Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mississippi Valley and Yazoo Railroad Depot, Vicksburg, Mississippi

First the flood came, then the media came, and they photographed the poor, forlorn Yazoo and Mississippi Valley RR Station with water up to the first floor windows. Possibly this scene will became symbolic of the great flood of 2011. Fortunately, the water is receding and workmen, who were restoring the depot, can dry out the first floor and clean out mud and muck and eject a few snakes.

The depot, completed in 1907, is a handsome brick building on Levee Street, located just north of the concrete floodwall at the base of Grove Street. It was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Daniel Burnham & Co. (We are not sure if Burnham himself designed the building, but he was well-known for his seminal designs of the Chicago waterfront and parks and the monumental buildings of the World's Columbian Exposition). Because of its location, the Vicksburg depot was vulnerable to exceptionally high water, and the first floor was flooded in the great 1927 flood.

In the early 20th century, rail service ran north-south at least as far as Greenville and possibly to Memphis. I believe passengers along the east-west line (heading east to Jackson or west to Monroe, Dallas, etc) would have boarded trains at another depot just off the Cherry Street bridge. Passenger rail service in Vicksburg ended in 1959. I do not know who owned the Levee Street station over the decades. The ground floor had been used by various companies or activities but was also empty for years at a time. Remodeling removed almost all traces of authentic walls or features , so I did not take photographs in these areas. In the 1990s, a kidney dialysis company leased space here. But when remodeling began recently, a stationmaster's office or control room of some sort became exposed.

The second floor provided more of interest to an urban archaeologist. The stairs to the second floor were reasonably intact and still had their deep varnish. I have seen this time and time again: varnished wood has been painted, and after a few years, the paint looks nasty, but areas where the varnish was left original, it looks perfect.

At the top of the stairs, a long hall runs along the east side of the building. Turn left and it leads to a ladies' lavatory.

The lavatory retained some of its original features, including granite stall walls and handsome varnished stall doors.

Turn right, and the hall led to a office or work room with some of its original trim.

About 15 years ago, there were two apartments on the third floor. The tenants in one unit let me come up and access the flat part of the roof to take some photographs. Back then, it was still a bit odd to live downtown and must have been nice and quiet at night. The photograph above shows what is left of one of the attic apartments.

The window shows the view up Grove Street. I am not sure what will be done with the third floor in the current renovation. Fireproof steel stairs have been installed at both ends of the building to comply with fire codes. It is a lovely building, and I am glad it will be used as the Vicksburg Transportation Museum. Please come and visit.

Finally, this postcard from the Cooper collection at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, shows the view of the railroad depot and the Yazoo Canal from the roof of the First National Bank building.

Here is another postcard showing Washington Street with the depot to the left. Vicksburg was a bustling industrial and commercial city then. How did it decline so badly in the latter half of the 20th century?

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