I have been in love with the Art Moderne Durant School since the first time I saw it in the header of Preservation in Mississippi back in 2010. After secretly pining for my own photograph of this school for the last 7 years, I finally managed. I am nothing if not persistent–it is a blessing and a curse.
N. W. Overstreet designed the monolithic concrete building, which took approximately 2 years to complete. W. E. Rubush of Meridian was the superintendent of construction. The building was 181 feet by 138 feet, with an auditorium seating 600, and two adjacent wings for the high school and the elementary school.
In 1900, the Yazoo Herald (25 May, p. 3) reported that only one bid had been received for building the Durant school, from W. O. Glass of Yazoo City for a cost of $14,000. The school board decided to wait. By 1902, the Vicksburg American (16 Oct, p. 7) reported Durant’s growing prosperity and a public school in good shape would result in a school tax that would give an eight month school term. Subsequently, they lost and then regained accreditation:
Clarion-Ledger, May 7, 1922, p. 10.
Like most states, cities and towns, and school districts, Durant sought to utilize New Deal Administration benefits carried out under the Roosevelt presidency. The first mention I located related to Durant schools was when the state board approved projects that would create 3,199 jobs in Mississippi, one of which was the Durant school buildings, employing 40 men at a cost of $4,945 through the Civil Works Administration program (Homestead Plan Launched; CWA Program Rushed, December 3, 1933, Daily Clarion-Ledger, p. 1, 17). The first applications for Public Works Administration were approved in 1935, with the school building at Inverness given approval to move forward. Included in the applications was the Durant school in the amount of $100,000 (PWA Announces Change in Handling Projects, First Job is Approved, Clarion-Ledger, 12 Aug 1935, p. 10).
While Mississippi did indeed apply for PWA funds to construct the Durant school, the application was not submitted until after May 10, 1938 (applications X1330 and X1410). The Durant school project was returned unfunded due to lack of funds ($5,000,000 PWA Projects Denied to Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger, 07 Sep 1939, p. 1) due to lack of funds. Undaunted, an application was made for Works Progress Administration funding in 1940. Durant matched WPA’s $35,799 allotment with $40,616 according to an announcement by Senator Theo G. Bilbo for approval of project No. 41133 (Durant School Project Okehed, February 22, 1940, Daily Clarion-Ledger, p. 2). Three days later, Senator Pat Harrison announced the federal allotment of $35,799 for the school, and another $10,348 (project no. 41124) for a gymnasium at Unity School in Saltillo (Durant to get school building, Clarion-Ledger, Feb 25, 1940, p. 17).
Construction finally began on the new school building in 1940 when preliminary clearing of the grounds began, employing 20 men initially, and eventually, 60 men (Construction to begin on school building soon, Sept 8, 1940, Clarion-Ledger, p.5). Durant passed a $60,000 bond issue to supplement the $95,000 provided by WPA. By March 2, 1941, “School work going fine” and on schedule and touted as “one of the prettiest and strongest” of the Mississippi schools (Clarion-Ledger, p.5).
I have come to love the Art Moderne look…along with industrial architecture and mid-century modern since moving to Mississippi. Thank you, Durant, for continuing to use this beautiful N. W. Overstreet & Associates building completed in 1942. Some things just do not need to be replaced, and this is one of them.