Blue Mountain
early 1960's
The Palmer House
Mississippi Heights Academy
Blue Mountain College

A brief history taken from History of Tippah County, Mississippi written by Andrew Brown

During the Civil War, General Mark Perin Lowrey moved his family from Kossuth, where skirmishes were becoming more common to the safer southern part of Tippah County to escape the dangers of fighting.  When the war was over he returned to this area and decided to settle there permanently.  In 1873, General Lowrey began building a girls school that he named Blue Mountain Female Institute.  In the following years a community grew up around the school and on January 31, 1877,  Blue Mountain the town was incorporated.   More families moved to the area and several businesses were established.  Blue Mountain Female Institute became Blue Mountain Female College and eventually the name changed to Blue Mountain College and is still operating under that name today.

The first establishments in Blue Mountain were; a steam saw mill owned and operated by the Norris family, a general store owned by Mr. Spencer Gibbs, Macedonia Baptist Church, pastored by Rev. L. P. Cossitt,  a mercantile store owned by Mr. Oliver Ray,  and a doctors office owned and operated by Dr. Merritt.

In 1886, due in large part  to the friendship between Col. W. C. Falkner and Gen. Lowrey, the Ripley Railroad line was routed through Blue Mountain on it's way to Pontotoc.  This helped solidify Blue Mountain as a town and it's still a thriving village today.

Mississippi Heights Academy
Mississippi Heights Academy Mississippi Heights Music Class

(Photographs provided by Tommy Covington)

1904- 1943

By Larry Allen Wright, 1962


      In the spring of 1904 the citizens of Blue Mountain, Mississippi organized a company for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a high-grade training school for boys and young men who needed wholesome restraint and preparation for college Dr. B.G. Lowery, of Blue Mountain, as president and a number of interested citizens made up a stock company known as the Mississippi Heights Company where stock was sold.  Enough money was obtained to buy the land where the academy stood for almost forty years.[2]

     A brick building was erected upon one of the tallest hills of Mississippi and there, opposite the girls Baptist school, named Blue Mountain College, a boys’ school was formed.[3]

     One of the first persons thought of to head such an enterprise in the field of education was the daring, brilliant, young teacher, and superintendent of New Albany, Mississippi city schools, who had not only his own brains, but had with him a charming and talented wife who could help him with his work.  In March of 1904, Prof. J. E. Brown became the first superintendent of Mississippi Heights Academy.  Ten years later the school was deeded to him to own and operate for the next thirty years.[4] 

     To get this school started Prof. Brown printed advertisements that read, “Brown’s In Town.  What’s He Want?” and on the reverse side he had, “Your Boy.”  With this, the first season opened September 8, 1904, with an enrollment of thirty-four students.[5]

     Prof. Brown was very equipped to head the academy.  He had been born August 20, 1866, on the Brown plantation near Iuka, Mississippi.  His father had ridden with Forrest in the Civil War and was captain in that first-rate command.   After graduating from Iuka Normal Institute, then the outstanding school of its kind in North Mississippi, Prof. Brown had become a public school teacher.  While teaching at Old Liberty School in South Mississippi he had met and married Miss Addie Garrow of Gloster.  After teaching for nineteen years in public schools of the state, he had become superintendent of New Albany city schools. [6]

      Prof. J. E. Brown, who was said to have made his first dollar at the dedication of Shiloh National Park when he held General Grant’s horse and Grant gave him a dollar, was now president of Mississippi Heights Academy.[7]  (Editor’s note:  This evidently refers to someone playing the role of Grant.   President Grant died in 1885 and the park was founded in 1894.)

     Prof. Brown was a great teacher.  The subjects he taught were the entire curriculum at various times: biology, physics, mathematics, languages, and any combination of these.  Caesar, Virgil, and Horace were as well known to him as the Hebraic and Greek testaments he taught.[8]

     Professor P.H. Lowery, a graduate of Mississippi Heights, of Blue Mountain College, had this to say of the teaching of Prof. Brown:  “I have sat at the feet of a number of professors.  Two of them were great, Ellett and Brown.  His teaching had pith, pungency, and impact.   He lifted education from drabness into drama.” [9]  Prof. Brown taught that greatness of a man is measured by those things which continue on beyond his physical life here on earth, and that which influences the minds of others to do good to his fellow man and to love his God.  The standards lived and taught by Prof. Brown became a part of the hundreds of boys that attended Mississippi Heights Academy and what he gave to them was, and is something  permanent, enduring, and everlasting; ideals that will not vanish with the years. [10]

     Prof. Brown had several sayings that became connected with him and his academy.  They were:

          “What a boy needs in life is someone to make him do his best.”

          “Send us the Boy – We will return you the man.”

          “You may not find what you are looking for, but you will never find anything unless you are looking for something. “

          “The bird with the broken pinion never flies high again.”

          “The time recipe for happiness is found in the first Psalm.”[11]

          Furthermore, Prof. Brown had a quick temper and a keen sense of humor.  Once a student asked, “Prof. is this a co-ed school?”  Prof. Brown replied quick as a flash, “No son, it’s a John-Ed school?” [12]

     Along with Prof. Brown to help him with his work was his charming and talented wife.  Mrs. Brown saw the boys come and go.  She was always on hand to teach music and science, and she conducted an orchestra and taught every known musical instrument.  Having studied music in New York, her education was now of great help to the academy.  It was her duty always to be available in case a youngster became homesick or needed some sound advice while he was far away from home.

   Boys as young as seven years old came to live with Mrs. Brown and received the guidance needed for preparation for later life.  She learned to know each and every boy as an individual.  Little did this charming lady know as years went by that she would be mother of over 4,000 boys over a period of forty years.[13]

     Prof. and Mrs. Brown had a college preparatory school really teaching fourteen grades.  Because when the boys started as young as seven years of age, Mrs. Brown taught them separately.  At the academy they had grades seven through twelve with a faculty of seven members.  Included in this faculty was the Brown’s daughter, Mrs. Natalie Watson.  The average enrollment for a session was around two hundred.

     These two hundred students were placed in private homes of Blue Mountain because Prof. Brown believed that the city boys never knew what a real home was like.  Too, he said that the problem boy needed home environment.  Usually around twenty of these boys lived on the second floor of the Brown home.     Rowdism of the boarding houses was restrained, first by the people who owned the homes, and second, by a teacher who lived in the home with the students, or visited in the home frequently.  These homes were owned by families who had been established in Blue Mountain for a long time.   They were people who had more interest than that of meeting the requirements of a boarding master.  It was their purpose to help each boy to become a better citizen as he grew into manhood.  These homes supplied conveniences necessary for making the students comfortable and happy.  Too, the boys ate in the homes they lived in and the Browns fed around twenty-eight of the boys in a large dining room in their home, which was just across the street from the academy.

     For a period of thirty-nine years boys came from thirty-six states, Mexico, Guatamala, and Cuba.[14]  There was no class distinction at Mississippi Heights.  For the boys were from the poorest to the richest homes.  In fact, the youths from rural areas who would have been financially unable to attended school otherwise, found an opportunity in this modest academy in Blue Mountain, Mississippi.[15]

     Another fact about the students was that it was not at all unusual for Prof. Brown to get boys paroled from prison to enter his school simply because he believed that all they needed was someone to make them do their best.  Also, many parents who found their sons becoming unmanageable shifted their responsibilities to the bright eyed little man on the hill.  On the other hand, there were many boys from good homes enrolled at the academy because their parents felt that Prof. Brown had what it took to prepare a boy for life.[16]

     The boys could work their way through school, paying for their books, tuition, and laundry by doing physical work.  Prof. Brown received any staple food as payment for a boy’s education.  Split wood, kindling, potatoes, and corn – any of these credited a boy’s account.  Board was twenty dollars a month.  A boy was paid for his work at ten cents an hour.  Today, some of these working boys are millionaires who come back to see the trees they planted when they did not possess a dime.[17]

     There was not a great deal of formal ceremonies at the academy.  No graduation was ever held at Mississippi Heights Academy.  Instead, when a boy had finished his course he was issued a written or typed certificate by Prof. Brown, which told of the splendid performance of the student and of his worth-while character.  This was for his entrance into college.  There was no system of credits either at the academy.  A boy studied English, mathematics, science, history, foreign language, and other things he should know to have a basic education.  A boy studied these subjects until he learned them.  This method proved to be very good because there were few who went to college who did not get along fine.  This was due to the fact that they had been taught to study.[18]

     Mississippi Heights Academy truly did become a place where boys were sent to learn.  One reason for this was that with the strict discipline rules of the academy a boy had to study.  Prof. Brown did not worry much about discipline.  He had his own methods and when he said “jump” it was not long before those receiving the instructions learned the word meant what it implied.  Prof. Brown believed in firm discipline.  He had no juvenile delinquency in his school, for he believed in Solomon’s method of control, “Spare the rod and you will spoil the child.”  He did practice this, at all times.  To make a boy mind he did not hesitate to make use of the paddle depending upon the working philosophy of a practical school teacher by asserting,  “At first I appeal to his honor, if no results, to his pride, and if that fails, as a last resort to his hide.”  It is easy to see why Prof. Brown usually got results. [19]

     Prof. Brown never held punishment over his students.  Instead, he took his boys fishing, hunting, and swimming.  He also engaged in watching their games of football and baseball.  Prof. liked his boys and he looked after them.  He made the boys feel important and was always doing things for them such as bringing them apples and watermelons.

     Social life was never dull at the academy because the boys were always being invited to socials at Blue Mountain College.  Many romances occurred among the Blue Mountain College girls and the academy boys.  Even though the boys were still in preparatory school and the girls were in college the boys were usually older than the girls.  However, not all social life was in going to see the girls at Blue Mountain College for on Friday nights Mrs. Brown would set up Rook tables in her living room and the boys would play Rook, sing songs, and tell about things of current interest.

     Besides social activities, much of the student’s extra time was spent participating in sports.
The large academy grounds had athletic fields, which furnished ample facilities for such sports as football, baseball, basketball, lawn tennis, and other athletic exercises suited to the needs of the high school boy.  To see that sports did not intrude with their school work only those students who maintained a good standing in their classes were permitted to engage in athletic contests.[20]

     With all of its fine qualities offered there was nothing to keep Mississippi Heights Academy from growing.  It grew in the equipment and in its courses of study.  It also met the standard required by the colleges and universities of Mississippi and other states.  From session to session this once small academy grew and by the 1942-1943 session the enrollment was over two hundred.

     Of the more than 4,000 young men that attended Mississippi Heights Academy most of them did well in life.  They took up all types of business and professional occupations.  Some of the well known graduates of this excellent training school that continued to live in the Mid-South were:

                Mr. R.W. Griffith, Assistant Superintendent, State of Mississippi,  Department of Education; Jackson, Mississippi.

                Dr. T.K. Martin, Assistant to the President, Mississippi State University, State College, Mississippi.

                Dr. W. “Jeff” Cunningham, Methodist Minister of St. John Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee.

                Dr. Lawrence T. Lowery, President Emeritus of Blue Mountain College and educator with world renown.[21]

                Mr. Hugh Cunningham, outstanding criminal lawyer, Jackson, Mississippi.

                Mr. Fred B. Smith, high ranking Mississippi lawyer, Ripley, Mississippi.

                Mr. E.R. Jobe, Executive Secretary, Board of Trustees Institutions of Higher Learning.

                Mr. R.B. Smith, Jr., member of Mississippi Board of Trustees Institutions of Higher Learning, Ripley, Mississippi.

      Most of these men and many others like them all say that they owe much of their success to Mississippi Heights Academy and to its owner/president, J.E. Brown.[22]

      Mississippi Heights was experiencing great success.  It had gained both local and national recognition when in the spring session of 1943 Prof. Brown suffered a blood clot in his head and became very ill.  He was ill for several days and was left with poor eyesight, but he finished out the session for he knew his work so well that he did not need to see books in order to teach his boys.  The catalogues for the next year were published and Prof. was in hopes that his eyesight would improve, but during the summer session his health only became worse.[23]

      Before the fall session of 1943 opened Prof. Brown had to announce his retirement from his school and with his retirement the academy closed.

     Prof. Brown’s health became worse and in April of 1947, Prof. J.E. Brown, who had taught in Mississippi for fifty-eight years and had served on the Mississippi State Board of Education for eight years, died in his home across from his long loved academy.[24]

     After Prof. Brown’s death, the building, which had been a home for a great academy for forty-seven years, remained as it was for several years, but by 1957 the old building became a fire hazard and became dangerous, so it was torn down.

     For several years nothing remained on the hill where the academy had been until on Sunday afternoon, June 11, 1961, in exactly the same spot where the building had stood, a white marble monument with the old academy bell on top of it was dedicated to Prof. Brown to his memory by the Mississippi Heights Academy Alumni Association.[25]

     Mississippi Heights Academy played a great role in the life of many men.  In 1962, many of these high ranking business and professional men of the Mid-South still returned to Blue Mountain for a homecoming each spring and to visit Mrs. Brown and her daughter Mrs. Natalie Watson, who were still living in the Brown home.[26]

[1] “History, Character, and Purpose,” Catalogue of Mississippi Heights Academy, Blue Mountain, Mississippi (Session 1929 – 1930) p.8.

[2] Lois Anderson, “Our Senior Citizens,” Southern Sentinel, (Ripley, Mississippi; Thursday June 9 1960).

[3] Natalie Watson, “The Most Unforgettable Character I Have Met” (An unpublished manuscript) p. 2.

[4] Lois Anderson, op. cit.

[5] Natalie Watson, op. cit., p. 1.

[6] “Professor J. E. Brown has Birthday,”  The Commercial Appeal, (August 20, 1940).

 [7] Mrs. J. E. Brown and Mrs. Natalie Watson, (Personal Interview) Blue Mountain, Mississippi, April 19, 1962.

[8] Natalie Watson, op. cit., p.1.

[9] P.H. Lowery,  “The Speech of Dedication and Delivery” (An Address of Dedication) June 11, 1961, p. 3.

[10] Boyce Biggers,  “The Speech of Response and Acceptance” “An Address of Acceptance)  June 11, 1961. p.3

[11] “Dedication to Prof. J.E. Brown,”  Southern Sentinel, (Ripley, Mississippi; June 14, 1961.

[12] Natalie Watson, op. cit., p. 2

[13] Lois Anderson, op. cit., p. 2.

[14] Mrs. J.E. Brown and Mrs. Natalie Watson, op. cit.

[15] Natalie Watson, op. cit.

[16] Ewart A. Autry, “What Every Boy Needs,” American Mercury, (September 1956) p. 94.

[17] Natalie Watson, op. cit. p. 4.

[18] Lois Anderson, op. cit.

[19] R.W. Griffith, “Descriptive Characterization of Professor J.E. Brown,”  (An unpublished manuscript) p. 2.

[20] “Athletics,”  Catalogue of Mississippi Heights Academy, op. cit. p. 27.

[21] Mrs. J.E. Brown and Mrs. Natalie Watson, op. cit.

[22] Dr. K.T. Martin, (Personal Interview) State College, Mississippi May 1, 1962.

[23] Mrs. J.E. Brown and Mrs. Natalie Watson, op. cit.

[24] “Professor J. E. Brown Dies,”  The Commercial Appeal (April 4, 1947).

[25] Dedication to Prof. J.E. Brown, op. cit.

[26] Paul Flowers, “Greenhouse,” The Commercial Appeal.

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