A A A print this page

Campus Landmarks and Traditions

Millsaps has several interesting landmarks that have a bit of history behind them. Many have rumors surrounding them that have been passed down to the present day. The excerpts below were taken out of past editions of The Purple and White.

historic campus entranceHistoric Campus Entrance

The brick and marble gate posts at the entrance of the College were constructed on the campus in 1941, funded by the senior classes of 1939, 1940, and 1941.  The 12-feet high and 3-feet square posts topped with electric lights were dedicated on commencement day, June 3, 1941.

Originally placed on either side of the road onto campus at the North State Street entrance, they were moved to the pedestrian entrance of the campus in front of the Millsaps Founders' Tower at the center of the circular drive when the main drive off North State Street was closed in the late 1980s.

James Observatory

james observatory photo
Occupying a prominent and unique place in the history of the College, the James Observatory is a familiar campus landmark.  It is the oldest building on campus, built in 1901 by Dr. Dan A. James in honor of his father, Peter, and brother Samuel.  Dr. James, the grandson of Rev. Peter James, a pioneer Methodist preacher who came to Mississippi in 1800, entered Millsaps College in 1892 soon after its opening.  At this time, his father was the owner of a large plantation in Yazoo County.  Dr. James also built the original Kappa Alpha fraternity house in 1903.

Built on a hill on the northwest corner of the campus, the highest elevation in the city at the time, the observatory is a red masonry building with solid granite capstones and lintels, surrounded by a white wooden catwalk.  Atop the structure is its most outstanding feature, a wood and metal rotating dome.  Inside is a 6-inch Warner-Swayze refracting telescope originally installed and state of the art in 1901. For many years it was the largest telescope in the state.  A small powered finder telescope is attached  to the larger one, as is a clock which turns the instrument as the Earth rotates so that an object will remain in focus.  Mounted on a solid brick pillar constructed independent of the observatory floor and walls, and set deep into the ground, the telescope is protected from the vibrations of West Street traffic and observers in the building.

The James Observatory underwent major renovations during 1980, and it has been opened for the citizens of Jackson through the years for star-gazing and viewing Halley's comet, eclipses, constellations and planets, and most recently, the Hale-Bopp comet.

mbenchThe M-Bench

In 1926, several students decided that there was a need for an area where students could gather between their classes to linger. So, the classes of 1926, 1927, and 1928 held a conference and settled on a plan to erect a bench located between Murrah Hall and the Major's Tomb. It is now known to most students simply as the "M" Bench, having borrowed its name from the famous "C" Bench at the University of Chicago. The project was the dream of Bill Ewing, Catherine Pail, Orrin Swayze and many other members of the student body.

The romantic tradition of the M-Bench is that the first person a Millsaps student kisses on the M-Bench is the person he/she will marry.

The Purple and White, October 29, 1948, p. 3.

 The Mausoleum of Major and Mrs. R.W. Millsaps tomb

Near the center of the campus is the tomb of College founder, Major R. W.Millsaps and his wife, Mary.  Constructed at the request of the Major himself in 1914-15, the mausoleum was finished not long before the Major died, June 28, 1916.  Mrs. Millsaps had died April 21, 1908.  Both are buried here. On July 7, 1916, the College Board of Trustees passed a resolution stating that "We shall count it a sacred and priceless privilege to have the bodies of our generous benefactor and his beloved wife to repose on the beautiful campus of our college which was so dear to the heart of our glorified co-worker and into which he put so much of the best energies of his life, thus consecrating it and giving us the opportunity to care for the tomb in which they shall sleep."

Major Millsaps, a man of great community standing and founder of the Merchants and Planters Bank, was honored upon his death by all the Jackson banks' being closed during his funeral.  His last words are said to have been, "Tell everybody goodbye. Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, amen, amen."

The tomb has a stained glass window, chosen by the Major, which features a setting sun - a subject of some disagreement with the New Orleans builders, Weiblen Marble and Granite Co., who preferred a different, more standard design. Apparently determined in every detail, the Major's opinion prevailed.

The mausoleum was cleaned and refurbished in the 1980's when the campus was re-landscaped.  Campus folklore has persisted that the Major and Mary are no longer buried here, that they had been moved to a Hazelhurst, Miss. family burial ground, but this is untrue. 

power benchThe Power Bench

The Power Bench, located beside Major Millsaps' tomb, features dates which represent the graduations of four members of the Power family. Mr. George B. Power was in the second graduating class at Millsaps in 1897. A generation later his three daughters, Margaret, Catherine and Jane, attended Millsaps. In honor of them he placed this stone bench on the campus.

The Purple and White, November 12, 1948

The Bronze Plaque

The plaque on the wall inside the Christian Center commemorates former students and graduates of Millsaps who gave their lives in World War II.

The Purple and White, October 6, 1950, p.2.

The Millsaps Alma Mater

The first Millsaps Alma Mater was written in 1907, by Dr. James Ailed Wamsley, who was the professor of history and economics. The words were sung to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

The words to the first Alma Mater were as follows:

"All over the land of the cotton,
And down where the magnolias stand,
The fame of our dear Alma Mater,
Is ringing far over the land.

Millsaps, Millsaps
Millsaps College for me, for me.
Millsaps, Millsaps
Millsaps College for me.

Her hall where our memories linger,
The friendships there made long ago,
The purple and white of our banner,
Are cherished wherever we go.

And when in the years of the future,
Fond memory turns to the past,
The days that we spent at old Millsaps,
Will yet be the brightest at last."

The second Alma Mater was written about 1914. As the story goes, a Millsaps graduate was visiting on the University of Missouri campus where he heard their Alma Mater. He was so impressed by it that when he came back to Millsaps he sat down with his copy of the University of Missouri Alma Mater,and substituted "Millsaps" in the place where "University of Missouri" appeared. This new version was presented to the student body and adopted.

The second Alma Mater is still used today with some minor modifications made in 1985. "Loyal ones" in the second line of the first verse replaced "Loyal sons"; and "man and woman" in the first line of the second verse replaced "man and maiden". The current Alma Mater is as follows:

"Alma Mater, dear old Millsaps,
Loyal ones are we.
Our fond hearts are thine alone
And evermore shall be.

Proud art thou, in classic beauty,
Of thy noble past.
With thy watchword Honor, Duty,
Thy high fame shall last.

Every student, man and woman,
Swell the glad refrain,
Till the breezes, music-laden,
Waft it back again."

The Purple and White, October 8, 1942, p.5.

bellThe Bell

The bell resided at several different places before it came to its present resting place. It was brought to Millsaps in 1916 by Dr. A. F. Watkins (past president of Millsaps College) from the charred ruins of the First Methodist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. At Millsaps, the bell hung in Buie Gym to ring out athletic victories until the gym burned in 1933. From 1933 to 1947, it remained beside Murrah Hall in a wooden scaffold up to the time two Mississippi College raiders felled the support. At last, on May 13, 1946, the bell was placed in its present position of honor beside the library and was remounted in 1971.  During the heyday of frisbee golf students and local residents used the bell as a course target.  On at least one occasion, the bell was borrowed for a celebration at its original church site in Louisiana.

The Cannon

The cannon itself is less historically significant to the College as the ground beside it. The grass-covered pit in front of the Academic Complex surrounded by concrete represents one of the original rifle pits used by the Federal Army in the third and last battle for Jackson during the Civil War.  Evidence of the pit was still apparent when construction of the Academic Complex was begun, although at the time it was near a gravel parking lot next to the library. Millsaps College obtained the cannon with the help of Dr. Sullivan who secured it from Senator John Sharpe Williams. The cannon was originally used by a Federal Division in New York during the Civil War.  During the late 1960's, a time of a different type of national unrest, when the Academic Complex was under construction, some students voiced concern that the cannon was pointed toward the Boyd Student Union building, perhaps symbolizing some animosity between the administration and students!

The Millsaps Crest

The crest was designed by Edward Escowitz of Queens, New York, when he studied at Millsaps in the summer of 1968. The three stars of the Crest can be symbolic of our three founders (Major Reuben W. Millsaps, Methodist Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and President William B. Murrah) and of the three divisions of the College (Humanities, Natural Science, and Social Sciences). The star insignia is that of a major of the Confederate Army. Mrs. Magnolia Coullet takes credit for the motto at the bottom interpreted as "in pursuit of excellence." The crest, in variants, is used alongside older crests which feature a likeness of Major Millsaps.

The Purple and White, September 8, 1978, p. 3

oakPotted Oak Legend

Quite a few students and possibly even some faculty members wonder why the large oak tree in front of the Boyd-Campbell Student Union is submerged in a massive brick cement flower pot. According to Dr. Ross H. Moore, a graduate of Millsaps and professor of history, when the student union was built in 1957, because of the contour of the land in that area, a great deal of earth had to be moved to what was then known as "Sullivan's Hollow" to even begin construction. To simply pile that much dirt around the trunk of the old water oak surely would have killed it.

Over the years various objects and small animals have been dropped and trapped below the grating around the tree. Among these have been an angry and difficult to remove dog and a number of ducks.

 Nevertheless, the oak is still thriving after many years in the wall. This shady location with built-in seats has been an important congregating place for students for decades.  Many speeches have been given and many causes have grown under its protecting limbs.  It has been a focal point of discussion and debate, not to mention many hours of idle talk and reflection as life in "the bowl" continues.

towerMillsaps Founders' Tower

Honoring the founders of Millsaps College, the 122-ft. tall, copper-clad tower also recognizes those whose generosity has helped sustain the College since 1890. The tower's base, constructed of brick and cast stone, contains bronze reliefs which depict the founders - Major Reuben Webster Millsaps, Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and Dr. William Belton Murrah. Inscribed in marble below the reliefs are the names of those individuals and organizations who are members of the Founders Society, established in 1987 in recognition of those donors whose cumulative giving to Millsaps College totals $1,000,000 or more. The gift for construction of the Millsaps Tower was made by McCarty Farms, Inc., of Magee, Mississippi, in honor of the Hyman F. McCarty, Jr., family. Built in 1987 as the centerpiece of a campus construction and renovation project, the tower houses a computer controlled carillon and clock.



College Archivist
Millsaps-Wilson Library
Millsaps College
P.O. Box 151066
Jackson, Mississippi 39210-1066
(601) 974-1077