Thursday, January 26, 2012

Shotgun Shacks on Grammar Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Grammar Street is another one of those semi-hidden streets in Vicksburg that most people do not know exist unless they live there or have a specific reason to visit. There are two parts to Grammar. The east section is approximately parallel to Harrison Street and runs from Court Street to the Stout's Bayou. There is no bridge, but on the opposite side, Grammar Street picks up again and proceeds uphill to the west to Martha Street. See the circled areas on the map.
The photograph above shows the opening to Grammar street when standing on Court Street. This little house is still present but has been painted since I took the photograph in 2000.
The east part of Grammar was once a typical Southern "court," lined with identical shotgun shacks. The white house being engulfed with trees is no. 1318 and has been demolished.
Proceeding west, we come to nos. 1314 and 1312. Obviously, 1312 was a mess and ready to be demolished.
The next two were nos. 1310 and 1308. The latter is still standing.
No. 1306 had the faded green paint.
No. 1304 was already gone in the early 2000s, when I took these photographs, but 1302 was present. In the 2003 photograph, 1302 was pretty rough looking, but by 2006, it had been painted and had flowers on the front porch.
No. 1300 was the last house before you reach Stout's Bayou. I am not sure if it ever floods on this part of the street. (Update January 2021: All of these little cottages have been demolished.)
Across the street is a cottage, which may be no. 1301. All in all, this was a pretty rough street. Around the corner on First North, I met a lady who grew up on Grammar. She said she remembered when a bus would come to pick up workers to go to the cotton fields. She thought that was 30 years ago, but I think it must have been at least a decade earlier because by 1980, most cotton harvesting was mechanized.
Across the bayou to the west, the neighborhood was a bit higher grade and older, possibly late 1800s. The tall handsome house is no. 1228, and is still standing. (Update January 2021: this house is gone)
No. 1213 is more modern. Vicksburg has more hidden streets like this steeped in history.

Film note: These are all scans of Kodachrome 25 transparency film. The first photograph was taken with a Minox 35 compact camera, the rest with Leica rangefinders using Leica Summicron lenses. Kodachrome 25 was the finest-grain transparency film, and it really shone when you used the best prime focal length lenses (like Leica) to record fine details. But, its slow speed almost insured that you had to use a tripod. Some photographers disliked Kodachrome, but it had a unique color palette and rewarded deliberate workers. It also had excellent archival properties, and the colors remain vivid for decades.

Scanning Note: I scanned these on a Nikon Coolscan 4000 at 3000 dpi and saved them as TIFF files. It is difficult to scan K25, especially if the frames contain dark areas. With a Nikon unit, you have to manually increase the gain significantly. Also, the color balance is difficult to correct at dusk. Unlike modern digital camera, color film recorded the color as it was. If the day was overcast and the light was cool (blue), the pictures looked blue. Commercial photographers used color-correcting filters, but most documentary photographers did not bother.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1923-vintage Bungalows on First North, Vicksburg, Mississippi

First North is one of Vicksburg's historic streets, running north-south in the eastern part of the city. At the junction with Harrison Street, it continues south with a new name, Court Street.
On the east side of First North, the line of bungalows at 1511-1517 have a common ancestry. (They are outlined by the circle on the map.) A friend at Mississippi Department of Archives and History sent me this text from the Vicksburg Evening Post, June 13, 1923, about these homes:

Something About Bungalows in First North Street

Within about four weeks, perhaps the first of the modern, moderate priced bungalows being constructed by Louis Switzer, First North Street, between Harrison and South will be completed and placed on the market.

Mr. Switzer is to build five of these houses--six room bungalows. Each home will include a living room, dining room and a kitchen, two bed rooms, bathroom, hall and sleeping porch.

There will be gas, electricity, water, and all the sanitary conveniences.

Mr. Switzer is planning to sell these homes for a price between $1,000 and $5,000, and he will sell on an easy payment basis.

Lumber for the houses is being secured by Mr. Switzer from his own mill at Oak Ridge, high grade poplar and gum being used for the framing.

Purchases Truck

For hauling the lumber from Oak Ridge to Vicksburg, Mr. Switzer has just purchased a truck. Owning his own sawmill and getting his lumber at cost will enable Mr. Switzer to build the new homes at a cheaper figure than would otherwise be the case.

"I am building these homes for the average man," Mr. Switzer said commenting on his plans. "Every man, of course, ought to own his own home, and I will make it possible for this average man to secure a cozy, comfortable home at a price that will be within his reach."

J.W. Sacks is the contractor building the bungalows for Mr. Switzer.

Mr. Switzer announces that his First North street bungalow proposition is to be something new in Vicksburg. It will be a complete "move in" affair. His new homes are to be completely furnished--furniture, fixtures, stove, everything set up ready for occupancy.

After a man buys one of these homes all he will have to do to feel at home is to enter the bungalow and hang up his hat.

Now only four of the bungalows still stand, The southernmost one, at the corner of First North and Harrison was torn down at least a decade ago. The lot is now a garden. The photograph above shows no. 1517, presently the southernmost unit.
Moving north, the second house is 1515, with a cheerful paint job.
The third house is 1513, still with its original porch but with modified posts.
Finally, the northernmost unit is 1511. It has been renovated and has a larger attic than the other bungalows. I talked to a lady who lived in this house and she told me she grew up in the neighborhood. She formerly lived on Grammar Street, which is a block away and will be the subject of a future blog entry.

(Digital images taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with a Lumix 14-45 mm lens.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cotton Compress, Levee Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

For many years, a complex of brick and steel sheds stood on the west side of Levee Street close to where the historic Fairground Street bridge crosses the Kansas City Southern railroad yard. This was the cotton compress, address 2400 Levee Street (see the circle on the map).
This post card, circa. 1911, is from the Ann Rayburn Paper Americana Collection, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries (originally from the International Post Card Co., New York, N.Y.).
This is a glass negative from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress, with title, "Louisiana Flood 1912, Cotton Compress at Vicksburg as a refuge." I am not sure if any of these buildings still stand.
According to a December 17, 2010, article in The Vicksburg Post, the compress facility dates to 1903 and formerly housed a cotton gin and 13 warehouses and sheds with about 340,000 square feet of storage space. The view above was taken from the top of the levee looking east at about the same location as the 1912 flood photograph. Vicksburg is on the hill in the distance.
These two views show part of the complex from Levee Street. The Post did not specify how long the compress had been unused, but the buildings were in poor shape because of water damage and asbestos exposure following years of vacancy. Notice the sign on the ground with scripture.
This press was under the tower in the upper photograph. I do not know the mechanics of how it worked, but I remember seeing steam and activity in the 1980s, when this was still a going concern.
A developer told the city's Board of Architectural Review that the Vicksburg Compress company planned to use some of the buildings as a self-storage facility. Other buildings would be demolished, and the 1940s water tower would be removed because it was unsafe.
The interior had typically interesting industrial archaeology to examine (and I like exploring places like this). Notice the large wood timbers holding up the roof.
The grimy old workbenches still had tools, pipe, and cans of chemicals strewn about.
You could even wash up...maybe.
Someone had stored some old American muscle cars, but they were in no better condition than the buildings.
While I was exploring on a December day in 2010, a small team was cleaning up bricks and loading them on pallets.
As of December 2011, many of the brick walls are gone, and I assume the bricks have been sold. But the steel sheds are still unused, and the water tower is still standing. These projects tend to take a long time in Vicksburg.

An interesting article on cottonseed oil mills is in:  Wrenn, L. B. 1994. Cotton gins and cottonseed oil mills in the New South. Agricultural History, Vol. 68, No. 2, Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin, 1793-1993: A Symposium (Spring, 1994), pp. 232-242. (Published by: Agricultural History Society)

These are digital images from a 10 megapixel Sony R-1 digital camera, tripod-mounted. The interiors were multi-second exposures, good examples of how well-suited digital cameras are for low-light conditions. You no longer have to worry about reciprocity failure and color shifts as with film; just set the exposure and let the shutter stay open as long as needed. The R-1 has a superb Schneider lens.

Some black and white Panatomic-X film photographs of the compress are in my 2018 article (please click the link). 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Scott Field, Tallulah, Louisiana

Rural USA is dotted with small airports. Many are only used for private aircraft, but some had significance in the early years of civil air transport. Scott Field in northern Louisiana is one of these. To get there, take the Interstate-20 exit to Tallulah, turn right on US80, drive a couple of miles east and turn left (north) on a dirt road. You will see a number of steel hangars containing crop-duster aircraft and this old-fashioned Spanish-style building with a "Standard Oil Company of Louisiana" sign on the side.

In 2002, a sign provided some historical context, but the sign is now gone. Several web pages describe this as the site of an agricultural experiment station and the origins of Delta Airlines, but possibly it is a bit of a stretch. gives a more detailed review of how the Entomology Bureau of the U.S. Department of Agriculture set up a laboratory in Tallulah in the early 1920s to conduct large-scale cotton insect research. The laboratory, which was at another site in town, conducted experiments in boll weevil eradication and dispensing calcium arsenate from the air. In 1922, the Army Air Service sent three aircraft and pilots to an airstrip near Tallulah. Later named Scott Field, this was to become the first municipal airport in Louisiana. Based on the success of these tests, C.E. Woolman operated dusting operations in Louisiana, Mexico, and Peru in the mid-1920s. He returned to Monroe, Louisiana, to set up a new new company named Delta Air Service with the support of Monroe businessmen. On June 17, 1929, Delta Air Service operated its first passenger flight over a route that stretched from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi. For more background, see Delta Air Lines: 75 Years of Airline Excellence by Geoff Jones.

This is Delta's terminal in Monroe, very similar in style to the Tallulah building.
Scott field terminal building (now unused)
The terminal building, dating from 1930, according to one source, is a simple but elegant structure with cheerful windows all around. Sadly, most of the window panes have been broken out, but the roof seems largely intact. I have no information about the architect. The US Marine Corps used Scott Field for training during World War II. I also have no information on what years the field provided commercial air transportation.

The interior is a mess and little or nothing is left of original fittings.

The second floor is accessed via exterior stairs, suggesting an add-on construction.

The roof is especially interesting. It looks like clay tile but is really made of zinc-coated steel units. Various companies made these metal tiles in the early 20th century. The very interesting Preservation in Mississippi web page has a 2011 article discussing use of of metal shingles.

(1991 and 2002 photographs taken with Leica rangefinder cameras with 50 mm f/2.8 Elmar lens on Kodachrome 25 film. 2012 photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera.)