Visiting Fernwood before the wrecking ball

I always feel jealous of those people lucky enough to have a hometown. The place where the majority of your family lives and your memories have physical counterparts: restaurants, streets, schools, parks, libraries, stores.  As a military brat, I was born in a state many mountains and hours away from the home my parents knew. The closest hometown I’ve adopted has been Biloxi, Mississippi, but each year it seems like more of what made it home is gone.

The street that I lived on for 9 years where I learned to ride my bike and walk off the tears after falling, where I learned to swim with my eyes open under water in my snap-n-set pool, where I walked my first dog Pepper,  played HORSE until dark, and got my first present from a boy…that street only exists now in memories and photographs. After Katrina, the military gutted the housing installation including the streets.

Dukate, the elementary school, where I learned to read, where I wrote my first story and book of poems, where I checked out Shel Silverstein books every three weeks, where I sat in class wondering if anyone else knew I was wearing my first training bra… I tried to drive by that school a few years ago and not even the foundation remained.

Now it appears the last school I attended in Biloxi will soon have that same fate. This weekend I passed by remains of Fernwood Middle School on the way to visit my sister in law. Before I saw the ripped out auditorium chairs, the piles of tables and carpet, and the grass fields where buildings once stood, I was under the impression Fernwood was still in operation as the district’s alternative school. However, from this history of Biloxi schools, I learned that Fernwood had become the temporary alternative school in 2002.

“In the spring of 2007, the district made plans to demolish some of the structures on the Fernwood campus and asked permission of the Board to advertise for bids to do so. The main Fernwood building, where the office and CNO classrooms were located and which had served students for years prior to Fernwood’s becoming part of the Biloxi Public School District in 1957, would be retained. The cafeteria/kitchen, auditorium, a steel building, and the gymnasium would also be kept.” – Zan Skelton

It seems in 2009, the alternative school was moved and the campus has since had more buildings demolished. Little of that school stands today. Before anymore could go, I stopped to photograph what’s left.

The cafeteria

 

Auditorium

 

Hall with art and choir classrooms

 

The campus has many surviving large oaks.

Back of the cafeteria. Benches used to face recreational area including softball field, basketball and tetherball courts.

Cafeteria walkway leading to a missing classroom building and recreational areas.

Piece of equipment from Dukate, my elementary school.

The auditorium was locked so we couldn’t get any closer than these chairs.

Auditorium from art classroom window

Water fountain outside of choir room

Choir room door

Administrative offices

Courtyard between offices and library

Administrative office door

The administrative office building was the most intact, but I never spent much time up there cause I wasn’t a bad kid. It was my first time in many of these areas.

Some classrooms had random work from the students still up.

My former 7th grade science classroom.

The library. I didn’t know it had sky lights back then.

Library

Lots of peeling paint textures throughout the buildings.

That’s a start. I’ll probably do another post with a few more photos. I really wish I had gone by before the buildings where I had 80% of my classes had been demolished.


The rest of the photos.

 


11 Comments

  1. Tasha

    Hey I went to Dukate from 1987-1991 and then we moved to Sacramento,Ca. Now I am in Louisiana but I have never went back to Biloxi. I am planning on going in November but what I am seeing on google maps there isnt much left on what I remember. For some reason I was emotionally attached to Dukate and all over Biloxi. I cry every time I see pictures and its not the same. I have never had a hometown moving from Miss to Cali to Washington and a few other places it wasnt easy making friends in fact its still isnt easy for me. I wish I could of grew up with the same people went to prom and graduated with the same people but nope that didnt happen. I now have a duaghter and I dont ever want her to move as much as I did. I am glad I came upon this site because I dont know anyone else who went to Dukate. So what years were you there?

    • Alicia

      I was at Dukate from 87-93 (K-5). Do you remember your teachers? Biloxi is not the same at all as it was in the late 80s and early 90s. I’m heartbroken I was not able to photograph Dukate before it went away.

    • Jamie Poole

      I was at Dukate in 1987-1989 4th and 5th grade, my name is jamie poole, i then went to fernwood for 6th grade, I had mrs. cherry as my homeroom. I remember they took us to indoor swimmi g lessons.

  2. Felicia

    I was in Biloxi from 80- 84 as far as I can remember. That was a bittersweet time for me. I too call it my hometown, being an Air Force brat but my parents divorced while we were there. I went to Dukate for 4th grade and we then moved to Summitt housing area from West Falcon base housing where I then went to Beauvoir Elem. From there I went to Fernwood as the first 6th grade class (as far as I know) when they changed it to middle school versus junior high school. Such memories, good and bad, but so sad to see most of it gone. I still do want to take my kids there to see my “hometown.” Thanks for the trip back there!

    And you are so right. Biloxi is not the same as then… It truly breaks my heart.

  3. Dawna Carlton

    Thank You so much for posting these pictures of Fernwood I just found out through Facebook today from an old friend that the school tore down I have to say I was about in tears I went there in 1959 through 4th grade then back for JR High these pics bring back memories can’t believe they tore it down I didn know that this school was started 80 years ago! I wish you had gotten to it before most of it was tore down and got some pictures :)

    • Carol (Whaley) Nourse

      I taught one year at Fernwood 1957-58, girls’ p.e.. Do you have any sites/references which would let me explore students/teachers at that time? Thank you.

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  5. Samoria R

    Hi! I attended DuKate Elementary from 1989-1993. I remember our talent show and everyone singing “I wanna be rich.”, singing songs about ghosts (Halloween time) in the chorus room, square dancing and bunny hopping in the gym with the creepy stage, winning spelling bees, Field Day, internalizing that I was SMART because my teachers always told me, being Star Student a bunch of times, my kindergarten teachers, Ms. Byrd and Mrs. G, reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Goosebumps from our library….DuKate was old when I was 5-8 years old so I can’t imagine what it looked like in 2005! DuKate was my foundation for loving school!!!

  6. Jim Roberts

    I went to Fernwood in the 6th and 8th grade in 1958 and 1960. In my 8th grade year they finished building the band room (and possibly the auditorium) and the shop. We built the tables for the shop in shop class. The band was so new that our uniforms had not arrived. I was an Air Force brat living on Kessler AFB in the trailer court at the Pass Road gate. Now both the school and the trailer court are gone but not the memories of some of my teachers. One as Mr. Snyder who taught math.

  7. Ernie Leuenberger

    I attended Fernwood all 9 years from 1959 -1968 and felt I received a top-notch education. I lived within 2 blocks of the school and learned to be a percussionist there and went on to excel in Band at Biloxi High. I loved the area and attended Fernwood Baptist Church next door to the School. What a great neighborhood to grow up in. Too bad we don’t have any pictures of the whole school in its glory. My mother attended Fernwood School also. I worked 3-4 summers at the school painting the school rooms, shellacing the gym floor, re-glazing the exterior windows and mowing the football practice field, which ran behind my house.

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