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.