The solid Georgian Revival Beauty has stood proud since it was completed in 1927 by renowned Meridian architect P.J. Krouse. It was one of the few schools in the state built on the E site plan, meaning that some of the classes were located on the North Flank and other classes and the library were located on the South Flank. The center of the E was the auditorium with the Principals Office behind the stage. The backbone of the E was the front hall which provided classrooms, restrooms as well as counseling and administrative offices.
My dad went here when the building was just a few years old, in the mid to early 1930′s. When I was younger he would tell me stories of going to school here and learning to play the saxophone. The stories he told offered a whole new insight to the gentle man that would later become a mechanic and want to help people in need whether he got paid or not. Because of my dad’s history here, a time of carefree thinking and planning of the adventures a life has for you, I had always wanted to poke around and look to see where some of his dreams began.
Much of the south wing of the classic building burned almost 3 years ago. Since then the classrooms have remained silent. When I was in Laurel to celebrate my Mom’s 80th birthday a few weeks ago I took an opportunity to ride around and look some of the wonderful old buildings in my charming hometown. I was surprised when I went by Stewart Jones and saw the doors open. Construction workers were doing a superb job restoring the severely damaged South wing of the old school. I stayed out of their way and took photos of the magnificent old auditorium. I have to admit I sat there and imagined my daddy playing a sax solo at a long ago Christmas program. I would love to go back in time! The sun from the windows streamed in to an old dirty stage. From the right perspective the light was gorgeous against the American Flag that still stood proud, center-stage.
Downstairs an old map laminated on the wall directed me to the entrance to the old fallout shelter that was meant to protect students from nuclear attack in perilous times. When I peered into the old shelter it looked like junk had been stored there for many more years than it was ever used as a fallout shelter.
Classrooms still had notes and homework assignments written on the boards. Code of Conduct was taken seriously here, and straying from the rules would not be tolerated. It seems that teachers were well loved as bulletin boards still had notes tacked up from students at the end of the last day. The notes all proclaimed that their teacher was the best and could not be beat!
Most lockers stood empty, although some still had notes tacked up on them, or numbers from football jerseys. Storage rooms were filled with books and class-plans for the upcoming semester. Positive signs still displayed in empty halls encouraged students to” be all they could become’, ‘to dream big,’ and ‘go out and make a difference in the world.’ One or two essays penned on the walls indicated that at least a few of the students that attended planned to take advantage of a good education and make their mark in the world. I sure do hope the best for them. I don’t know where they’ve been dispersed to since the fire, but I pray they have held on to the the strong convictions that were taught at this Mississippi Landmark.
I know that my dad never forgot his time at Stewart M. Jones. He would talk about it when we would drive by there and say, almost to himself, “good times, that was a good school”.
The current plan for Stewart M. Jones is to begin a Ninth Grade Academy at the location once renovations are complete. School board members feel that the ninth grade is a pivotal time when teens make the transition between middle school and high school. If they can reach students at this critical stage they can be encouraged throughout their high school careers, producing a much higher graduation rate for Seniors and a much lower drop out rate for 10th graders. I’d say that is a pretty good legacy for Stewart M. Jones to carry on. I think my dad would be proud.