Abandoned school building in Mississippi

Eaton Elementary School, Hattiesburg Mississippi
Date added: August 23, 2022 Categories: Mississippi School

The city of Hattiesburg was founded by Capt. William H. Hardy in 1882. Hardy was a pioneer in the timber and railroad industries, and Hardy had the foresight to recognize the potential economic benefits the two industries would create. After a slow beginning, Hattiesburg, named for Hardy's wife, became a boom town. The completion of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad in 1897 connected the near virgin yellow pine forests of southwest Mississippi with a deep water port and sparked unprecedented growth that saw a small village grow into the state's fourth largest city in less than twenty-five years.

The first decade of the Twentieth Century saw a huge increase in population in Hattiesburg creating the need for a rapid growth of educational facilities. The Hattiesburg public school system was created in 1895 when the Board of Aldermen elected the first trustees. Students, under the care on Miss Ann McLeod, the sole teacher, met in a frame structure near the Presbyterian church. A two-story brick building on Main Street housed Hattiesburg's first permanent school building.

As the population grew, the need for additional schools also grew. Hattiesburg was divided in four wards and the first ward school was built on Court Street in 1902 and later named Walthall School. The third ward school, named for the early settler who donated the land for the building, George Eaton, was completed in 1905. Additional ward schools were built on Hardy Street in 1907 and Bouie Street in 1908 (demolished 1967). By about 1910, Hattiesburg had five two-story brick schools for whites and one frame building for black students.

Eaton School served the Hattiesburg community as an elementary school for eighty years. It serves as a visual reminder of the city's early rapid growth and the boom years of the early twentieth century. The older wing of the Eaton School is largely intact, retaining the original floorplan and much of its interior finish.

Hattiesburg experienced another period of growth in the 1940s. Nearby Camp Shelby was a major training post during World War II. Even after Camp Shelby closed in 1946, Hattiesburg continued to grow with both a small business boom and a major building boom. The population grew from 21,000 in 1940 to 40,000 in 1949. This growth again stressed the educational infrastructure. The city passed a $1.5 million bond issue for school expansion. One of the projects included an expansion of Eaton School, with the addition of a large cafeteria/auditorium and three classrooms. The one-story addition stands as a memorial to an important period of Hattiesburg's history and the growth of its public school system.

The Eaton Elementary School was constructed in two primary phases. The earlier phase, completed in 1905, is the two story wing probably designed by noted Mississippi architect Robert E. Lee. The building exemplifies many characteristics associated with Romanesque Revival architecture.

The one-story 1949 (and later 1957) additions, designed by Hattiesburg architects Hearon & McCleskey, enhance the Romanesque Revival style of the older wing by providing a stark visual contrast. The massing and vibrant architectural detail of the original building allows it to retain an independent presence on the site.

Although the building suffers from the effects of deferred maintenance, it remains the one of most complete and intact of the Romanesque Revival school buildings of the period. The Natchez Institute, Adams County, is one of the few Romanesque Revival schools to survive. However, it lost part of its center tower over the years. The Ackerman Public School, Choctaw County, built in 1905-06 was demolished in 1941. The Macon Public School, Noxubee County, built c. 1900 was demolished c. 1960. Eaton Elementary School is a rare surviving Romanesque Revival school built at the beginning of the 20th century.

Building Description

The Eaton Elementary School, located in a residential neighborhood near downtown Hattiesburg, Mississippi, occupies a roughly T-shaped footprint. The upright of the T, consisting of the oldest portion of the building, is a two-story stucco covered structure featuring arched openings and a hip roof. The cross of the T is a later one-story brick structure with a flat roof.

The original section, completed in 1905, is two stories high topped by a hip roof covered with asphalt shingles. When built, the roof was crowned by a square louvered cupola, and a louvered hipped dormer pierced the W slope by 1950, these features had been removed, probably due to difficulty of maintenance. All exterior walls were stuccoed at an unknown date, originally the brick masonry was exposed. A corbelled cornice decorates all elevations just below the roofline, and at the second-story level, a continuous window cornice and continuous sill line the building on all sides, framing the second-story windows on top and bottom. First floor windows on all sides exhibit less ornate detailing, with plain cornices and simple stone sills. Currently, all windows are boarded, but most are intact behind the plywood, although broken and in need of repair. All windows are 4/4 wood double-hung-sash, those on the second floor have round-arched heads, while those on the first floor feature segmentally arched heads.

The north facade features three symmetrical bays, dominated by the gabled center pavilion that projects slightly from the wall plane, its parapet wall flanked by short corbelled pilasters at the top. A tripartite round-arched window is in the gable end of the pavilion above four round-arched windows at the second-story level. The main entrance is located at the first-story level, double-leaf metal replacement doors are sheltered by a canopy and are topped by a round-arched transom with divided lights. Originally this entrance was flush with the outside wall, but by the 1950s, the doors had been recessed behind the arch. Flanking the center pavilion on either side are four windows at both the first and second stories. Offset to the east, a metal fire escape rises from the ground to the flat roof of the one-story addition.

The west elevation features seven equally spaced windows on each floor, with the same details as previously described. The center window on the second floor has been replaced with a metal door that opens to a metal fire escape.

The south (rear) elevation exhibits less symmetry than other elevations, the upper floor has 10 windows, while some openings on the first floor have clearly been infilled. A center entrance on the first floor consists of a double-leaf steel door, corresponding to the center hall accessed by the front entrance. Three original windows are to the right of the door, while two 12-light steel hopper/fixed windows are to the left.

The interior, other than a few modifications and deterioration due to a leaking roof, is almost completely intact in both materials and floor plan. Four classrooms are located on each floor, connected by a simple hallway system. On the first floor, a center hallway runs the length of the building, from the main entrance on the north to the rear entrance on the south. A cross-axial hall, inserted into the building when the 1949 addition was built on the W side, intersects this main hallway at the center, leading to the cafeteria of the 1949 addition. Two offices are located just to the right of the main entrance, these are probably not original and if not, were carved out of the classroom in this quadrant of the building. At the rear of the main hall, a double-entry stair leads up to the second floor level. On the second floor, the four classrooms take up the four quadrants of the space, each opening onto a central stair hall. A long, narrow closet also opens onto this hall, with its opposite end containing the center window of the N facade. Closets opening into the classrooms themselves separate the two southern classrooms from the two northern classrooms.

It is surprising that the original building did not apparently include an auditorium or assembly room on the second floor, as was common in schools of this size during this period. Its Hattiesburg contemporary, Walthall (Court Street) School, built in 1902, also apparently did not have an auditorium until a 1920s renovation/addition. Whether this indicates a lack of money on the part of the school district, a curriculum that did not include daily assemblies, or the architect's failure to research the most up-to-date school plans is unknown.

Some changes in material occurred on the interior around the time of the 1949 addition, linoleum now covers the floors on both the first and second stories, and 2' x 1' fiber-tile is attached over (now more often falling from) the original beadboard ceilings. Plaster walls are throughout, with a low beadboard wainscot running below the window sills. Beadboard also decorates the staircase on the knee walls and the bottom of the staircase. On the first floor, all classroom doors have been replaced, but retain their 1-light transoms; on the second floor, original 5-panel wood doors with 1-light transoms are in place.

A one-story brick addition with a flat roof, built in 1949, is located to the east of the two-story wing. This addition contains 3 classrooms, a kitchen, and a cafetorium, a space designed to accommodate both a cafeteria and a meeting space with stage. In 1957, a dedicated seating area on the opposite side of the stage was added to the N (front) elevation of this section of the building. Features of this two-stage addition include 6-light steel-frame awning-type windows with concrete sills. Exterior doors have been replaced on both additions, but otherwise, both the interior and exterior are original and intact.