Friday, July 27, 2012

The Cooper Institute Historical Website

Located at Daleville, MS.
This website is devoted to the Cooper Institute, an early higher learning school founded in East Central Mississippi during the years immediately following the Civil War in the area originally known as Spring Hill (derived its' name from the clean water found at a local spring).  Cooper Institute at Daleville is an important historical  site that is all but forgotten in Mississippi's post Civil War recovery period.  Students from all around the South came here to receive a higher education.  
I grew up in Lizelia, MS. (old Daleville) on the Cole Plantation and as a youngster my father would sometimes drive by the old Cooper Institute girls' dormitory and he would talk about it's place in the areas' history and its' importance to the community during the late 1800s.  During the '50s and '60s you could still go inside the old girls' dormitory and see furniture and other belongings left behind  in the upstairs area of the building. Recently, as I developed the Cole Plantation Website which was located at Lizelia in Old Daleville (see the link at top of this page), I saw a need for more facts about The Cooper Institute. There was almost nothing available as I researched web archives for information about the old school in Daleville.  Because of The Cole Plantations' connection to Lizelia, to Old Daleville and to the present Daleville and the communities around these old towns,  I determined to develop this website devoted to The Cooper Institute for the purpose of increasing the awareness and recognizing the importance of the  The Cooper Institute in the early history of North Lauderdale County, MS.  I extend an invitation for anyone who would like to share their photos or stories about the Cooper Institute to contact me and share your information on this website as I endeavor to make a place devoted to the schools' memory on the web.  I hope you enjoy reading about the historical Cooper Institute...........Ray Vaughn 
Cochran Hall-Cooper Institute   Daleville, MS. 
Cooper Institute   Founded 1865
Founded as Spring Hill Male and Female Academy by J.L. Cooper; known as Cooper Institute after 1873; acquired by Thomas T. McBeath in 1885 and renamed Cooper Normal College in 1886; later known as Cooper-Huddleston College

When Professor J. L. Cooper established his school at Daleville a year or so after the close of the Civil War, quite a few young men beyond the "teen"-age came from various points in our own and adjoining states, to enroll there as pupils.

Edu­cational opportunities represent one of the few bright spots of the Reconstruction period in the South after the Civil War. One of the most significant of the schools that opened just after the Civil War ended was the Cooper Institute in Daleville. Today all that remains of one of the county's first schools of higher learn­ing is a dormitory for girls on the property of Bill Wright across from the Daleville United Meth­odist Church.  The school was in the heart of Daleville, two miles from the Kemper-Lauderdale County line. In its heyday, the Cooper Institute was an inno­vative educational establishment, which its founder, Leonard Cooper, believed would break new ground in the education of rural Mississip­pians. The namesake and nephew of the school's founder, Leonard Cooper of Lizelia, said his un­cle established the school after passing through the area on his way home from the Civil War and finding a spot "ideal for his dream."

By 1865, the Cooper Institute accepted its first students and soon became "an important school with many students." Twenty years later, the col­lege, catalogue shows students from Lauderdale, Kemper, Neshoba, and Winston counties, in ad­dition to others from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Florida, were attending. That catalogue boasted that the Cooper method of education was better than "long, plodding routine text­book curriculums and methods of slow instruc­tion in other schools." Subjects offered ranged from Greek and Latin to penmanship and debat­ing.

Cooper Institute Daleville, MS. 
While the normal school may have been pro­gressive for its time, the institution was a sharp contrast to higher education today. In 1886, the college offered "boarding and lodging, with washing included, for $10 a month." Promo­tional material promised concerned parents that the school offered quiet seclusion far from ". . . the exciting scenes of city life, so detrimental to close and steady application, and ten thousand temptations to vice and dissipation."

Another contrast to modern co-ed schooling can be seen in the fact that the male dormitory building, which once stood just north of the statue of Sam Dale, was intentionally placed "way across the hollow" from the female housing facility. The school catalogue explained:

Cooper Institute Commencement Program
We consider it very abnormal to throw no restrictions over the sexes associated in the same school. Allow them full freedom of speech and in a short time the consequent "love sick affairs" will distract their mind from study, waste their time and harm the school. We allow note of this. The sexes are not permitted to desk together, visit or receive visits during the week. The task of enforcing such policies fell to Mr. and Mrs. Abner cooper, parents of the second Leonard Cooper.

After several successful decades, the Cooper Institute closed in 1890.  Sometime after 1900, the upper story of the main college building burned. With damage repaired, the building was then employed as a school in the Lauderdale County School System.  After the school closed, the old girls' dormitory served as a boarding house for many years. Wright, the current property owner, said he hopes to restore the unique building at some point in the future.

Cooper Institute -The Old Girls Dormitory
All That Was Left Of The Cooper Institute
Circa 1980's.

One factor that caused Cooper to situate his school in Daleville is an ever-flowing spring situated behind the old girls' dormitory building.  When the school was born, Daleville was known as Spring Hill, as many living in the area traveled there to partake of the fresh, flowing water.  state water treatment officials who have since tested the water have declared it may be "the best water in Mississippi."  This fresh water supply helped spur the growth and development of the area.  In fact, the spring and the Cooper Institute caused a  whole community to shift. Residents in the Old Daleville area where Sam Dale initially settled (now known as Lizelia) moved their families to Spring Hill in the mid-1800s, bringing the name Daleville with them.  The spring water not only attracted new residents but was also promoted by Cooper Institute Officials who advertised:  The location is high and sandy with an ample supply of pure well and spring water; removed from any local cause of sickness, and far enough from town and rail road to be free from their contaminating influences.

Resource Acknowledgement: Informational Content Associated with this website is credited to "Paths To The Past", An Overview History of Lauderdale County, Mississippi published 1988. This is a fine book about the history of Lauderdale County, MS. by Laura Fairley and  James Dawson and contains much informationon the history of this area in East Central Mississippi.  For more information about this book and other publications by the Lauderdale County Dept. Of Archives & History, visit their link below. 

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