Monday, March 4, 2024

Heading West Through Texas, October 2023

We were in a hurry heading west. It had been stressful to escape Houston via US290, but at least we could use the HOV lanes. As dusk approached, we passed through Somerville, a town about half way between Houston and Austin. I saw a large BNSF rail yard and had to stop and take a frame or two in the gloomy dusk light. 

The view west, Somerville, Texas (Fuji Acros film, 135mm ƒ/3.5 SMC Takumar lens hand-held)

A day later, we were still driving west through Texas. Wow, what a large state. Long-term readers may remember that in November of 2022, we drove to the Rio Grande Valley. That took two days, also. 

Lockwood Street, Tahoka, Texas (55mm ƒ/1.8 SMC Takumar lens)

Drizzle was falling, and we need to take a stretch break. As I recall, there was no coffee shop in Tahoka. 

Sorry, I could not resist, a gaudy phone pic. of a former gas station with a cover to keep off the rain. 

This was a frustrating trip. I wanted to spend at least two weeks on the trip and do some creative photography, but we had to rush to Olympia to meet the moving truck. One of us should have flown to Olympia and then returned to some airport en route to continue a more leisurely drive. Texas offers a lot of interesting photo subject matter, even in small towns like the examples above. It has been fun exploring Texas. But will I ever return to the great open expanses? 

Please type "Texas" in the search box to see previous articles. 

I took the black and white frames on Fuji Acros film with my Pentax Spotmatic F camera and 55mm and 135mm lenses.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Moving Out: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana


Isle de Jean Charles is a small fishing community at the south end of Island Road in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. It feels like the end of the world. The town was the home of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians for almost 200 years. All the houses now are elevated on piles or stilts, and there is limited dry land. One low and vulnerable road, a spur off of Louisiana 665, leads to the town. 

Because Island Road is often flooded, sometimes for days, and safety services can not be guaranteed for the residents, the community needs to move. According to a January 2024 BBC article, "This Louisiana town moved to escape climate-linked disaster," the residents of Isle Jean Charles are in the process of relocating to The New Isle Community, much further inland and safe from flooding. Building a major levee system to protect the town from hurricane surge was too expensive, and relocation was the only alternative.

Sediments of the Mississippi Delta

The title of the BBC article is somewhat deceptive. Rising sea level is making the road to Isle de Jean Charles more vulnerable to storm surges and even normal high tides. And the rising sea exacerbates other issues throughout south Louisiana such as infrastructure, drainage, pollutants, and sea water incursion further into the swamps. But at least four other major factors account for land loss in southern Louisiana:

1. The sediment is sinking. All this marshy deltaic sediment came down the Mississippi River. As the immense sediment mass of the Mississippi Delta dewaters over centuries, it compresses. 

2. Oil and gas producers dredged channels through the marshes. These channels allowed seawater to enter the marshes and kill fresh-water marsh vegetation. Without the root structures and emergent plants, storms washed away the limited soil. And the lack of plants means minimal new sediment gets trapped.

3. The path of the Mississippi River has been channelized by levees for 200 years. During floods, sediment no longer spreads out over the adjacent delta. When the US Army Corps of Engineers dredges the navigation channel, they place some of this material onto the nearby marshes. Openings in the levees also allow flood water to spread. But these two placement and diversion mechanisms still do not replicate the pre-engineered river when it flowed unconstrained.

4. Less sediment is brought down to south Louisiana. Compared to the era before the late 1800s, levees line all of the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries. The era of mass tree deforestation is over. Farming practice considers erosion control much more than it did 100 years ago. Dams on the Missouri and Ohio River systems trap sediment in their ponds. The Corps of Engineers reduces bank sloughing and erosion with concrete mats. In effect, we are retaining sediment on the continent. 

This is a complicated topic. A vast technical literature examines sediment, hydrology, climatology, and geotechnical issues in Southern Louisiana.

A March 2019 article in The New Yorker, "Louisiana's Disappearing Coast," is a readable and detailed description of the factors that cause land loss. 

John McFee's seminal 1987 article in The New Yorker, "The Control of Nature, Atchafalaya," describes the heroic efforts to prevent the Mississippi River from changing its path to debouch into the Gulf of Mexico at the Atchafalaya delta, not the present delta.  

Isle de Jean Charles in 2019

Bayou or boat canal parallel to Island Road, Isle de Jean Charles, April 28, 2019
Pedestrian bridge over boat canal

My wife and I drove out to Isle de Jean Charles in spring of 2019. We were on a trip to explore the Acadian Parishes of Louisiana and revisit some towns that we had seen before, such as Dulac and Lafayette. We had read about Isle de Jean Charles and wanted to see the town. Driving on Island Road felt like we were on a boat crossing the marshes and lakes. In many stretches, the pavement was only a foot or less above the water.

We stopped at the marina. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the town gents were drinking beer and having a good old time out on the deck. They said they had seen the plans to move everyone to a new town and were somewhat skeptical. Some of the town residents already had homes further inland. They watched the tide predictions, and if high water or a tropical storm was predicted, they would head north to stay with relatives and wait for the weather to pass. The gents also wondered if the plan was to move the Chawtaws out and then the developers would build condominiums. 

Wood crossovers to provide access to Island Road
Boat canal almost filled with vegetation
Elevated Isle de Jean Charles house

This was a nice afternoon. The few people we met were friendly. But we were not in town long enough to get a sense of how many people lived there at that time. It felt quiet. If the BBC article is correct, Isle de Jean Charles may be much quieter soon. I am glad that my wife and I had the chance to visit when it was still possible.

I took these photographs with a Hasselblad 501CM camera on Kodak Panatomic-X film using 50mm and 80mm Zeiss lenses. Some were tripod-mounted. Praus Productions in Rochester, New York, developed the film in Xtol. I scanned the negatives with a Minolta Scan Multi film scanner. Panatomic-X is a mid-century wonder product for this type of subject matter. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

Continuing Decline, Johnson Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Red outline shows Johnson Street (from ArcGIS Online) 

Johnson Street is one of many semi-hidden narrow Vicksburg roads whose location was dictated by the area's complicated loess topography. Many roads followed the crest of ridges. Johnson Street follows a ridge that sweeps downhill from South Washington Street (just north of Lee Street) into the valley that is now occupied by the Vicksburg High School ball fields. Many people probably never go down Johnson unless they specifically planned to see a resident there or possibly turned in by accident.

Twenty years ago, many of the houses along Johnson were occupied. But one by one, they were abandoned or the city condemned them because of dangerous or unsanitary conditions. Then the city razed the buildings. Here are photographs of the remaining houses in April of 2023.  

This is the site of the former 748 Johnson Street after the city demolished it. A bulldozer graded the dirt down the hill. Contractors do this work. According to a 2020 article in The Vicksburg Post, it cost the city about $25,000 to raze a simple wooden house and clear the land of debris.  

728 Johnson Street (Kodak Ektar 100 film, Pentax Spotmatic F camera, 28mm SMC Takumar lens)
728 Johnson Street

This little mid-century house at 728 had a serious gullying problem below the front right corner of the foundation. The gully served as a convenient trash dump. I looked in the door and a homeless guy was sleeping in one of the bedrooms. He and some other guys called this place home. 

733 Johnson Street (28mm SMC Takumar lens)
733 Johnson Street (28mm SMC Takumar lens)
Parlor of 733 Johnson Street (35mm Super-Takumar lens braced on a window ledge)

No. 733 was a typical Vicksburg house where the front door was approximately at street level while the back projected out over the gully, supported by wood pilings. Hundreds of houses like this were built early in the 20th century, and they survived for decades despite their precarious supports. Once the house is abandoned or condemned, the lot cannot be redeveloped.

Downhill side of 733 Johnson Street

This is the gully (valley) just north of Johnson Street. This looks wild and impassible, but deer, raccoons, and possums wander these wooded spaces throughout the city. Snakes do, too.

735 Johnson Street (28mm SMC Takumar lens)

This is another modest mid-century house. I assume it was built on a lot once occupied by an older early-20th century cottage. The back was perched over the valley like other houses on Johnson Street.

Church bus, Holly Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 746 Johnson Street
754 Johnson Street (50mm Hasselblad lens)

This ends out short walk on Johnson Street. All these houses have been demolished since I took these photographs. Slowly but surely, Vicksburg's older neighborhoods are becoming less densely populated as these older houses are torn down.

The 2023 photographs are from Kodak Ektar 100 film from my new/old Pentax Spotmatic F camera.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Another Random Walk around Vicksburg, Mississippi (2021-2023)


In the last article, I looked at houses along South Washington Street. Let's take a semi-random walk in the southern part of Vicksburg plus one view downtown and see what interesting photons passed through my camera lens and into the film emulsion. Most of these frames will also be from color negative film, mostly Kodak Ektar 100. Please click any picture to see more details.

Downtown Vicksburg from China Street (Royal Gold 25 film, Leica M2, 50mm ƒ/2 Summicron-DR lens)

As of 2023, The Vicksburg apartments are being renovated. Residents had to move to other accomodations around town. I hope this continues a downtown revival. The brick building in the left is the long-unused Junius Ward Johnson YMCA. It has been empty for at least 20 years. 

South Washington Street Area

View west towards the Mississippi River from Washington Street (Hasselblad, 80mm ƒ/2.8 lens)

This the view west to the Mississippi River (the shiny water at the horizon). The Yazoo canal is out of sight just beyond the water tower. The water tower is a remnant of the cotton compress, of which very little remains now. With an amazing view like this, in most cities, a neighborhood like this would have gentrified. This one is still a mess.

Washington Street view north near Bowman Street

Tri-State Tire, 2209 Washington Street

This unusual building with decorated arches was once an ice company. Then, in the 1960s, it was the Seale-Lily ice cream store. Mr. Christ bought it in the 1970s and converted the building into a tire business. His daughter, Susan Christ, runs the business now and provides courteous and efficient service. I wrote about Tri-State in 2018

1009 (?) Bowman Street
1007 and 1009 Bowman Street

Turn right from Washington Street onto Bowman Street. Some of the housing stock is seriously degraded. 

Magnolia School, Bowman Street

The former Magnolia School has been unused since at least the mid-1980s. Former windows were bricked in decades ago. From the 1920s to the 1950s, this was one of the most progressive schools for African-American students. J.G.H. Bowman, the principle of Magnolia Avenue High School, was highly respected for his dedication and accomplishments in running the school. The street is now named after him. 

807 Speed Street

It looks like the occupants ran out of blue paint. Speed Street is pretty rough.

Drummond Street Area

Pink house, 2721 Green Street
Ducks in a row, 911 Bowmar Avenue 
2815 Drummond Street

This four-unit apartment has been empty for at least five years. The front porch is sagging. As so often with these older houses, status unknown.

Johnny's truck, Candee Street

This ends our short walk around Vicksburg. I took the 2023 photographs with Kodak Ektar 100 film using my new Pentax Spotmatic F camera and 50mm ƒ/1.4 or 55mm ƒ/1.8 SMC Takumar lenses. Watch for more Vicksburg photographs soon. Thanks for coming along!

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Houses of South Washington Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

 I like the downtowns of older American cities, where homes were once built with care and a degree of individualism. Over the decades, the neighborhoods have mellowed, trees have become mature, and the homes changed to reflect their owners or tenants. You also see neglect, decay, and, sometimes, some revitalization. South Washington Street in Vicksburg shows all these elements, although one sees very little revitalization. I have waited for Vicksburg to gentrify for 30+ years, but there is almost no evidence of this happening. This is a real shame considering its rich architectural abundance and historical heritage. 

I have driven and bicycled along Washington Street many times but did not slow down to examine the houses. Here is a walk from south to north, starting where Lee Street comes in from the east above the Vicksburg High School ball fields. The addresses will count down as we progress north. Most of the photographs are from April of 2023. Click any picture to see more details.

Gator Stadium, Vicksburg High School, Lee Street

Let's start with the newly rebuilt and expanded Gator Stadium on Lee Street. The city did a nice job upgrading the fields and stands. There is a lot of pride in the ball teams. Everyone likes gators.

3507 Washington St. with original windows and stucco exterior

Vicksburg has a surprising number of houses with stucco exterior. Stucco was air tight, fire resistant, and accepted paint well. But the stucco was expensive to construct and challenging to repaint. I have seen stucco buildings being demolished and noted that the base of the walls was much thicker that the top near the rafters.

3501 Washington St.

The wide awnings were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. This cottage is also stucco-walled. It has a much simpler architecture than the green house to the south.
Time for a smoothie at 3407 Washington St.
Home with aluminum siding, 3113 Washington St.
Home with asbestos shingles (pre-1940s?), 3111 Washington St.

This little house has two original windows with multiple mullions. And it is clad with asbestos shingles. These were a durable and fireproof building material, popular in the mid-20th century. But mining and production was deadly for the workers.

3023 Washington St.

This cheerful little Craftsman cottage is freshly repaired and restored. It has its original wood siding and double-hung sash windows.  

Asbestos shingles, 3019 Washington St.

This house has diamond-shaped asbestos shingles above the porch. The vent just under the eaves may had been for an attic fan. The fence is nasty, a typical retrofit.

3011 Washington St.
3005 Washington St.

This little house was a dentist's office for some time, but it was neglected and unused when I took this photograph.  

Key Real Estate, 2903 Washington St.
2745 Washington St.

This cheerful cottage at 2745 has its asbestos shingle cladding and original windows. Because of Vicksburg's complicated terrain, many houses like this were perched above the street and had a flight of steps up to the front door. In other cases, the backs of the houses projected over gullies and were supported on wooden posts. I showed examples of this on Johnson Street

Victorian house, 2519 Washington St.

This is a handsome Victorian-era house. It has a modern roof, but the ornate vent/tower has been saved. The shingles above the bay window are original. These are hard to paint because of the many small surfaces that need scraping.

Shotgun house, 2433 Washington St.
Partly restored, 2427 Washington St. (Hasselblad 80mm lens)
Brick house, 2405 Washington St.

This was a nice late-1800s brick house with a steep roof. Some of the wall on the front appears to have been replaced. The roof is early 20th century asbestos with a recent coating of white roof mastic (plastic). The original roof was likely wood shingle. 

Coal sparks from chimneys and coal locomotives often caused fires when embers fell onto wood roofs. When asbestos shingles were developed in the 1920s, they immediately became popular for retrofitting old houses and for new construction. The shingles were  fireproof, lighter than stucco or brick, and quick and easy to install. On a roof, they did not weight more than the wood shakes, in contrast to slate or clay tile, which required a more robust frame. Therefore, many older houses were retrofitted with asbestos roofing. My 1925 garage had asbestos shingles on the sides and the roof, even though the main house was brick.

Commercial building, 2401 Washington St.

This former commercial building is at the corner of Washington and Speed Streets. It has been restored, possibly with an apartment in the second floor. At one time, a family probably operated a business on the ground floor and lived above. In many US cities, misguided zoning regulations made it illegal for residences to coincide with commercial businesses. As a result, business owners moved away and the structure of close-knit communities degraded.

2299 Washington St.

Cheerful blue paint, but it needs a bit of a touch-up. The low iron fence is possibly late 1800s.

2213 Washington St.

This ends our short walk along south Washington Street to look at some of the historical homes. I took most of these pictures with my Pentax Spotmatic F camera and 50mm ƒ/1.4 or 55mm ƒ/1.8 SMC Takumar lenses, hand-held, using Kodak Ektar 100 film. I scanned the negatives with a 35mm Plustek 7600i film scanner. The color profile in the Silverfast software is not quite right. However, the dilemma with color photography is how can you remember what was the "correct" color weeks or months later? Does it matter?  

I have photographed along Washington Street before. You can type "Washington" or "Vicksburg" in the search box to see older articles. Thank you all for walking with me. Next: more Vicksburg in other areas.