Over nearly 200 years, the Chalmers building has been used as a boy’s school, a private residence, and the first legislatively-recognized university in Mississippi. Chalmers was built in 1837, after the early settlers to Holly Springs raised a $22,650 bond and built the building on the outskirts of the town. Originally the building was known as the Holly Springs Literary Institute, but in 1838 the Mississippi legislature chartered a “University of Holly Springs” in the building, becoming the first true university in Mississippi. At the same time, a law and medical school was operated in the building.
The University of Holly Springs and law and medical schools were closed in 1843, and the building remained vacant until 1847. In 1847, the Reverend Samuel McKinney, a Presbyterian minister originally from Ireland, re-opened the school as Chalmers Institute, a boys prep school named after Thomas Chalmers, a famous Scottish Presbyterian leader who died the year Chalmers was opened. Chalmers competed with the other boys school in Holly Springs, St. Thomas Hall.
In 1854, the Reverend Samuel Irwin Reid bought Chalmers and added the eastern wing. He also began military training at the school. The school closed temporarily during the Civil War, but re-opened after the end of the war. In 1869 William A. Anderson became the headmaster of the school, and remained the leader of Chalmers until 1879, when the school closed permanently due to the devastation caused by the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878.
In 1880 William Anderson married Helen Craft, and the two lived in the old school until 1915. The Andersons called their home “West End”. The building continued to be used as a residence until the 1980s, slowly deteriorating. It remained lonely and empty for decades. In 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2003 the old Chalmers building was obtained by a local preservation non-profit, Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs. P.M.C.H.S. began extensive repairs of the building, which continue to this day. Every year P.M.C.H.S. holds a fundraising event called the Wrecking Ball.
Chalmers is an early two-story brick building, hip-roofed and built in the Federal style. It was likely built by the famed architect Joseph Coe, who also built the Marshall County Courthouse and other Federal buildings in town.