Speed Street Public School, Vicksburg Mississippi

Date added: July 31, 2022 Categories: Mississippi School
Front west facade (1985)

The citizens of Vicksburg, recognizing the necessity of public education somewhat in advance of most Mississippians, established the city's first public school in 1844. Fifty years later the residents of the then recently-developed area of south Vicksburg petitioned the School Board to provide a public school in their neighborhood. On January 14, 1895, the Speed Street School opened as South Vicksburg Public School No. 200. As late as the mid-nineteen-thirties it was one of only two white elementary schools in the Vicksburg public school system. The district also included a white high school and two schools for black students of all grade levels. Upon its closing in 1940, the Speed Street School was sold to the Allein Post #3 of the American Legion. It was again sold in 1968 at which time it was divided into low-rent apartments.

William Stanton had designed a number of institutional buildings in the Vicksburg area prior to receiving the June 7, 1894, commission to build an "eight room brick building of modern size rooms with a basement and necessary halls" on Speed Street. These included the Yokena Presbyterian Church in 1885-86, and the 1880's towered facade addition to the Temple Anshe Chesed (demolished 1983) both of which were marked with a highly individual handling of stylistic elements. Stanton's designs for schools included the St. Francis Xavier Academy Hall 1885-86, the Main Street, Walnut Street, and Cherry Street Schools of 1886, and the 1894 Speed Street School, all in Vicksburg. They were characterized by brick construction, symmetrical plans with central projecting gabled or towered entrance pavilions, and hipped roofs. Ornamentation was restricted to corbelled brick or bracketed wood cornices and simple lintels. Only the Speed Street School and the St. Francis Xavier Academy survive from this group.

Although the Mississippi Constitution of 1817 declared that "schools and the means to education shall forever be encouraged in this state," this was not generally interpreted as a commitment to public education. The majority of antebellum Mississippi schools were funded through tuition fees and private contributions. The first Mississippi School Law, enacted in 1846, failed to establish its intended county-based district system of public schools. Lacking a tradition of public education, Mississippi taxpayers were loathe to shoulder the expense of educating those less fortunate. After the War this opposition was further fueled by an inferred threat of Carpetbagger-imposed school integration.

It was not until 1870 that an effective public education law was passed which created a state-wide system of county-based school districts serving both whites and blacks, albeit separately. The law required towns with populations exceeding 5,000 people to establish separate school districts. In 1870 the only towns which qualified were Natchez and Vicksburg. On October 6, 1870, the mayor and city council of Vicksburg appointed a board of school directors, thereby, creating the first municipal separate school district in the state. As of 1986 fifty-eight of Mississippi's one hundred fifty-four school districts are municipal separate school districts.

Building Description

Speed Street School is located at 900 Speed Street in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The building is a two-story, brick school (73' x 67') with a two-story auditorium added ca. 1930. The building rests on a brick foundation and the tiled roof is a truncated hip, with a central gable on the northwest and southeast facades and a cross gable on the front (southwest) facade, over the original section and a flat roof over the auditorium. Both sections are enhanced with a corbelled brick cornice. The northwest and southeast gables are each enhanced by a corbelled brick end wall chimney. The southwest facade features a four-bay central projection flanked by two bays on either side, which creates room for an entrance on either side of the projection. Two shed roofs provide protection for these entrances. Two-panel, four-light windows allow light into the basement and are capped with segmental arches with brick voussoirs (several of which have been recently bricked-up). The front gable contains a single arched window containing four lights. A corbelled belt course divides the floors of the original building. The eight-bay northeast facade featured the same configuration of windows as does the front elevation until the 1940s when the two windows under the gable on the second floor were enlarged and doors put in. The rear elevation is covered by the auditorium addition with the exception of the windows at either ends of the building.

The auditorium addition (65' x 43') is attached to the rear of the main building. This addition does not significantly detract from the original building as it is not as tall nor as wide as the original section and therefore cannot be seen from the front elevation. It is also of the same material as the original building. The first floor of the northeast (rear) elevation of this addition exhibits a door, which has been recently boarded up, flanked by a single 6/9 combination industrial window to the southeast and six 6/9 combination industrial windows to the northwest. The second floor exhibits two 6/9/3 combination industrial windows to the southeast and two windows containing four sets of 6/9/3 combination industrial windows to the northwest. This addition also maintains three bays on the northwest elevation and four bays on the southeast elevation.

The interior of the original section exhibits two central halls which run the depth of the building and which are flanked by two rooms on each side on each floor. Each hall is closed, at the front, with two-panel, four light double doors each capped with a six light transom and at the auditorium with French doors. All the doors and windows have plain, molded surrounds with a pedimented surround head and are painted. The bases and chair rails are molded. The staircase of the south hall ascends straight to a landing and descends to the basement. The staircase has simple turned balusters and a square newel. The stair-case in the north hall has been removed.

The Speed Street School operated as a school until 1940 when the City of Vicksburg sold it to Allein Post #3 of the American Legion. It was then sold in 1968 and became low-income apartments. During this time several windows were replaced with doors and ten foot partitions were used to divide the spacious 14' ceiling classrooms. With the exception of the removal of one of the staircases no historic fabric was damaged with these additions and they are easily reversible. The auditorium was also converted into apartments.