Saturday, December 25, 2010

Update: Mississippi Basin Model - Further Decline

Dear Readers, bad news: what is left of the famous Mississippi Basin hydraulic model in Jackson (in Butts Park off McRaven Street) has deteriorated noticeably in the last year.

This was the largest hydraulic model in the world, meaning it covered the largest continental land area ever to be assembled into one comprehensive tool to test water flows. It was last used during the 1973 Mississippi River flood when the Old River Control Structure was almost undermined. The structure's failure would have led to a large proportion of the river's flow going down the Atchafalaya River waterway rather then along the present path past Baton Rouge and New Orleans and on to the Balize Delta. The model was maintained through the 1970s but finally discontinued because of the expensive manpower requirements. The land was deeded to the Department of the Interior and subsequently to the City of Jackson in the early 1990s. Since then, trees and brush have covered much of the site, buildings have fallen down, and vandals have damaged equipment and stolen property.
You can get an idea of the vast size of this operation from the photograph above. This is part of the lower Mississippi below Vicksburg. The accordion-folded mesh serves as friction to simulate trees (hardwood bottom land) in the delta plain. This area is not as overgrown as other areas because of the broad expanse of concrete.
One of the compressor houses still has its roof, and the equipment inside is still present. Another one-story building on the site has completely collapsed. Another one suffered a fire so intense that the steel roof joists warped.
In the lower-river control house, a number of the Stevens chart recorders have been stolen since last January. These machines provided a permanent record of a flood in the form of stage hydrographs. They recorded on chart paper with pens, similar to tide recorders and just about every other type of technical data recorder in the mid-20th century.
The punched paper you see above was for the flow controller system. This controlled a variety of orifices in the flow controller tank, which in turn released precisely measured amounts of water to the model. The charts could be played back many times to rerun particular flow events or storms. A coworker told me that at one time, many bookcases were filled with these paper rolls. Fascinating technology, but I can imagine the manpower required.

You can see more photographs of the site in this January 2010 blog entry: Basin Model. If you want to see what is left, visit soon. The deterioration appears to be accelerating. It's really sad to let this historic civil engineering wonder go.

UPDATE JULY 2017:  A volunteer organization has been formed to clean and clear the site and develop it as an education/interpretive center. They have already done amazing work at clearing trees and cleaning off some of the concrete walkways. Readers interested in participating in the cleanup work, please contact: 

Sarah McEwen
President, Friends of the Mississippi River Basin Model
Twitter: @MSRiverBasinMod
Facebook: @FriendsofMississippiRiverBasin Model

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Bonner Campbell Institute, Edwards, Mississippi

The Bonner Campbell Institute, formerly the Southern Christian Institute, sits on a bucolic piece of property off Hwy 80 west of Edwards, Mississippi. The Preservation in Mississippi blog recently presented an excellent historical summary on the Institute:

The essay inspired me to return and look around the site. I had driven past on Hwy 80 many times before, but the gate was always closed and I never saw any activity there. But a couple of Sundays ago, the gate was open, the light was mellow, and it seemed like a good afternoon to explore.

The land is beautiful. Hawks and turkey vultures soar overhead, song birds twitter in the trees, the oaks are full and luxurious. Someone mows the grass, but the place still has a "Land that Time Forgot" feel to it. As E.L. Malveney wrote, "The campus again saw new life when it became Bonner Campbell School of Religion, an arm of the A.M.E. denomination, in 1971. Used mainly for church retreats, but also more regularly as a Head Start center until around 2000, the owners have struggled in recent years to keep the campus up." Sadly, this last sentence says it all. The buildings, which look reasonably intact from a distance, are all suffering for decay, storm damage, and some degree of vandalism.

The first structure you come to is a handsome 2-story pillared building with wrap-around porches. This was Smith Hall, a girl's dormitory. Part of the roof on the north side has collapsed and the porches are rotting. (Update January 2018: this building no longer exists.)

The inside was elegant in its day. Look at this handsome room with multi-paneled pine doors, but it does feature the infamous institutional lime green paint.

Allison Hall was the kitchen and cafeteria complex. An older 2-story building is to the rear, with a newer 1-floor cafeteria in front. Both were faced with concrete blocks molded to look like cut stone.

Here, too, some pretty serious decay is underway. A tree limb crashed through the roof of the cafeteria and the interior is open to rain and the elements.

I ventured inside and saw typical institutional halls and toilets. But these ones were blue, not the sickening green you see in most institutions.

The building in the back contained living quarters, I presume for the cook staff. I've seen much worse, making me think these building were intact and occupied less than 10 years ago.

Proceeding south (further away from Hwy 80), you come to the brick 1926-vintage Administration Building. Many of the windows have been broken and partly fixed with wood panels. The few interior rooms I could see were just like early 20th century schoolrooms you can see around the country. A couple of administration-looking offices were sided with nasty cheap dark paneling. As you can see from the plaque, funds for the college came from around the country.

The building furthest south is Belding Hall, the former boys' dormitory (1935-vintage). It looked like it was in the best condition of the historic buildings, but I was unable to see inside.

I don't know what to say. It's a beautiful site. But who could afford to restore the buildings? Most modern conference centers want contemporary energy-efficient climate-controlled buildings.

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 camera, tripod-mounted. I also used traditional Panatomic-X black and white film in a Fuji 6x9 camera but have not processed the film yet. For the monochrome frames above, I processed the Sony RAW files in Phase One's Capture One 4 software, which does a very nice job in taming high contrast and recovering highlights. I then resized, sharpened, and converted to sepia with ACDSee ProV2.5 software.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Deserted cement silos in Redwood, Mississippi

Redwood is a small town north of Vicksburg at the junction of Highways 61 and 3 and the Yazoo River. Driving north on Highway 3, just before you reach the International Paper plant, sits a deserted silo and some steel sheds.

I do not recall the facility being used in at least a decade. It's site near a bend in the Yazoo River indicates that the operators once could load product onto barges.

Grain elevators (and silos in general) have a following among photographers in the Midwest. They represent a functional architecture without decoration, noble in their plainness and single-purpose design. At this site, the silos consist of concrete cylinders held together with wire (or rebar) bands. Definitely crude but strong.

Pigeons live here, and maybe some snakes, but there is not much else other than the deserted machinery. I need to return with a 4×5" film camera for some real photography.

A few years ago, I saw this deserted store off Highway 3. It was rather overgrown then and obviously had not been used in years. On my last drive north to Yazoo City I did not see it, but may have forgotten where to look. (May 2020 update: the store is no longer extant.)

(Black and white photographs based on RAW files from a Sony DSC-R1 camera, processed in Capture One LE software).

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Deserted Winter Beaches: Porto Germeno, Attica, Greece

Porto Germeno (also known as Aegosthena) is a quiet little resort in Western Attica facing the northeast Gulf of Corinth. It is about 70 km from Athens and in summer must have a busy clientele on weekends.

December is another story. Most of the tavernas are closed, some sealed up with plastic. The wind howls off the Corinthian Gulf and the place has a forlorn look.

Surprisingly, we found one taverna open. The cook was there alone and he started a kerosene heater in one of the pavilions. We sat around in jackets and mittens, but soon the temperature was comfortable. Soon he served a delicious meal: fresh grilled fish, fried potatoes, salads. How do these Greeks do it, and in the middle of winter in a remote tiny town?

The photograph above gives you an idea why it can be rough reaching Porto Germeno in December. We had to leave the 2-wheel drive car in a village and all squeeze into the jeep. Winter is fun.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, Yazoo City

The Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital was a pioneering medical institution and possibly the only health care resource for African Americans residents of west central Mississippi during the mid-20th century. According to Wikipedia, "The Afro-American Sons and Daughters was a fraternal organization in Mississippi and one of the leading black voluntary associations in the state. Organized in 1924, it had 35,000 members by the 1930s. The founder of the group was Thomas J. Huddleston, Sr., a prosperous black entrepreneur and advocate of Booker T. Washington's self-help philosophy." The hospital was built in 1928 and provided health care, including major surgery, until 1972, when it closed forever.

As you can see from these photographs, the hospital is in poor condition. Plants are taking over the site, parts of the roof have failed, and the floors are rotting. When I walked inside, I immediately smelled the odor of damp, decaying wood. A big tree in the back fell in a storm and crashed through the roof. That part of the building in imploding. The building, at 8th St. and Webster Ave. in Yazoo City, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Sadly, that distinction does not retard decay from the elements.

On contemporary standards, the hallways and rooms were small and cramped. The paint was that infamous institutional green that you see in schools and older public buildings everywhere. The hospital had one floor on a design with three wings (like a letter "E"). Large louvered openings in the ceiling once held vent fans to provide air flow during hot summers. I hope the operating rooms were cooled, but I suspect not.

I read about this site in the Mississippi Heritage Trust 2007 list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. The article states that the building underwent a major change in 1935 when another wing was added. The hospital campus included a residence for its nurses.

The room above may have been a ward with several beds. It was so dark, I could barely see the outlines of the far wall. I am often amazed how effective digital cameras are in low light. Open the shutter and let the sensing elements continue to record light until they receive enough energy to form the image. In the film era, I would have used a Luna-Pro light meter to make an incident light measurement, then add two, three, or more f-stops to the measurement to allow for film reciprocity failure. And the colors would have shifted.

A interesting paper by David T. and Linda R. Beito (Social Science History. 2006; 30: 551-569) describes the history of the Afro-American hospital and outlines the grim reality of health care for poor Blacks in the 1920s in Mississippi.

Here is the abstract:
"Under the burden of Jim Crow, how did African Americans obtain health care? For nearly 40 years the Afro-American Hospital of Yazoo City, Mississippi, was a leading health care supplier for blacks in the Mississippi Delta. It was founded in 1928 by the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a black fraternal society, and provided a wide range of medical services. The society, which eventually had 35,000 members, was led by Thomas J. Huddleston, a prosperous black entrepreneur and advocate of Booker T. Washington's self-help philosophy. The hospital had a low death rate compared to other hospitals that served blacks in the South during the period. It ceased operation in 1966 as a fraternal entity after years of increasingly burdensome regulation, competitive pressure from government and third-party health care alternatives, and the migration of younger dues-paying blacks to the North."

Please click the link for some views of the rest of Yazoo City. Thank you for reading.

Photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera, tripod-mounted.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jackson Minicipal Library

The Mississippi Heritage Trust included the Jackson Municipal Library on their 2005 list of "10 Most Endangered Historic Places." I have driven along North State Street many times but never before paid attention to the unused rectangle limestone building across the street from the Welty library (Jackson's current public library). This is the site of the 1961 incident when the "Tougaloo Nine" tried to read books that were not available at the inferior Carver Library, the facility that blacks were forced to use then. The police ordered the students to leave, and when they refused, they were arrested. This building should be preserved as one of the many sites where the civil rights movement began to change America.

This 1954 structure was built in a stern 1950s post-art-deco blockhouse design, but it's not as bad as it sounds. The windows are shaded by ledges and overhangs, and the aluminum or steel frames lend an air of symmetry. Ledges like this were popular through the 1960s but you seldom see them on new buildings. Why not? The sun still shines.

Do any of you readers remember fallout shelters? In the 1950s, office buildings and institutions all over the United States had these yellow and black signs with the ominous triple triangles. Ironically, the signs were so well made, they have outlasted the Soviet Union and you still see them mounted on older buildings if you look carefully. In the old days, fallout shelters were stocked with cans of water, dry foods, and sturdy plastic bags (to use as toilets - really!).

The inside of the old municipal library does not look like much any more. The low ceilings and low-grade Sheetrock construction are rather depressing. What will be its fate? The City of Jackson does not have a very good record of preserving its historic buildings, and increasingly severe budget problems will impose even more neglect in years to come.

The windows on the ground floor are shielded with black cloth inner panels, but I was able to take these photographs over the top of some of the panels where they did not extend up to the window frame. It underscores why it is handy to use a camera with an articulated viewing screen (somewhat similar to holding an old Rolleiflex camera upside down over a crowd or above a fence).

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-R1 camera, hand-held.

November 15, 2010 update: A reader kindly provided a link to an article from the Northside Sun Magazine which describes how the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board bought the building in 2009. Earlier, the Duckworth Realty Company tried to convert the building into loft apartments, but the plan did not work out:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Beach in Winter

The beach in winter is a lonely place. The beach houses and cabanas seem to be waiting for happy families and energetic children to return. In the off season, bathhouses always interested me because of their symmetry. They have a transient appearance, but yet many are decades old.

These first two photographs are from the beach club at Watch Hill, Rhode Island. The bathhouse is built on a narrow sand spit, Napatree Point, that sticks out west into Long Island Sound. The second scene is looking north into Watch Hill Cove.

Drive a few miles east along the Atlantic shore of Rhode Island and you reach Misquamicut State Beach.

The parking lot view is a bit utilitarian, but the ocean side of the bathhouse is quite nice with its cheerful turquoise paint and expansive view of the ocean. The rows of sand fencing shows that the state workers are trying to trap as much sand as possible. Rhode Island's beaches have been retreating (eroding) for decades, but I am not sure what the rate has been here at Misquamicut.

Atlantic Avenue near Misquamicut has the normal beachy collection of motels, convenience stores, and restaurants. The one above has seen better days.

Rhode Island somehow avoided the most crass examples of late-20th century beach architecture, such as the giant pink shops selling swim suits and tee shirts. The monstrosity above was the former Souvenir City near Biloxi, Mississippi, in October 2006, over a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Let's move Across the Atlantic to the North Sea coast of the Netherlands. The cheerful little dressing cottages above are are on the island of Texel, near the resort town of Da Koog. Da Koog is popular with German tourists. They did not often see Americans there.

Now let's move south to the Gulf of Corinth in Greece. There is minimal tidal variation in the Gulf, but it experiences seiching (water set-up caused by steady wind pushing the water to one end of the basin). This is also a very seismically active area with opposite sides of the Gulf experiencing uplift or sinking at different rates.

This is a night club/bar near the town of Nerantza, a few kilometers west of Corinth. Note the umbrella posts in the water.

Even lake beaches have bathhouses. This is the Bains des Pâquis, in Geneva, Switzerland. The bath house and a small beach were built in 1872 on a pier that projects into Lac Leman. The present structures were rebuilt in 1932. The water is cold, even on a hot summer day. It is a relaxing way to spend a day if you are passing through Geneva.

There is a popular and modest-priced cafe at the Pâquis. If you don't finish your meal, a sparrow or duck will finish it off.
2018 update:  Here is a summer photograph of the Bains des Pâquis (scan from a Kodachrome slide, taken with a Leica M2 rangefinder camera using a 20mm f/5.6 Russar lens).