The foundations of the Mississippi Synodical College were laid in the fall of 1864, when Elizabeth “Lizzie” Davis Watson (1832-1912) and William Clark (d. 1878) opened a girls day school called Fenelon Hall inside Watson’s father’s antebellum mansion, Watson House. Watson and Clark were appalled at the sad state of education in Holly Springs during the Civil War, and created the school for the young women in town who were languishing without any form of education or instruction. William Clark would eventually leave Fenelon Hall and open his own school inside his house, now known as Colonsay Cottage (1840).
After William Clark named his new school “Fenelon Hall”, Watson changed the name of the school being held in the Watson House to the “Select School for Young Ladies”. During the Civil War and the following Reconstruction period, the school slowly grew. In the 1883, Watson renamed the school again, this time to “Maury Institute”, named in honor of oceanographer and “Pathfinder of the Seas” Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873). The day school became a girls’ boarding school.
In 1891, Lizzie Watson retired, after teaching for nearly 30 years. Watson sold Maury Institute and the Watson House to the Presbyterian Church, which turned the school into a private, church-run girls’ school and renamed it the North Mississippi Presbyterian College. The College was led by Dr. T. W. Raymond, the local Presbyterian minister, during this time. In the early 1890s, the College built a two-story frame addition to the west of the Watson House. Historically, the first floor of this addition was used as the primary dining room of the College, while the second story was used as dormitories. In 1896, Dr. Raymond and the North Mississippi Presbyterian College purchased the antebellum Hull Place, located just to the west of the old Watson House. The Hull Place was converted into additional classrooms and dormitories.
In 1903, after Presbyterian synodical lines were withdrawn, the College came under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Synod, and the College again changed its name, this time to “Mississippi Synodical College”, the name the College would be known as for the next 36 years. The Synodical College became a two-year liberal arts college for women, with an additional preparatory lower school. As enrollment substantially increased, the College realized it would need to expand beyond the two antebellum homes.
In 1903, the same year that the College was taken over by the Mississippi Synod, the entire block saw an enormous amount of construction and renovation. The old Hull Place, originally located at the southwest corner of the block, was moved to the northwest corner of the block and turned 90 degrees. After 1903, the Hull House was known as “The Annex” and housed additional dormitories. In its place, at the southwest corner of the block, a new Administration building was constructed, which housed classrooms and administration offices. To the north of the main building was a two-story Auditorium, and to the east of the was a connecting hallway with a hexagonal extension was constructed, connecting the new classrooms and offices to the original Watson House.
For the next thirty years, the Mississippi Synodical College continued to see increased enrollment. Several generations of women studied here and received degrees. In 1916, the Mississippi Synodical College became the first two-year college in Mississippi to receive full accreditation from the Mississippi government. By the 1920s, the College was booming, and eventually expanded even further, to the lot just south of the school, where the College bought Linden Terrace to use as girls’ dormitories and as the home of the College headmaster. The College also had a tennis court next door to Coopwood, on the same lot. Between 1915 and 1925, the College also added an expansion to the north of the Auditorium which was used as both a gymnasium and additional dormitories. The most notable feature of the gymnasium was a large swimming pool, which can still be seen today.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression took its toll on the college, and enrollment quickly plummeted in the 1930s. In 1939, the Mississippi Synodical College merged with Belhaven College, in Jackson, Mississippi, and the remaining student body was moved to the Belhaven College. After educating four generations of local women, the Mississippi Synodical College finally closed, ending a long chapter in the education of young girls and women in Holly Springs.
In about 1940, both the Watson House and Hull Place were demolished. On the spot of the Watson House, the Old North Mississippi Hospital was built in 1941, and today is used as the Department of Human Services. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Administration building was used as a nursing school associated with the Hospital next door. Nurses lived in the old College dormitories located above the old Auditorium and Gymnasium. Graffiti dating to about this time survives in the upstairs of the gymnasium. After the close of the hospital and nursing school in about 1970, the Administration building became home to the Marshall County Historical Museum. Another remnant of the College is the old gymnasium building, which survives to this day, though it sits unused behind the Marshall County Museum. Today, the memory of the Mississippi Synodical College is preserved in the Marshall County Historical Museum, located on the original College campus, and in several adjacent street names: College Avenue and Maury Street.