Discovering Mississippi’s rural Agricultural High Schools first happened when I ran across a cornerstone in Oakland, and thought ‘What is an agricultural high school?’, followed by ‘Why is only the cornerstone left’? I would get the answer to the second question by finding Preservation in Mississippi.
According to C. H. Robison’s 1911 history of agricultural high schools, the Yalobusha Agricultural High School was one of the county schools permitted by the 1908 Mississippi legislative act. Initially, the law allowed establishment of one agricultural school per county for the training of white students, to include “theoretical and practical” agricultural education. The law was subsequently amended in 1910 to allow two schools per county, one for white students and one for black students, following legal review, based on the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling (B. H. Fatheree, Mississippi Historical Society). According to Fatheree, the schools, established in rural areas, did not charge tuition but did charge for room and board in the dormitories. The agricultural high schools eventually evolved into the junior college system, which is why many of the community colleges are located in rural or less populated areas. If I stay here long enough, I may learn Mississippi history. (Suzassippi’s Lottabusha County Chronicles, December 23, 2010)
My go-to source for rural Mississippi schools is Jennifer V. Opager Baughn’s, A Modern School Plant: Rural Consolidated Schools in Mississippi, 1910-1955. (Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 43-72), which I chanced upon searching the library database one day attempting to uncover the history of public schools in Mississippi. According to Baughn, the agricultural high schools and consolidated high schools emerged about the same time, but for several reasons, the consolidated high school movement was more successful.
Pearl River County Agricultural High School/Pearl River College
The Pearl River Agricultural High School (the first in the state according to a Clarion-Ledger Apr. 17, 1939 item) was established in 1909, and became the first state-supported junior college in 1922. Baughn pointed out agricultural high schools were “intended to provide a practical but well-rounded secondary education that had been previously unavailable to rural young people” and included vocational training along with the academic curriculum to prepare young people for rural farm life. The agricultural high schools “resembled small college campuses” (Baughn) which may explain why they ultimately became the junior college system. The agricultural high schools met a much-needed educational service in the rural communities where opportunities to seek higher education were limited for many residents.
As usual, my discovery of the Pearl River County rural schools was directly tied to researching New Deal projects in Mississippi. I am now at #393 of New Deal projects submitted to the Living New Deal Project at the University of California-Berkeley, most of which are Mississippi locations. In 1933–the first year of Roosevelt’s New Deal Administration, The Civil Works Administration approved projects for Mississippi that included the Pearl River County schools in Thomas (four men employed for $363), and Carriere (14 men employed for $1,253). These early projects generally included repairs such as painting or other general labor.
MDAH/HRI timeline for Carriere school includes the following:
- Gymnasium, 1933
- Elementary building, 1938
- Agriculture building, c. 1940-Wilfred S. Lockyer, architect
- Home Economics Building, c. 1940
- Teacher’s house, c. 1940
The Stone County Enterprise (WPA projects in progress in area, Aug. 26, 1937, p. 1) reported “a new $14,000 school project at Carriere” was underway, which was probably the elementary building constructed 1938.
MDAH/HRI timeline for McNeill school includes the following:
- Elementary building, 1920; renovated 1975
- High School building, 1937
- Agricultural building, 1939
- Gymnasium, 1940–WPA
- Auditorium, 1949
- Cafeteria, 1953
By 1937, Pearl River County had several WPA projects including Pearl River College, repairs to Henley Field School, repairs to Industrial School, building units for McNeil School building, and the aforementioned Carriere School (Daily Herald, Aug. 20, 1937, p. 1).
Savannah Consolidated School
MDAH/HRI timeline for Savannah school includes the following:
- Administration building, 1932–Architect Vinson B. Smith, Jr.; Builder/contractor Smith & Stockstill
- Agriculture building, c. 1932
- Home Economics building, 1934–Architect Vinson B. Smith, Jr.
- Superintendent’s home, c. 1932
- Teacher’s home, c. 1932
Savannah Consolidated School requested $20,000 from PWA in 1933 to construct buildings (Clarion-Ledger, Dec. 19, 1933, p. 4) and subsequently constructed the Home Economics building in 1934, a Colonial Revival/Craftsman 1-story brick designed by architect Vinson B. Smith, Jr. and the Agricultural Building (insert link).
Industrial Consolidated School
MDAH/HRI timeline for Industrial school includes the following:
- Administration building, c. 1934–Vinson B. Smith, Jr., architect
- Cafeteria, c. 1910
- Gymnasium, c. 1946
- Principal’s house, c. 1930
I quickly realized Pearl River County had too many rural schools to address in one post, so in Part II, we will explore more of the rural schools in the county.
Pearl River County “led the state in building consolidated schools and teacher’s homes” per the History of Pearl River County Mississippi on the Mississippi Genealogy Trails. Is it fact or myth?