Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Concordia Parish Courthouse, Vidalia, Louisiana

 In 1939, the entire town of Vidalia, Louisiana was relocated (www.crt.state.la.us/hp/nationalregister/nhl/parish15/scans/15012001.pdf).  The courthouse was demolished, and this "restrained example of the Art Deco style" erected.  The four-story brick and stone building was designed by architect J. W. Smith & Associates, and built by M. T. Reed Construction Company.  While private contractors (and non-federal funds) built the courthouse, WPA workmen were involved in laying out the site, due to the relocation of the town.
 A Greek Key design runs around the building in the belt course, delineating the first and second story. Fluted pilasters of stone separate the bays.
The jail was housed on the fourth floor, and even though it is no longer there, and there is a new modern (wasn't Art Deco modern in 1939?) courthouse--a spiffy glass, steel, and concrete design that I yearned to capture, but the rain was not cooperative that day), the bars remain in the windows.

You might wonder what occasioned the relocation of an entire town, particularly in 1939.  Vidalia's location on the Mississippi River is a major clue--in fact, it's the only clue.  Following the Great Flood of 1927, the Corps of Engineers (apparently, it took them over 10 years to determine this and take action, a feat not unlike their delay in assessing the danger of levees in New Orleans pre-Katrina and then failing to take action until after Katrina) determined that flood control necessitates more than levees, and proposed straightening the bend in the Mississippi at Giles Point north of Vidalia.  Natchez sits on top of the bluff opposite Vidalia, so the town sacrificed in the federal flood control project was Vidalia. Washington pressure was brought to bear to relocate the town inland, however, and WPA funds were allocated to--literally--move the town.

Workers laid out new streets and sidewalks six blocks inland, and jacked up and moved, on rollers, over 100 homes and commercial buildings.  The remainder of the homes and businesses were demolished and rebuilt on the new plats.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Magnolia Terrace

 Magnolia Terrace Historical Bed and Breakfast sits on the corner of Railroad and Magnolia, in the town of Magnolia.  I personally would think that a place called "Historical" and in a building that appears to be somewhat old would have some history associated with it.  Seriously, even MDAH/HRI let me down here.  It is right across the street from the Historic Depot, so you know there is a story here--and if anyone out there knows what it is, let me in on it.
 I was actually doing some research, but never one to pass up an unusual building if I can help it.  The "missing wall" is what caught my attention.  Unfinished brick has a beauty all of its own, and all the more so when it looks like this.  And while it is listed in about a thousand places (apparently, everyone and his or her dog now has a website listing tourist sites, restaurants, and lodging, although they all look the same--pulled out of the yellow pages), there is nothing I could locate anywhere about the actual building.  I suppose a physical trip to the Archives would result in possible information, but the likelihood of that happening these days is pretty nonexistent unless I win a trip to Jackson for a couple of days.

 Can you imagine getting up in the middle of the night and losing your way to the front balcony?  This could be a serious error.
 Was there a trolley in the town?  The train take a little detour to turn around?  Questions like this just need an answer.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Natchez-Vidalia Bridge over the Mississippi

 I love Natchez.  Not because of all the mansions, although they are beautiful.  Not because of the really early buildings from the 1700s and 1800s, although they are beautiful.  And, frankly, I am beginning to love Vidalia.  I even did a little exploring this time on the Louisiana side of the river, which is actually where I stay when I am here.
 I love the river.  I love the buildings from the 1900s, and particularly those from the 30s-50s.  I just discovered shortly before this visit that the bridge here was a PWA project, built 1938-1940.  It opened to traffic in 1940, originally as a toll bridge.  The engineer was Ash-Howard-Needles & Tammer, who also did the Toll Plaza for the Natchez Bridge (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  They also were responsible for the now demolished Ben G. Humphreys Memorial Bridge at Greenville-Lake Village, Arkansas.  (Note: remember MDAH/HRI in my will if I ever have money.  They have enriched my life, and certainly, my research.  Of course, being a social worker, they should not hold their breath about the "if ever I have money" part.)
Quite fortuitously, I ended up with a room on the river side, with a huge wall to wall window.  I have not closed the drapes since I have been here.  Morning, afternoon, evening, night, it is just too beautiful to waste looking at the stripes decorating hotel room drapes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Central Methodist Church, Jackson

 Central Methodist Church (now Central United Methodist) on Farish Street was first established in 1889, and the first building constructed in 1890.  The current building was constructed in 1966.  In keeping with the times, it is of Modern style, and the delineator (apparently, that means the person who drew the floor plans) was the pastor, Wendell P. Taylor (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  While I am mentioning MDAH/HRI, let me just say that after spending hours in research on Louisiana and Texas for the Living New Deal project, Mississippi wins hands down for ease and thoroughness of online archives!  It's good to know Mississippi is first at something in the region.  Although Arkansas has a fairly efficient system, I find much greater difficulty with it that the superb system done by our MDAH pros.  Not that anyone reading this most likely is needing comparative data, but in order of online holdings, ease of location of material, and usefulness of the material, rankings are #1 Mississippi, #2 Arkansas, #3 Louisiana, #4 Texas, and #5 Tennessee.

 Farish Street is
...historically significant as an economically independent black community, the Farish Street Neighborhood District is the largest such community in the state. (MDAH/HRI)
Although Pastor Taylor drew the floor plan for the building, architects were Godfrey, Bassett, and Pitts, who did work in Vicksburg, Yazoo City, and Starkville.  I love the simplicity of the window and canopy, which also reminds me of one of my favorite church windows in Mound Bayou.
 Bethel AME, Mound Bayou
Central Methodist is located across the street from Big Apple Inn, where Debra and I enjoyed our apparently famous since 1939 pig ear sandwiches and "smokes" our our recent trip.  We have to pass through again tomorrow on our way to Natchez, so I think a detour and a take out is in order!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lake Cisco Dam and the World's Largest Swimming Pool

I have been working on research for the Living New Deal Project the past few months, and constantly checking out the areas in which I travel in the hopes of locating undocumented projects from Roosevelt's New Deal administration projects completed during the 1930s and early 1940s to help the US recover from the Great Depression.  I thought I had remembered hearing that the Lake Cisco Dam and amusement complex was a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) project when I worked briefly at Cisco College.  My brother, who attended CJC--as it was known then--in the 1970s said he thought the zoo was a WPA project.  We were both wrong.  Nonetheless, it was fun to revisit the complex where I once sustained a major injury to my left great toe during an outing while attending McMurry College in the late 60s.  Randy, who spent many summers there visiting his grandparents, filled in many of the gaps for me in terms of the complex.
 Lake Cisco was formed when Williamson Dam was constructed on Sandy Creek.  It opened September 7, 1923 (wdr.waterusgs.gov, Water Data Report 2007).  The dam is 1,064 feet in length, and the old road from Cisco to Moran traversed the dam.  Due to the overgrowth, and the fencing of a portion of the area, it is difficult to capture a photo that shows just how immense the "world's largest concrete swimming pool" was, but you can get a glimmer of an idea in the picture of the dam at the end of the pool.  Unfortunately, the dam cost more than a town the size of Cisco could afford, and in 1929, at the beginning of the depression, an audit revealed "the town was going broke" paying for it (A. C. Greene, 1972, The Santa Claus Robbery, Denton: University of North Texas Press).
 The pool had 3 sections: this is a portion of the deep end (depth up to 25ft) and this portion of the pool was natural bottom with concrete sides.  Just to the left are the remains of the old "high diving" tower, which reached a height of about 40 feet (Wikipedia, Talk: Cisco, Texas).
 The deep end of the pool was connected to the "shallow" end (depth of 2 feet to around 4 feet) with a narrow walkway under which water flowed.
 The sloped grassy area held concrete steps used for seating, for the huge (at times, thousands) crowds of folks who visited the area, which was a major tourist draw during the 40s and 50s.
 The walkway also connected to the island in the pool, which also was used as a diving platform and the location of the giant slide which deposited the swimmers into the shallow end of the pool.  The remains of the swing set, also in the water and which were used to propel the brave back into the water, are barely visible just to the left of the concrete island.  It was on those swing legs that I stumped my toe, driving a shard of rusted metal under the toe nail.  I was spending the day there with friends during an outing of the HEI (Eta Epsilon Iota) social club, and by nightfall, could hardly stand at the ballgame.  My date promptly returned me to my dorm, citing he was tired of listening to me talk about the pain in my toe.  In hind site from my current vantage point of age, I am sure that was true, but as an 18 year old, it seemed like a pretty big deal and I was getting no sympathy.
 The shallow end was concrete bottom, and held a kiddie pool (about 6,000 square feet) next to the dam.
 The dam was an "...Ambursen-type slab and buttress all concrete dam" with a "270 foot long, uncontrolled ogee-type spillway with hollow core" (war.waterusgs.gov, Water Data Report 2007).  The dam interior was open to the public for the years prior to the pool closing, and venturing inside the dark and damp corridors was allegedly a test of bravery.  Water is still discharged into the old pool through an underground concrete conduit, which was used to flush the pool water during its years of operation as the pool was not chlorinated.  The water system for Cisco is at the dam site, and following processing, some of it is discharged into the pool.
 The pool was closed in the 1970s.  An article in the Abilene Reporter News (Kathy Edwards, 2008) reported there were city plans to redevelop the site into a water park, although clearly, those plans have not come to fruition.
 Part of the complex also included a two-story skating rink, miniature golf course, amusement park, park with picnic tables, and zoo.  I speculate that this small pavilion was a dance floor, as many parks in the area held them.  Bob Wills is one of the entertainers who played the park.

 Cabins were located on the premises, and a few still remain in various stages of deterioration.  The old lodge at the top of the hill is nothing more than foundation and a few crumbling walls.
 The zoo was behind these cabins, carved out of the boulders in the hillside.  Remnants of the cages still remain, although it was way too steep and overgrown for us to venture up on a warm day when the snakes might be out.  My brother told tales of their going out there to "explore" the old cages during his time at the college.
A few foundation slabs, steps, and this intact bench were visible from the roadway.  Perhaps after I get my knee repair in a few weeks, and subsequent recovery time, I will put on my snake-proof hiking boots and give it a whirl during a cool fall day.  I'd like to see those pens carved out of Texas rock.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Researching Young County PWA Projects

 It was a beautiful sunny and pleasant day here in Texas, and I asked Dad to ride out to Belknap and Murray with me while I was working on my photographs for the Living New Deal project.  I had recently discovered that the PWA reconstructed the Fort Belknap (a frontier fort in the 1800s) in 1936 as part of the New Deal work across the US.
The architects of the reconstruction were Voelcker & Dixon, a firm out of Wichita Falls who constructed courthouses throughout the region.  The photograph above is of the old mule barn, which housed a clothing museum the last time I was in it.  There were showcases lining each side of the wall, and included clothing from the period as well as latter years, including a gown worn by LadyBird Johnson.  It was one of my favorite places when I would visit the fort as a child.
Dad said the rock fence surrounding the fort was a result of the PWA construction.  As a child, I could never quite figure out how that little short wall could have protected the fort from the Comanche in the area.
Afterwards, we drove on over to Murray, a small community near where my dad grew up.  The school was built with PWA funds and workers.  My grandfather was hired to drive the workers over in his Model A truck.  The school building stood for many years, albeit without my knowing its history, and the last trip home, I noted it had finally been demolished, or finished falling down.  Nothing remains except the foundation stones.
The cornerstone was saved and marks the area.  One would not know that this was a PWA project, like many of them that will pass unidentified unless we work diligently to document them--the mission of the Living New Deal.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How I spent my spring break

Things to check off the list for today:
-take Mom to beauty shop
-pick up mail
-extra toffee coffee and Internet at United deli
-groceries for supper
-feed Rio and Jennybelle and cats
-take Tink out a hundred times
-watch Bonanza, Lawman, 2 Western movies, 2 Action movies
-work crossword puzzles from the local "newspaper" (note: while there is little accuracy and/or objectivity in any news these days--after all, six corporations own them all-- small town newspapers are unbelievable to me; apparently, the concept of researching an article is unknown in these parts)
- have the twice daily checkin with siblings & spouse (note: father-in-law back in hospital in different city/same state)
-figure out how to do this every 2-3 months

Just another day in Paradise

The good news is the sun is shining and it's 70 degrees here.  And that's the news for today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Big Apple Inn on Farish Street in Jackson

Now today was just one of those days that you know is an important day, and that you were just so fortunate to have.  My dearest friend and I had to go to Jackson today on some work-related business.  Since I will be making this same run tomorrow...and continuing on for another 9 hours to Texas, she said she would drive.  Somewhere along the way, she mentioned she wanted to eat lunch at the Big Apple Inn--a place she had just heard about.  Delta Blues called it "the home of the world's most unusual sandwich."  That would be sandwiches made with a pig's ear, and Big Apple Inn is located on Farish Street, just off of downtown Jackson.  Farish Street was a bustling busy commercial and residential district during the 30s, and for some while afterwards, and home to African Americans in the segregated south.  It is still predominantly a black neighborhood. 
 The Big Apple Inn opened in the 30s when the Lee family patriarch (based on the documentary video running on the TV on the counter, and the Delta Blues article) started the business.  Juan "Big John" Mora, a Mexican immigrant, had established a tamale business and sold his store to Mr. Lee in the 30s, and according to the documentary, he moved into the current building in 1939 at a time when business in the area was booming from folks getting off the train only a few blocks away.

A local butcher, according to Gene Lee, Jr. in the video, asked the elder Mr. Lee if they could use some left-over pig's ears.  Fast forward--it is the depression, after all--and they cook the pig ears all kinds of ways figuring out how to make them tasty enough to sell.  Back then, it was boil them for 2 days; now, a pressure cooker does the job in a couple of hours.  First, a pig's ear sandwich was 10 cents; in 1998, 75 cents, and today, 2013, it was $1.25.  Pig ears are far more expensive today, because they are used for dog chews--big money--so it costs more for a box of pig ears.

So, what does a pig's ear sandwich taste like?  According to Delta Blues, "...a texture like juicy bologna, a cross between ham and roast beef."  According to my friend, "...delicious, tender."  And me?  I had the "Smokes"--the sandwich made by grinding up red casing hot links, cooking it on a grill, and slapping it on a bun dressed with cole slaw and mustard.  They took one look at me and knew I was a huera and an out-of-towner--"mild for you?"  I regret not being brave enough to at least taste the pig's ear sandwich...I just have such vivid memories of my former father-in-law eating boiled pig's ears and talking about "fat and gristle" and neither of those are things I really much care for.  Apparently, Big Apple Inn pig's ears are a bit different...and I have vowed to try them on my next trip to Jackson.   After all, I did grow up eating fried bologna sandwiches, and fried bologna as breakfast meat.
The MDAH Historic Resources Inventory database lists the building as circa 1949 (estimated) although the video and Delta Blues claim 1939 for moving into the building.  Both the documentary (on which Charles Evers appears) and MDAH identify it as the first NAACP field office in Jackson, established upstairs by Medgar Evers in 1955.

And the Big Apple?  Seems the Big Apple dance was very popular during the time the business was established by Mr. Lee.  Created by African Americans in 1937 in Columbia, South Carolina, in a club called Big Apple, the joyous circle dance was popularized across a nation eager to move beyond the Depression.  Mr. Lee thought that was a good name for the business, and since they are still there some 75 years later, he must have been right.  And, there is that whole thing about people loving the pig's ear sandwiches, the 'Smokes; and the tamales.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Madison Parish Courthouse

You know how it can be so frustrating to try to find something and you can't, right?  So, I took this photograph on my return trip from Texas in February.  It is in Tallulah, Louisiana.

Sad thing, is I did not remember being in Tallulah, Louisiana.  I spent hours--and I do mean hours, as in lots of them--trying to find this building in Mississippi Department of Archives and History...convinced that I had taken the photo in Durant when I stopped off to take pictures of the Durant Post Office and its New Deal mural.  I must have gone down the street I thought I was on using the Google maps street view at least 10 times, and then, tried every other street leading into Durant.

I had stopped off in Canton just before Durant, so thought perhaps I misremembered and this picture was from Canton.  I knew I had been seeking out New Deal sites that I had researched while spending the night in Monroe, Louisiana the night before, but I just could not track it down.

Today, while looking for something in my bag, I found the list of addresses I had compiled in that Monroe hotel room, and there on the list were two addresses in Tallulah, Louisiana.  Oh, yeah, right, I forgot I had detoured off the Interstate just past Monroe!  Sure enough, there it was, the Madison Parish Courthouse, built in 1939 by the Public Works Administration (Robert D. Leighninger, Jr. (2007) Building Louisiana: The legacy of the Public Works Administration. Jackson, MS: University Press.).

So, wait a minute here--then why don't I have a photograph of the mural in the post office?  Oh, yeah, right...because the New Deal post office is not the post office any more, and the mural was moved to the new post office, only when I went in the new post office, there was no mural there.

I was clearly more tired than I knew, which was why I had stopped to spend the night in Monroe in the first place.  And just think, this Friday, I get to make that trip all over again.  Yes, I just sighed.  But, at least, I know where I was even if I did not remember where I was.  Reminder to self: write down where you were when you were taking the pictures, just in case...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Louisville Avenue Bridge: The Lea Joyner

The Louisville Avenue Bridge over the Ouachita River in Monroe, Louisiana was constructed in 1936 (Stewart P. Hingle, Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development, Bridge Design Section).  In the photograph above, the skyline of downtown Monroe is visible, and the top of the DeSiard Street swing bridge.
 The bridge was renamed the Lea Joyner Bridge in honor of Pastor Joyner, the only ordained Methodist woman in mid-twentieth century Louisiana (Ellen Blue. "Lea Joyner." In KnowLA: Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 20 February 2013).  Joyner founded a mission in 1952, serving the very poor residents who lived between the levee and the banks of the Ouachita River.  She was murdered in 1985 by a young man whom she had tried to help.
 The bridge was renamed in her honor due to her years of ministry on the banks of the river.  There are pedestrian sidewalks on both sides of the bridge.
Originally a timber deck with asphalt planks (Hingle), the deck was replaced in 1950 with a grid deck.

The double leaf bascule span bridge is opened an average of six times a week to allow river traffic to pass.