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Monday, June 6, 2016

A Profile of M. R. Wood

While researching Sugar Land's history of water management and flood control, my brother Bruce sent me some info on Milton. R. Wood.  I've posted items about Wood before, but as Bruce pointed out, he was quite a renaissance man.

Here is Bruce's extended comment:

Milton R. Wood

Somebody should write a book about him. He was not only a competent irrigation engineer but also a sugar chemist, architect, and educator. Notice the desk in the photo below: Jess Pirtle rescued it, left it to (his son) John, and now John’s son is supposed to have it.

A photo of M. R. Wood at his office desk in the mid 1920s.

In 1916, he went with W. T. Eldridge to visit the latest in school designs in California.  He came back and designed and built this school which opened in 1917-18. He also served as president of the school board until the early 1940s. For those who aren’t familiar with the school, it is a cottage-style school with 10 individual buildings, each serving as a classroom—kind of like a crescent of one-room schoolhouses tethered by a columned, covered, pergola. The larger building at the apex of the crescent was the auditorium. There was a movment at the time called the School Center Movement, where the school served as the social center of the community, too. He designed the auditorium to accommodate silent movies, traveling shows, and the roof was a tiled terrace where dances were held.

I have a theory why Wood created and Eldridge approved this design. Sugar Land had to overcome its image. Prior to Eldridge and Kempner taking over the refinery and town, the area was known as the hellhole of the Brazos. As we know, many company towns bad reputations then, exploiting families and using children as fodder for their factories. In the midst of this, they needed to attract a permanent workforce for their expanding enterprises. 

At the time, many schools were one monolithic structure looking not unlike a factory, where children went in one end and came out the other. They were often hot, unsafe, and poorly lit. This cottage-design was safer, cooler and unlikely to catch fire from the cement used in construction. If a fire did occur, it would more likely be contained to one building and not spreading through one large building that would take longer to evacuate and stood the chance of killing children from fire. You’ll also notice that this design allows for more windows per classroom, allowing for better natural light. 

The hospital is the building sitting on the street behind the school. Sugar Land was segregated; the large building on the left was for whites and the one right of it for blacks. The smaller, third structure to the right of the hospital was built to be the residence for teachers (a 'teacherage'), but the teachers felt they were too close to their work, so many opted to rent rooms from families.  It was later turned into a residence for the nurses working in the neighboring hospital.  At times it was rented out to families, too.  And M. R. Wood’s house is the one nearest the school on the left side of the picture. The Presbyterian Church is also in this photo.