Pearl River College began its historical odyssey as the state’s first county agricultural high school in the first decade of the last century. For the first eleven years, the school was devoted solely to educating high school-age children in academic studies and agricultural and home sciences. In the school’s twelfth year, PRCAHS became the first Mississippi agricultural high school to offer freshman college courses. By 1924, the school became the first public two-year college in the state. All through its existence, Pearl River College has led Mississippi education into new arenas. This is a timeline of the school’s history.
Mississippi becomes the 20th State in the United States of America under its first governor, W.C.C. Claiborne.
Mississippi joins other southern U.S. states in secession from the Union. Mississippi-born Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederate States of America and the War Between the States ensues.
Pearl County is established by a Mississippi Legislative Act. The county of Pearl is taken from Marion and Hancock counties. The area is much smaller than present-day Pearl River County and the heavy tax burden placed upon the sparsely populated area is more than the county’s residents can bear, so the county is dissolved in 1878 after six years with the land returning to the original counties.
A United States Post Office is established at Poplarville
The railroad era begins with the construction of the New Orleans and Northeastern railroad. Running through the middle of what is now Pearl River County, the railroad connects the pine barrens to the outside world, providing cheap transportation for goods.
Poplarville is chartered as a town by the State of Mississippi with a population of 232.
Pearl River County is established by a Mississippi Legislative Act. The county is comprised of an area that runs from just north of Lumberton to just south of McNeill, with its east and west boundaries the same as today. During this time period, the lumber industry begins with northern businesses buying up huge tracts of land. Sawmills spring up along the new railroad and thousands of new residents come in from the east coast and from the recently depleted pine forests of the Florida panhandle.
The Mississippi Agricultural High School Law is passed by the state legislature. The Pearl River County School Board meets July 6 to discuss the establishment of Pearl River County Agricultural High School. State Senator, Theo G. Bilbo and Professor Eugene B. Ferris are named to the Board of Trustees for the new school. Poplarville is chosen as the site for the new school because of the promise of $2,245 and a suitable tract of land as the site. Although the new Agricultural High School Law is declared unconstitutional because it does not allow for equal opportunity for African American school children, the people of Poplarville guarantee funding to the new board of trustees until such time as state money can be obtained, making Pearl River County Agricultural High School the first in the state.
In July, the cornerstone for the multi-purpose building is laid with J.C. Hardy, the president of Mississippi State Agricultural & Mechanical College (Mississippi State University) bringing the address. On September 9, Pearl River County Agricultural High School (PRCAHS and also known as the AHS) opened its doors to the first students.
The new Mississippi Agricultural High School Law is introduced which makes accommodations for the African American children.
The new administration building (Jacobs Hall) is built providing classroom, library and office space for the new school. William Jacobs replaces T.M. Kelly as the school’s superintendent. PRCAHS fields its first football team. This team becomes the forerunner to one of the most powerful and long-lived Junior College teams in the nation, racking up 15 state championships and one national championship in its first 75 years.
The girl’s dormitory (Batson Hall) is built. This third building allows space for the boys in the original building. The first graduating class is awarded diplomas by Lieutenant Governor and PRCAHS Board of Trustees member, Theo G. Bilbo.
Will Jacobs resigns from the superintendent’s position and James Andrew Huff, Superintendent at Stone-Harrison County AHS (Perkinston) is elected to replace Jacobs.
The original PRCAHS building burned on April 19, 1919, and a new boy’s dormitory (Huff Hall) is built to replace it that same year.
The Board of Trustees approved the addition of freshman college courses to the curriculum, making Pearl River County Agricultural High School the first publicly funded institution to do so. The courses are first offered during the 1921-22 school year.
A new cafeteria and dormitory combination is built (Crosby Hall). With a cafeteria seating around 300 on the first floor and dormitory space for 33 students on the second floor, the new building is built largely with donated funds from local lumber baron and philanthropist, L. O. Crosby, Sr.
During the August Board of Trustees meeting, the board authorizes the addition of college sophomore classes to the curriculum for 1922-23. This, however, does not actually take place until the 1925-26 school year.
The new superintendent’s home is constructed.
The new superintendent’s home is constructed.
Pearl River College begins playing college football. The Wildcat’s first games are against Mississippi College, Louisiana College (LSU) and State Teacher’s College (USM).
Pearl River College Wildcats win the first state football championship, and begin a four-year winning streak, winning in 1925 and winning 1926, 1927, and 1928 state championships for the first three years of the Mississippi Junior College Athletic Association’s (MJCAA) existence. The 10th Grade high school classes are transferred back to the county schools and sophomore college classes are added, making Pearl River the first public 2-year institution in Mississippi.
College Hall (Moody Hall) is constructed. This combination classroom and gymnasium-auditorium also houses the college administration offices. J.A. Huff retires to his interests in Poplarville. The Board of Trustees attempt to lure R.E.L. Southerland from Hinds County Agricultural High School, but are unsuccessful. They then choose Simon Lafayette Stringer, Superintendent of Picayune Schools to replace the popular Huff.
The college women’s dormitory is built (White Hall) to accommodate the increased demand for dormitory space because of the addition of the college curriculum.
Simon Lafayette Stringer resigns and is replaced by Joseph Forrest Stuart
Pearl River Hall is built to add to the men’s dormitory space.
Pearl River County Agricultural High School and Junior College makes an application to and is approved by the War Department to establish a Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps unit (JROTC). This changes the face of the campus. The school begins to resemble a military school more than an agricultural high school as uniformed students are seen marching on the grounds. The campus newspaper is begun and named “The Cadet”, a reflection of the current status.
Joseph Forrest Stuart resigns and is replaced by Arthur Benjamin Nicholson.
Arthur Benjamin Nicholson resigns as president and resumes his pre-presidential position. He is replaced by Robert Edward Lee Southerland, Hinds Junior College’s first president
Robert Edward Lee Southerland resigns and is replaced by Reese Dermont McLendon. Football games are discontinued mid-season because of World War II and do not resume until the fall of 1944.
A dormitory for married veterans is erected (Bilbo Hall).
A prefabricated building is obtained from the government (Jefferson Davis Hall). It is erected by vocational students at no additional cost to the school. The building is used as a science building and is bricked shortly after it is built.
A new gymnasium is erected at the front of the campus. Named after Judge J.M. Shivers, the gym replaces the gym-auditorium in Moody Hall. Renovations are made on Moody Hall, converting the gym-auditorium into an auditorium, with an extended stage area. The construction is paid for by timber sales off the campus acreage.
The college begins a transportation program with the purchase of two buses. This allows students to come to the college on a daily basis rather than having to live on campus, saving the college the expense of building additional dormitories. This program continues until 1996 when it is no longer necessary.
Reese Dermont McLendon resigns to accept the president’s position at Northwest Junior College. He is replaced by Dr. Garvin Howell Johnston. Johnston is the first Pearl River Junior College alumnus to serve as President. The Fine Arts building is completed (now Hancock Hall). “The Cadet” is renamed “The Dixie Drawl.”
The Metal Trades Building (Visual Arts Building) is completed.
This year marks the end of an era. High school classes, begun in 1909, are transferred to the Poplarville Municipal Separate School District. Pearl River Junior College and Agricultural High School becomes Pearl River Junior College.
A boy’s dormitory is added (Lamar Hall) bringing the total number of dorms to six: White Hall, Batson Hall, Huff Hall, Pearl River Hall, Bilbo Hall, and Lamar Hall. Pearl River College Wildcats football team wins the State and National Championships. This “Dream Team” is coached by football legend, Dobie Holden.
A new student center is located front and center on the campus. Containing a grill and bookstore the building will later become the Ted J. Alexander Administration Building
Authorized by the State Board of Junior Colleges, an Associate Degree Nursing program is begun at Pearl River. A new science building is completed (Present-day Science & Mathematics Building). A 44,000 square foot building to house vocational and technical programs is built. The completion of Dobie Holden Stadium gives the nationally famous Wildcat football team a suitable home
Garvin H. Johnston resigns to run for State Superintendent of Education. He is replaced by Dr. Marvin Ross White, another Pearl River alumnus.
A new library building is built on the west side of the campus (Garvin H. Johnston Library). A new academic building is built nearby (Seal Hall). Jacobs Hall is demolished to make way for a new administrative building (Information Technologies Building).
Hurricane Camille hits the Mississippi Gulf Coast with all the fury of a category 5 hurricane. With wind gusts as high as 200 miles per hour, the devastation it leaves behind is catastrophic. Rain and storm-spawned tornados rip through south Mississippi leaving in its wake such destruction that Pearl River Junior College’s six-county district is declared a disaster area. Every building on campus is damaged. The damage, ranging from minor roof damage to total destruction, halts classes. Batson Hall is declared totally destroyed as the roof is blown off and the building is structurally devastated. Assessing the damages at three-quarters of a million dollars, all building money is diverted to repair and replacement. In spite of the destructive hand that Camille deals the college, a bid is let to build the Forrest County Vocational Center on 12 acres of land. This begins a satellite program that continues for the next 15 years. This vocational-technical satellite program reaches into every county in Pearl River Junior College’s six-county district.
Marion Hall is built to replace damaged Batson Hall. The new dormitory features apartments opening onto an enclosed atrium. Featuring a large fountain surrounded by study tables, it offers a place for students to study and socialize. Moody Hall is renovated and the Fine Arts Department is moved into the remodeled building. The old Fine Arts Building is renovated, providing classroom and office space. The new administration building (current Information Technology Building) is completed.
The band hall is constructed.
M.R. White Coliseum, a spots arena, is built, providing athletic office space and a 3000 seat arena.
The Diesel Mechanics Technology building is constructed on the north end of the campus. A Brick, Block, and Stone Masonry Technology annex is also built onto the Diesel Mechanics building.
An Automotive Mechanics Technology annex is added to the Diesel Mechanics Technology building.
Crosby Hall goes through the first of several annexing projects. Annexes are built, flanking the original front of Crosby Hall and allowing meeting rooms and expanded dining facilities.
Marvin H. White retires and the Board of Trustees elect Dr. Ted J. Alexander the ninth President of Pearl River Junior College.
Alexander’s first job is the construction of a new President’s home. Although the project began under White’s administration, Alexander is left to complete the construction, since White deferred the design of the home to the incoming president.
Alexander meets the challenge of state legislative cutbacks with the establishment of two programs: The Alumni Association and Development Foundation, and the Office of Research and Grants Development. During the first 16 years, the Alumni Association and Development Foundation bring in almost $5 million in private funding, while the Office of Research and Grants Development is responsible for over $50 million in federal and private grant money. Work is begun on a 44,000 square foot technology center. The center is completed the following year. Pearl River Junior College changes its name to Pearl River Community College to reflect the growing list of programs offered to the college’s six-county district.
Two new dormitory facilities are funded and built on the west end of the campus. They serve as the Men’s and Women’s Honors Dormitories. An annex is added to the Science building. The annex is a two-story addition that almost triples the original floor space.
Forrest County funds the construction of a new Allied Health Occupations building on a 49-acre land donation (made by the Tatum family) adjacent to the Forrest County Vocational Center. The new building houses allied health programs. Through grant funds, a half-million-dollar resource center is added to the Library on the Poplarville campus.
A major renovation and addition is made to Crosby Hall. The old dining room and kitchen spaces are converted into space for a bookstore, counseling center, nurses station, post office, grill and bookstore. A 600 seat addition houses the new dining hall and kitchen (Olivia Bender Cafeteria).
Senator Thad Cochran cuts the ribbon on a new $3.7 million Nursing and Wellness center on the west side of the campus.
Pearl River Community College puts up its first official internet site. Work begins on the new administration building. Funded by grant money, the project is a renovation that turns the one-story student center into a two-story administration complex (Ted J. Alexander Administration Building).
Announcements are made at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg concerning the legislature’s approval of a $4 million grant for the establishment of an Advanced Center for Technology Partnership. The grant requires a matching $1 million dollars to be raised by the school. This money is raised before July 2000.
Ted J. Alexander retires and is replaced by Dr. William A. Lewis, Pearl River College’s tenth president. Renovations funded by a grant are begun on Huff and Pearl River halls. Pearl River Community College becomes the first community college in the nation to produce its yearbook entirely on CD-ROM. This digital media yearbook saves the college almost $40,000 each year
Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., plans are made to seek private donations to build a chapel on the Poplarville campus. The college sets the goal at $700,000. Pearl River Community College begins the first museum at a Mississippi community college with the opening held during Homecoming festivities.
Pearl River Wildcats baseball team wins its first berth in the Junior College World Series.
Men’s Basketball wins the State Championship. Construction begins on a third renovation and addition to Crosby Hall. The addition adds a 300 seat conference room to the Olivia Bender Cafeteria and adds a student life center for study and relaxation to the old structure. After a successful campaign raising over $700,000 the school breaks ground for the new chapel. The chapel is built across from the Nursing & Wellness Center on the west side of the Poplarville campus. The museum launches a renovation project adding an additional 500 square feet to the display area and a timeline display that features the information in this booklet. This renovation is also funded by private donations. Pearl River wins first ever State Championship in Men’s Soccer then wins 16th State Championship in football. This win is the first State Championship for Pearl River in 25 years
Construction on Campus continues. Crosby Hall Student Life Center is completed in April while Chapel construction continues into the summer. The Pearl River Community College Museum Patrons’ Organization premieres a 71-minute documentary on the history of Pearl River College in February. Men’s Basketball garners the State Championship for a second year in a row. Wildcat Baseball defeats Meridain for the State Championship. The cumulative State Championship wins for Football, Soccer, Basketball and Baseball makes JUCO history. This is, arguably, the first time in junior college history that a junior college has taken all four men’s major sports in a single school year. It is affirmed that it is the first time in MACJC history.
This timeline is an attempt to put the school history into perspective. It will be updated as more information becomes available. Research is still underway, and alumni and friends of PRCC are encouraged to contribute any information they may have toward an accurate history.