Jackson, Louisiana – Old Centenary College

14 Sep

The West Wing Dormitory of Old Centenary College in Jackson, Louisiana.

The towns of Jackson, Clinton, and St. Francisville no longer reflect their past glory but still there are many clues to that heritage that can be found in both East and West Feliciana Parishes.  Thankfully the residents of these small towns have pride in their heritage and have taken the lead to preserve those elements that have linked each generation of people who have lived there.

One of the most enduring structures is the west wing dormitory of Old Centenary College  in Jackson, Louisiana.  Many that grew up in the recent past near Jackson may remember this structure as an old ghostly looking building.  It was the old spooky building out by the baseball fields.  Today it has been restored to its 1837 condition.

The west wing dormitory is all that survives of the original 3 room educational complex  There was an east wing dormitory and a magnificent center building in which classes were held.

The main or center building and the east wing dormitory have been lost to time.  The remaining west wing dormitory is two stories high and one room deep with a free-standing colonnade encompassing the long south front and east and west ends.  The second story rooms are reached by means of a continuous balcony with three sets of exterior stars along the front.

The college first began as the College of Louisiana in 1937 but it came into the hands of a Methodist College in 1845.  Centenary College, previously located in Mississippi, moved to the grounds in 1845.  Centenary had been founded in Mississippi in 1839 on the 100th anniversary (or centenary) of the founding of the Methodist society by John Wesley.

Centenary grew rapidly and reached its peak enrollment of 260 just prior to the Civil War. The war not only took all of the students but it also took a toll on the buildings and grounds.  After the war Centenary was in constant repair and the student body did not regain its previous numbers. Jackson could not regain its former vitality. The college survived until 1900 when at that time a new home was sought.  A 40 acre site in Shreveport was offered and in 1906 Centenary moved to its present location.

After the college’s departure, the campus sat unused for fifteen years. In the mid 1920s it was used as a tuberculosis hospital. But by 1935, the campus was in a state of extreme disrepair, and on the brink of condemnation. The three buildings had three different owners, two of whom chose to sell the rights for demolition. The East Wing and Center Building were both demolished, and the salvageable materials from them sold for scrap. There were many buildings constructed in that time from Jackson to New Orleans whose materials included those of the Main Academic Building.

The West Wing remained standing because its owners had come up with a way to make it far more lucrative than just knocking it down. From 1938 to 1965, the West Wing Dormitory was low-income housing. The campus itself was used as a trailer park. To this day, there are visible remnants of the residences that were there during that time.

In the 1970s, the only use the campus saw was a baseball field, which happened to be on the site of the College’s baseball field more than 80 years earlier. In 1977, not long before it was to be demolished, the West Wing was saved due to the efforts of many influential citizens in and around Jackson. The State of Louisiana purchased and restored the West Wing, Professor’s Cottage, and surrounding 43 acres. The West Wing was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and Centenary State Historic Site was born.

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One Response to “Jackson, Louisiana – Old Centenary College”

  1. Frances D Boyd September 26, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    What a lot of history to tell !
    I am so glad that part of it is still there.
    Fine work Robert….your work is amazing and your research excellent.

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