspiration, and I came across this great aerial photograph from the 1950s, taken from the east with the Old Capitol at its center, the War Memorial building off to the bottom right, and a wonderfully urban section of downtown Jackson in the background, now paved with parking lots. Also of note, is that the 40 and 8 boxcar down at the bottom of the double staircase beside the War Memorial Building?
This was during the building’s now mostly forgotten four-decade life as a state office building, between Theodore Link’s 1917 renovation that saved the building from a decade-long abandonment to its first restoration in the late 1950s as the state historical museum. One of the things I love about the above picture, with the small temporary-looking buildings dotted randomly around the back, is the feeling of a working, functional, kind of ad-hoc building, where state employees went about their business carrying out the nitty-gritty details of the idealistic laws passed by the state legislature.
Along those lines, my brain recalled yet another great obituary, one of many we’ve posted here on MissPres, which sheds a little light on this State Office Building phase in the life of the Old Capitol. It’s not an obituary of an architect or a builder, but of an important Mississippian who did meaningful work in the building, spreading medical care into all counties in the state, and then, although retired, died at his desk. This article reminded me that to tell a full and rich story of a building, we need to spend time on more than just the date of construction or the artisans who built it; we can’t forget the long later life of the building or the people who inhabited it and gave it meaning. That’s what we hope to continue to do in the coming year, and I hope you’ll join us for the ride!
Dr. Felix J. Underwood Passes
An over-flow crowd gathered to pay tribute to Dr. Felix J. Underwood, the father of Mississippi’s public health program on Monday. Dr. Underwood the 76 year-old retired chief of the State Board of Health, died in his office in the Old Capitol Building last Friday.
Dr. Underwood headed the State Board of Health for 34 years. His organization of the Board served as a model for others throughout the nation.
He was past president of the American Public Health Association and was named Mississippi’s “Man of the Year” in 1958. Later this month he was to receive the “Missy” award as one of the three most outstanding Mississippians.
He retired as head of the State Board last year but continued to serve without pay in an advisory capacity to his successor Dr. A.L. Gray. Dr. Underwood has been hailed nationally as the “man who saved a million lives” for his outstanding work in the field of public health.
A modern new building to house the State Board of Health nears completion on North State Street across from the University Hospital. This beautiful building will be named the Felix J. Underwood Building and will be an enduring monument to the memory of this great Mississippian whose fame was known in medical circles far beyond the boundaries of his beloved state.
January 15, 1959, p. 1
Categories: Historic Preservation