Friday, January 18, 2019

Further Decay and Loss: Port Gibson, Mississippi

Background

Poor old Port Gibson. It is a historic town, with beautiful antebellum houses lining both sides of Church Street (which carries US 61 as it passes through town). The homes survived the Civil War because General Grant reportedly proclaimed the city to be "too beautiful to burn."

My 2016 post on Port Gibson showed some buildings that have since been lost.  I had not been back since then for a careful visit, but on December 15 decided look around again. I had another motivation, to test a 1950s Voigtländer Vito BL camera that I had just bought. Some black and white film, a handsome old German camera, and an overcast, drizzly, gloomy day - what could be better? (Well, maybe a real coffee shop?)

I was appalled how bad much of the town looks. Some antebellum homes on Church Street are abandoned and are deteriorating, houses on side streets are ready to collapse, and empty lots have weeds and trash. How could this be happening?

North Port Gibson

Driving in from the north on US 61, the scene is peaceful and bucolic. This is rich farmland.
At the corner of US 61 and Grand Gulf Road, I saw a muddy driveway leading in to a farm. I asked some hunters if I could photograph their barn, and they responded that it was not their barn, so go right ahead. I assume most employees at Grand Gulf nuclear power plant zoom right by and miss the old barn and house on the right.
The northern outskirts of town, before you cross the Bayou Pierre, are horrifying. Stores are closed, the chain fast food stores purvey offal.

Little Bayou Pierre

Little Bayou Pierre, Feb. 18, 2017. Kodak Panatomic-X film (6 × 6), Rolleiflex 3.5E 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar lens.
Little Bayou Pierre, Dec. 15, 2018. Ilford Delta 100 film (24 × 36mm), Vito BL, 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar lens.
US 61 crosses Little Bayou Pierre. The water was high because of the large amount of rain that had fallen recently. Compare the 2017 photograph, when the sand bar was visible, with the 2018 high water scene.

Port Gibson

Look west from the north end of the US 61 bridge, and you can see cottages on Farmer Street.
This is sad: a handsome old mansion at 601 Church Street, clearly unoccupied and on the path to deterioration.
A block to the east, an early-20th century cottage at 709 College Street has a collapsing roof. This was a nice home, once.
On Marginal Street, across from the Jewish Cemetery, was a house with a dog.  He did not seem too interested in me, and after a half minute of barking, settled down.
On Jackson Street was an abandoned duplex, being engulfed with vines. A modern cruising motorcycle sat in the bushes. There was no obvious driveway with access, so weeds and brush had grown since it had been left there. What was it doing there? No one had removed it? These are 12 and 16 sec. exposures at f/8. I used about 4 times the light meter reading to accommodate reciprocity failure.

Camera note

As I mentioned above, this was an experiment: I bought a 1957 Voigtlander Vito BL camera for $34 on ePrey. It has a fixed 50mm f/3.5 lens Color-Skopar lens (a Tessar derivative with a similar configuration of 4 lenses in 3 groups). The Vito is a strong German precision device from the end of the era when German camera manufacturers ruled the commercial market and just as the Japanese companies were surging forward.

Most of the exposures above are at f/8 or so, where the lens would be performing at its best. After some exercise, the leaf shutter settled down and sounds about right. The film pressure plate had some rust pips, so the first roll of film was badly scratched on the back (base) side. But I have cleaned the plate with a jewelry rouge cloth and an eraser. If need be, I will try some super-fine wet-dry sanding cloth. Stand by for more examples in the future from this little Vito camera. What do you readers think of the lens quality?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Faded commercial glory: Washington Avenue, Greenville, Mississippi

Washington Avenue, Greenville, view east from the Lake Ferguson levee.

Background

In the early 20th century, Greenville was the big, boisterous, rich, and booming commercial town of the west central Mississippi Delta.
At that time, Greenville thrived from cotton, timber, river traffic, and light manufacturing. These early-20th century post cards from the Cooper Post Card Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History attest to the elegance and substantial commercial architecture of Washington Avenue. Washington Avenue was the sophisticated shopping street.
Here are two post cards showing flooding during the great 1927 flood, which caused immense damage throughout the Mississippi Delta (Barry 1998).
Washington Avenue, Greenville, mid-1950s (courtesy Preservation in Mississippi blog
Major American retail companies operated stores in Greenville. These included Sears Roebuck, Woolworth's, J.C. Penny, Montgomery Ward, and many others. The downtown was thriving at least through the 1960s, and many of these stores were located in sturdy early 20th century commercial buildings on Washington Avenue.

The Avenue Today

West end of 300 block of Washington Avenue, Greenville. 
309 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
311 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Cast iron pillar, unknown vintage, 325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Washington Avenue today is a sad place. From what I could see, the shops along the west are closed. They look reasonably intact from the front, but I have no information on the condition of the roofs or the interiors.
Rear of 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 323 or 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 155 S. Poplar Avenue, Greenville.
A tunnel through the building at 323 or 325 Washington lets you walk to the parking area behind the buildings. I assume this area was reserved for delivery trucks in the old days, but possibly African American patrons had to enter the buildings this way.
Former J & B shoe store, 343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 (?) Washington Avenue.
Johl & Bergman Shoes once occupied 343 Washington Avenue. They had a handsome entrance with dual doors and large plate glass windows to display their merchandise. The interior still looks remarkably mid-20th century. Does the plywood mean someone is trying to restore something? A walk up to the second floor is ominous. Daylight streams through holes in the roof. The flooring is wet in places and smells musty. As I have written before, in this wet climate, roof decay invariably means rotting joists and timbers and imminent collapse or condemnation by the city safety inspector.

What a shame. How do we let this happen in America? Our corrupt politicians in Washington (and Jackson!) claim they can spend $_billions on a boondoggle wall along the Mexican border, but it is perfectly all right to let hometown cities collapse due to poor education, infrastructure decay, and general neglect. A pox on you slimy politicians.

References

Barry, J.M., Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.  Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (April 2, 1998).

Images

The 2018 frames are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 compact lens. This is a handy and compact camera and lens package that you can take with you conveniently. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a Barnack Leica (meaning one of the compact screw-mount rangefinder cameras, like my IIIC).

Friday, January 4, 2019

Vicksburg in the Fog/Mist 2018 (Tri-X film)

Walnut Street with St. Paul's Catholic Church and USACE Mississippi River Division office, 50mm Distagon lens.
Old Court House Museum from Relax Inn 4th floor, 250mm lens.
Winter is the best time to wander around Vicksburg and take photographs. The light is soft, the temperature reasonably comfortable, and the results look different than the normal bright sunny day snaps with harsh shadows. One misty day last January, I loaded some Tri-X 400 in the Hasselblad and wandered around town.
Walnut Street, view north from Relax Inn, 50mm Distagon lens. 


The manager of the Relax Inn generously let me take my tripod and camera up to the 4th floor balcony. There is a good view of the Old Court House Museum from there, and I was testing my new/old $87 250mm Sonnar lens. For the views of Walnut Street, I leaned out over the edge of the balcony wall and held the camera sideways. With the Hasselblad's waist-level finder, you can still see the ground glass while holding the body out to the side.
Clay Street, Vicksburg
Clay Street drops downhill quite steeply from the intersection with Cherry street. The ugly white slab on the right is the Thomas Building, which seems to be perpetually for rent. For some reason, it is a troubled or unusable building.
A two-floor asbestos-clad house sits next to Stouts Bayou at 900 National Street. The house has been empty for years. The open windows are a bad sign.
Vicksburg Southern Railroad tracks at Haining Road, 250mm Sonnar lens.
Vicksburg Southern Railroad tracks view south from Haining Road.
Haining Road leads to the Port of Vicksburg and crosses the railroad tracks at the junction with North Washington Street. The buildings on either side are part of the Anderson Tully wood mill, which now has a new owner.
Vicksburg Southern Railroad tracks view north from Ford Road. (Kodak Panatomic-X film (expired 1989), 250mm Sonnar lens, March 2018).
This is an March view of the tracks north of the Anderson Tully complex.
Grammer Street, Vicksburg, 250mm Sonnar lens
Finally, here are the remaining shotgun houses on Grammar Street. Once, both sides of the street (alley) were lined with these cottages, but most have been demolished over the years. In a previous post, I showed scans of Kodachromes from the 1990s and early 2000s.

We will look at more Vicksburg scenes in future posts.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Wandering around Eagle Lake, Mississippi

Background

Eagle Lake is an oxbow lake northwest of Vicksburg. A short geology explanation: When a river flows through a wide alluvial valley (a geologic depression filled with riverine-deposited sediment), the river usually meanders, meaning it develops into tightly curved S-shaped channels. Often the channel almost curves back on itself. Over time, some of the curves are breached and the river rushes through the new opening to flow through the lower part of the S. The former bend of the river is abandoned, forming an oxbow lake. Eagle Lake, Lake Chicot, and Lake Washington are examples of oxbow lakes. These lakes become valuable habitat for fish and numerous bird species. Gradually (over hundreds of years) the lakes fill with organic debris and silt. The Mississippi valley between Cape Girardeau and the delta in the Gulf of Mexico shows evidence of hundreds of changes in these meanders as well as buried former channels throughout the alluvial valley (Fisk, 1944).
Eagle Lake, Mississippi. Map from ESRI ArcGIS online based on US Geological Survey topographic maps.
The town of Eagle Lake lies along the eastern shore and consists of mostly vacation and retirement homes, although some residents commute daily to Vicksburg for their jobs. I have not photographed in the town itself, but MS 465 has some interesting sights. (Warning, "pretty" pictures below.)

Some Sights near Town

Mt. Zion Church, near Laney Camp Road, Mississippi. Hasselblad, 50mm Distagon lens.
Lightning-struck tree at Mt. Zion Church, near Laney Camp Road, Mississippi.
North of Eagle Lake, MS 465 runs along the top of the levee. This is an unusual opportunity to drive along the levee top on a public road and watch wildlife in the ponds and hardwood bottomlands below. In many areas, levees are not open to the general public (they are restricted to hunters with permits, employees of levee boards, or the US Army Corps of Engineers). The Mount Zion Church is on a dirt road south of the levee, adjacent to where the Laney Camp Road joins 465.
This little church is east of 465 south of where the highway joins the levee. I do not know the name, but the modest little church had been deteriorating for at least 4 or 5 years. A few graves are located on the grounds south of the building.
In late December of 2017, I helped with the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The early morning light was misty and soft, perfect for tree pictures. These are on Kodak Panatomic-X film from a Hasselblad 501CM camera (tripod-mounted).
This is a store I photographed in 1997. It faced 465 but I cannot recall the exact location. This was a frame from Agfa Scala 200 black and white positive film (meaning black and white slides), taken with a Leica M3. The Scala scans really well. Of course, now I wish I had used more of it in the past.

Beaches and forest

Beach near Tara Wildlife Center with non-native rock in the foreground.
This is an example of a beach near Eagle Lake with access via a dirt path only during low water. The sand is carried naturally down the river from the central North American continent, but the rocks in the foreground were artificially placed. No rock of this size is carried by the Mississippi’s flow in this region.

Access like this to the river is relatively rare. Many visitors to the region are surprised that normally they can only see the river from high towns, like Vicksburg or Natchez, or from an occasional commercial loading facility. The reason is the placement of the flood-control levees. The main stem levees of the Mississippi River extend from Cape Girardeau in Missouri to the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico. The levees are usually built some distance from the low water river channel, sometimes as much as one or two miles away (see Figure 1). The low terrain between the main channel and the levees is usually forested and subject to inundation whenever there is a high water event. The purpose of the forest is to provide friction to reduce the velocity of the water during high water. In effect, the forest helps protect the levees by preventing high currents from washing directly against the flanks of the earthen structures.
Example of pond and vegetation found in hardwood bottomland.
This is a pond in the hardwood bottomland that naturally forms on the river side of the levees. Note that up through the 1800s, much of the delta was hardwood bottomland, but the land was laboriously cleared and drained in the late 1800s and early 1900s to form the farmland that we see now. These bottomlands are characterized by being periodically inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater during the growing season. Common tree species in the area are adapted to survive, reach maturity, and reproduce in an environment where the soils within the root zone may be saturated or anaerobic (lacking oxygen) during part of the growing season (Clark and Benforado, 1980).

References

Clark, J.R., and Benforado, J. (Eds.), 1980. Wetlands of Bottomland Hardwood Forests: Proceedings of a Workshop on Bottomland Hardwood Forest Wetlands of the Southeastern United States. Developments in Agricultural and Managed-Forest Ecology, 11, Elsevier Science, Amsterdam, 401p.

Fisk, H.N., 1944. Geological investigation of the alluvial valley of the lower Mississippi River. U.S. Department of the Army, Mississippi River Commission, 78p. Online:  http://lmvmapping.erdc.usace.army.mil/index.htm  Accessed Sep. 13, 2018.

Camera notes

The square photographs were taken with a Hasselblad 501CM camera on Kodak Panatomic-X film. I used Zeiss 80mm CB and 50mm Distagon lenses. Praus Productions in Rochester, NY, developed the film in Xtol. The two rectangle frames are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera.

End-of-year salutation

Dear Readers, this is the last article of 2018. Thank you for reading and occasionally commenting. If you have ideas on places to photograph or comments of any type, please feel free to forward them to kodachromeguy - at - gmail - dot - com. A prosperous 2019 to you all. Stay well and explore your world.