The sale of the Oakland School will carry with it more than a building and an estimated 1.83 acres of land; the property is also bound by a Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s “Preservation and Maintenance Covenant.”
Issued on the former home of Oakland Normal Institute in April 2003, the purpose of the MDAH covenant is to protect and preserve the architectural and historical integrity of properties like the Oakland schoolhouse, as well as the State of Mississippi’s investment in the property. The structure’s 2004 renovation by the Oakland Normal Institute Restoration Committee was funded with the assistance of a $20,000 Mississippi Landmark Grant, distributed through MDAH. Additional funding was provided by House Bill No. 1837 and individual and company donations.
The Itawamba County School Board voted in favor of selling the Oakland property during their June 1 meeting. Whoever eventually purchases the building and adjacent land will have to abide by the guidelines put in place by the MDAH.
Mississippi Landmark designation is the highest form of recognition bestowed on properties by the state of Mississippi. It offers the fullest protection against changes that might alter a property’s historic character. MDAH Preservation Specialist Mingo Tingle told The Times via phone that when the property sells, the new owner must get permission before altering anything on the property, whether they are funded by grants or not.
“Once a property receives the distinction, the owner cannot alter or destroy anything without the permission,” Tingle said. “They must contact us, make the request and we must issue a permit allowing the work to be done.”
Originally a two-story structure, Oakland Normal Institute first opened its doors in 1887 as a means of educating students in Itawamba County to become future teachers. The original building was torn down in the 1930s, and the single-level structure that stands today was built using much of the wood from the original school.
Since its closure in 1969, the building served as a meeting place for the former Oakland Rural Community Development Committee (RCDC), a host site for reunions and other family events, and a voting precinct.
In the years since restoration work was completed, the building, located in a sparsely populated area in Tremont, has suffered considerable vandalism.
Tingle gave the final approval of Oakland’s restoration in 2004 and was impressed by the property and amount of work that was accomplished with minimal funds.
“It was a beautiful property with great historical significance,” Tingle said. “I really hate to hear about the vandalism.”
MDAH was founded in 1902 to collect, preserve, and provide access to the archival resources of the state. It is the second oldest organization of its kind in the nation.