Abandoned Okolona College campus MS

Okolona College - Okolona Normal & Industrial School, Okolona Mississippi
Date added: August 24, 2022 Categories: Mississippi School
Boys dormitory looking southwest (2002)

The campus played a vital role in the education and vocational training of African Americans in the northeast region of Mississippi during the twentieth century prior to integration of the state's educational facilities.

Okolona College (formerly the Okolona Industrial School or Okolona Normal and industrial School) was founded in 1902 by Wallace A. Battle who believed the answer to the problem the African-American population was facing was best found through education. He challenged interested citizens in Okolona to raise $4,000 to begin a school for the African Americans of northeast Mississippi. Mr. Battle also enlisted the assistance of some of the leading white people in Okolona, who were interested in the institution and were able to dissipate animosity from members of the community about the education of African Americans at the Institute. In 1904, Okolona College was incorporated and instruction began in the old Calvary Baptist Church and Mr. Battle's blacksmith shop.

Okolona College was a non-sectarian school until 1920 when it became affiliated with the American Church Institute for Negroes--a branch of the Protestant Episcopal Church that operated nine educational institutions for African Americans in the south at that time.

Okolona College served as a four-year high school and two-year junior college. Students were able to choose from course study in elementary education, business education, general education, building trades, home economics, and agriculture. Coursework was based on the idea that "no one is truly educated unless one is trained to earn a living with his hands as well as his head." (J. L. Raspberry) Consequently, the curriculum was based on three days of academic study with two days devoted to trade or industry for young men and women. Many of the buildings at Okolona College were built by students in the course of their vocational training. This training can be seen in the changes that occurred on the campus: many wooden framed buildings were built, that were later bricked or stuccoed by other students.

At its height, Okolona College encompassed 380 acres of land in the rich prairie section of northeast Mississippi and educated more than three-hundred day and boarding students a year. Curriculum provided training to high school age students since there was no African-American high school in the area until 1959. A survey in 1964 indicated that Okolona College had provided education to 85% of all African-American teachers in the tri-county area of Chickasaw, Calhoun, and Monroe Counties. Okolona College ended its educational service to the African Americans of northeast Mississippi in 1965. The campus and buildings were purchased by the Local Sections, National Council of Negro Women, State of Mississippi, Inc. in 1986.

Building Description

The Okolona College is located on the west side of US Highway 245, 1.1 miles north of its intersection with Mississippi Highways 41 and 32, and within the city limits of the City of Okotona. The campus consists of four extant buildings, Abbott Hall, McDougall Hall, Vocational Agriculture Building, and the T. D. Bratton Memorial Dormitory; one gazebo; and the ruins of a boy's dormitory. Entrance to the campus is through one of three sets of decorative brick piers flanking the drives. A historic neon sign on a brick pier is located at the north entrance to the campus. Abbott Hall and the gazebo are located on the interior of a horseshoe-shaped drive that connects the two interior entrances, forming a large green-space. All other buildings are to the exterior of the drive, face the green-space, and are connected by concrete sidewalks. The architecture of the buildings is vernacular and/or modern.

Abbott Hall. Circa 1929-1930. Facing east, a one-story, brick and stuccoed building with side-gabled roof of asphalt shingles, divided into 7 bays, which are delineated by soldier-course brickwork around normal running bond. Primary entrance is centrally located on the east facade under a cross gable with lunette window in gable end and a cornice of terra cotta which reads "Okolona Normal & Industrial School." The door opening, which has been boarded-in, is surrounded by a soldier-course band with four, square, cast-concrete bricks at each corner and flanked by a pair of sidelights, which are flanked by brick pilasters with terra cotta capitals. Four chimneys, all somewhat deteriorated, stretch along the roof just behind the gable ridge. Full facade porch is on the western, rear, elevation, undercut, and supported on simple, wooden posts. Doors are six-light, five-panel. Windows are boarded shut with sheet metal; however, one opening exposes a multi-light metal window.

Rosenwald Fund records at Fisk University list "Okolona Industrial" as a recipient of Rosenwald funding. Abbott Hall matches the description in the records; brick, four classroom, and it may be deduced that Abbott Hall is the building to which the records refer. The building's primary facade bears a resemblance to Rosenwald Plan #6, although the back porch deviates from this plan. Works Progress Administration records of Chickasaw County also refer to the building as "the Rosenwald building."

Abbott Hall housed four classrooms, the President's Office and a reception room, and the Registrar's Office. The students of Okolona College, primarily under the leadership of then President A. M. Strange built the building, begun in 1929 and finished by 1934.

McDougall Hall. Circa 1931. To the north of Abbott Hall and facing south toward Abbott Hall, a two-story, painted brick building with roof obscured by flat parapet. Decorative brickwork is evident along the cornice on all sides and in the quoined pilasters at each of the corners of the building. These pilasters also divide the northern and southern elevations into three bays and the eastern and western elevations into two bays. Windows are generally paired of singular, sixteen-light steel casements. The entrance is a six-light, one-panel, double-leaf door with four-light transom, in the central bay of southern facade. This entrance is under a flat-roofed, open vestibule with rounded arch. Iron railing on the roof of this vestibule forms a balcony for a second-storey entrance, which is a four-light, one-panel, double-leaf door with two-light transom. The entrance is flanked on each side by windows: single, four-light, steel casement windows with diamond-shaped, metal muntins on the first storey and single, eight-light, steel casement windows on the second storey. Decorative, terra cotta panels are located at the cornice, above the entrance, and on either side of the entrance and between the first and second stories.

McDougall Hall is the most architecturally significant, extant building on the Okolona College campus, built in a modern style. On the first floor, the McDougall Hall housed the offices of the Chaplain, Business Manager and Dean as well as a Chapel. The Health Department and Nurse's Office, the Science Department, and Home Economics Department, and a guest chamber were housed on the second floor.

Bratton Memorial Dormitory (Bratton Hall). Circa 1950. To the west of Abbott Hall, facing south, T. D. Bratton Memorial Dormitory, more commonly called Bratton Hall, is a multi-winged, asymmetrical, one-story, scored-brick building with gabled, hipped, and gable-on-hip asphalt roofs. Windows are primarily paired, ten-light, steel casements. Front facade has two entrances, one being a three light, one-panel, double-leaf wooden door with three-light transom and the other being a single-panel, double-leaf metal door with three-light transom. Windows on the southern elevation of the primary facade are two- and four-ganged, eight-light, steel casements.

The two major wings of Bratton Hall were used for the women's dormitory. The building also housed a laundry for the campus, as well as the campus cafeteria.

Vocational Agriculture Building. Circa 1950. Across the campus green space from Bratton Hall, and facing north, the Vocational Agriculture Building is a one-story, brick building with a side-gabled, asphalt shingled roof. Windows are paired, two-over-two, multi-light, and aluminum-framed. Primary entrance is on the northern facade, centrally located, under a gabled portico supported by two brick columns and enclosed with decorative, open-work, poured-concrete tiles.

This building apparently was built on the site of the Robert Patton Library and Old Okolona Hall (not to be confused with the Okolona Hall known as the Boy's Dormitory), both apparently destroyed by fire at the same time but documented on the 1945 Sanborn Maps of the campus.

Boy's Dormitory. (Also called Okolona Hall in a school yearbook from 1954.) Circa 1950. Two the east of the Vocational Agriculture Building and facing north, the Boy's Dormitory is a one-story, scored-brick, flat-roofed building. Decorative basket-weave brickwork is evident along the upper wall beneath a concrete-capped parapet. Windows are paired, multi-light, steel casements. Primary facade features interesting, diagonal-wall entrances. Only the northern facade and partial walls of east and west facades stand after a fire destroyed the rest of the building in 1992.

Gazebo. Circa 1950. Within the campus green space, off-center to the south and almost centered between the Trades Building and Okolona Hall, the gazebo is octagonal with a domed, asphalt-clad roof with wooden cornice. Brick arches in a running bond pattern form each of the eight sides of the gazebo. The floor of the structure is poured concrete that connects to sidewalks linking the gazebo with the campus buildings.

Brick entrance piers. Circa 1950. Located at the southern entrance to the campus, a pair of brick piers flanks the drive. Each entrance pier is composed of two square piers with stepped bricks laid in a pyramidal formation.

Connecting the two piers is a brick wall with a basket-weave pattern surrounded by a soldier pattern, all on a base of running bond and topped by a row of header bond.

Brick entrance piers. Circa 1950. Located at the northern back entrance to the campus, a pair of brick piers flanks the drive. Each entrance pier is composed of two square piers with stepped bricks laid in a pyramidal formation. Connection the two piers is a brick wall with a basket-weave pattern surrounded by a soldier pattern, all on a base of running bond and topped by a row of header bond.

Brick entrance pier. Circa 1950. Located at the northern main entrance to the campus, a brick pier and wall flanks the northern side of the drive.

Okolona College Entrance Sign. Circa 1950. At the northern entrance to the campus, located on the former US Highway 45, now a dirt road, is the Okolona College entrance sign. A metal, arrow sign tops a large, pyramidal pier of decorative brickwork, pointing west toward the campus, which once had the words "Okolona College" lit by neon gas in tubing. Above the arrow is a small metal piece on the north side of the sign which reads, "Founded 1902" and below the arrow "Wallace A. Battle."