Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 6: Leland

Leland is a town on U.S. Highway 61 (the Blues Highway) in Washington County, Mississippi. It is an agricultural center with soybeans, cotton, and catfish as its main commodities. Like many Delta towns, it looks like it was much more prosperous 20 or more years ago and is now sleeping in old age.

According to Wikipedia:

"Leland is in the heart of blues country and has produced a number of national and regionally famous blues musicians. Highway 61, mentioned in numerous blues recordings, runs through the town and gives its name to the community's blues museum. Leland is the burial place of the folk artist and blues musician James "Son" Thomas, who lived for many years along the railroad tracks. Thomas is buried beneath a gravestone donated by musician John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Blues musician Johnny Winter was born in Leland on Feb. 23, 1944, to an Army officer and his wife. Winter is commemmorated on a plaque in the community that is part of the Mississippi Blues Trail.

The community is the birthplace of Kermit the Frog, a Muppet created by Jim Henson, who was born in nearby Greenville. The city has a museum along the banks of Deer Creek celebrating Henson's accomplishments."

Deer Creek runs through town, and some of the magnificent mansions attest to the wealth associated with agriculture in the past. These two are on North and South Deer Creek Drive, west of downtown.

Proceed downtown and you see where a cotton mill was once located. Most of the works have been demolished.

The tracks from the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad (later part of the Illinois Central) once ran north-south through the center of the Delta, but they were removed in the early 1980s. This was standard gauge 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) track. The Msrailroads web page has more information about historic Mississippi railroads. The post card from the John Sharp collection is courtesy of Msrailroads (Thanks!)

This is a June 1937 photograph of a cinema in Leland by Dorothea Lange, from the Library of Congress.

Proceed north on Main Street, and many of the shops and the former hotel are closed. As of 2000, this seed store was still in business.

I am not sure of the status of this elevator complex on North Main Street.

Out in the flat country near Dunleith, I photographed this classic little MB church in 2000. This was Mount Elm MB Church, and it was way out in the country, with no homes anywhere nearby.

Photograph note: the church and the feed store are scans of Kodachrome 25 slide film. I took the photographs with a 1949-vintage Leica IIIC rangefinder camera with 50 mm f/2.0 Summitar lens and a polarizer filter. The Summitar was a pre-WWII design and capable of superb results, especially if stopped down to f/4 or smaller. Hint: always use a tripod when photographing architecture. Your subject won't run away from you.

Dec. 2017 update: The Leica IIIC has been repaired and put back into operation (click the link).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More Cottages on Pearl Street, Vicksburg

Some of you readers may remember my 2010 post on historic Pearl Street, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As I wrote then, many of the early-20th century houses had been or were in the process of being torn down. Here are some more examples of architecture along that road (from my 2006 files).

This is No. 2114 Pearl. Notice the sun awnings running along the entire front. The siding is a type of asphalt tile patterned to look like stone blocks. I recall these were common in the mid-20th century, durable and providing some degree of insulation.

Here is No. 2118, nicely restored with vinyl siding. The Kansas City railroad yard is behind and down the hill.

No. 2123 was a substantial cottage and has been boarded up for years.

This nicely-painted cottage on a landscaped lot is No. 3513 and has a view of the bend of the Mississippi River.

Finally, this handsome cottage at 3607 Pearl. I will look through the archives for more Pearl Street examples.

All photographs taken with a Sony DSC-W7 compact digital camera.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 5: Arcola

This is the fifth post on the Mississippi Delta. This is not the delta of the Mississippi River that protrudes south into the Gulf of Mexico. Rather, when most people refer to "the Delta," they are thinking of the rich alluvial plain that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, with Vicksburg marking its southern limit and Memphis the northern. The map above, from the US Geological Survey (downloaded from Wikipedia), shows the area. The delta has a unique cultural, racial, and economic history. Before the American Civil War, it was one of the richest cotton growing areas in the world and attracted wealthy planters, who imported black slaves to work the plantations.

According to an article in the Vicksburg Post on March 18, 2012, by Terry Rector (Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District), the Mississippi delta soils are among the most productive for agricultural crops in the country. Alluvium is the name given to river-deposited soils, which consist of minerals and materials derived from the hinterlands that form the river's drainage basin. Two common soil types found in the Delta are the Memphis Silt Loam and the Commerce Very Fine Sandy Loam. These were among the easiest for farmers to work and were the first to be converted from forest to cropland two centuries ago. When farmers referred to good Deer Creek soil, they were referring to the sandy loam soils along much of Deer Creek.

Times have changed and the Delta is now economically in very rough condition. In the late-1920s (following the great 1927 Mississippi River flood) thousands of farm workers left for the North to escape brutality, abject poverty, and racism and seek factory jobs in cities like Chicago and Detroit. Also, mechanization of agriculture, especially mechanical cotton harvesting, eliminated the jobs of thousands of farm workers. According to Wikipedia, "From the late 1930s through the 1950s, the Delta experienced an agriculture boom, as wartime needs followed by reconstruction in Europe expanded the demand for the Delta region’s farm products. As the mechanization of agriculture continued, women continued to leave the fields and go into service work, while the men drove tractors and worked on the farms. From the 1960s through the 1990s, thousands of small farms and dwellings in the Delta region were absorbed by large corporate-owned agribusinesses, and the smallest Delta communities have stagnated." As late as the 1960s, many towns like Rolling Fork, Leland, and Greenville were still active, bustling communities. But now many of these towns are semi-deserted, with empty business strips, collapsing shops, and grim poverty.

The photographs below are from Arcola, a town on Deer Creek north of Hollandale and south of Leland. The railroad once came through here, but the tracks were removed in the 1980s.
Deer Creek Drive is the main strip. All that is left is a gas station/convenience store and several lounges (or dives). Even on a sunny day the strip is depressing.
Here is another lounge. It says a lot that a small town has two drinking spots.
Here is a deserted super market on Martin Luther King Drive.

An architectural oddity: many of the shops on Deer Creek Drive were built out over the banks of the creek on brick pillars, As you can see, the floors have collapsed.
Farm houses once dotted the countryside. But now, many, like this example at 1862 Hwy 438, are deserted.

All photographs taken with Olympus E-330 and Panasonic G1 digital cameras.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two-Room Schoolhouse, Carpenter, Mississippi

Carpenter, Mississippi, is a small farming community about 4 miles south of Utica, in Copiah County. At the corner of Highway 18 and Dentville Road stands a wood schoolhouse.

According to Preservation in Mississippi, the school dates from 1921 and was built according to State Plan No. 3 N.S. As you can see, it is is poor condition, but 10 years ago, it was reasonably intact.

Like all schools in the pre-air-conditioning and pre-electricity era, it featured large windows to let in the light and air. It must have been cheerful for students to be surrounded by nature, and maybe a bit distracting. Let's see: modern air-conditioned school with high walls that looks like prison architecture versus cheerful cottage with expansive windows and natural light.

If anyone can tell me more about this site, I welcome the information.

(All photgraphs taken with a Panasonic G1 camera with 14-45 mm G Vario f/3.5 lens, tripod-mounted. The map (Figure 1) is from ESRI® ArcMap GIS software.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 4: Carnivore's Delight - Doe's Eat Place, Greenville, Mississippi

Dear readers, this is the fourth post in an irregular series on the Mississippi Delta (see the 2010 post on Yazoo City and the 2011 posts on mansions at Lake Washington, and the collapsed red barn in Rolling Fork).

Visiting Greenville and feeling hungry? More important, feeling really carnivorous? Then you need to go to Doe's Eat Place. Doe's has been in business since the 1940s, and hungry visitors from all over the United States come here for the steaks. In the segregated era, white gents used to sneak in the back to eat here. Doe's is at 502 Nelson Street in a rather downscale part of Greenville (sadly, most of the city now fits that description). Security is not a problem because the street is well lit and Doe's hires an armed guard to patrol visitor's cars.

The Southern Foodways Alliance did an oral history of Doe's, well worth checking:

It is just an old wooden building. Go in the front door and there is the cook on the left, broiling steaks in a gas-jet stove. If you have to wait in line, you can get a beer from a cooler. If this place ever catches fire, it will go up in a fireball because of the decades of cooking grease embedded in the floors and walls.

Here are the steaks in the broiler.

The second room is a combination dining - cutlery-storage - salad-preparation - potato-frying room.

Everyone is loud and happy and chewing away. The colors in these photographs are a bit off because I experimented with the color balance and never did get it right. Dinner is expensive, but you get a lot of ambiance with your meal. You can also order shrimp and tamales.

As you can see, you will leave Doe's well fed. Bring your own wine.

The neighborhood saw better days decades ago. Nelson Street is lined with shotgun houses and cottages, and in the last few years, many have fallen down or been razed. This house is 416 Nelson.

This little cottage is at 420.

Finally, 410 Nelson. I have many more photographs to post for future articles on Greenville, but most are Kodachrome slides and will take some effort to scan.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Deserted train station, Milies, Greece (B&W film)

This is the fourth essay dealing with Greek railroads.

The quiet village of Milies (Greek: Μηλιές) is the end station for the narrow gauge line that runs from the seaport of Volos into the interior of the Pelion Peninsula. Pelio is a rugged, mountainous region in east central Greece. The lush mountainsides are draped with forests of beech, chestnut and plane trees. The cherries, apples, and apricots are said to be the finest in Greece (and I agree!). Pelio was so rugged, it had little communication with the rest of Greece until the late 1800s. In winter, heavy snow makes roads impassible. During the centuries of Turkish occupation, the Greek villagers here were renowned freedom fighters.

The satellite photograph from NASA shows the peninsula with a view northeast towards the Aegean Sea. Volos is at the head of the bay in the left center.
Because access to the mountainous peninsula was so difficult, the goal of the railroad project was to improve transport and integrate the area into Greece's economy. According to Wikipedia, "The 600 mm (1 ft 1158 in) gauge line from Volos to Milies, a distance of 28 km, was constructed between 1903 and 1906 by the Italian engineer Evaristo De Chirico." Service began in 1906. Construction was very difficult because of the need for six stone bridges, one iron bridge, protective walls, tunnels, and aerial pedestrian bridges. The photograph above shows an example of the arch bridges, all built by hand by skilled rock masons.

When I took these photographs in 1994, the line was unused and the setting had a charming, sleepy, overgrown look to it. Service had been discontinued in the 1970s, but may have been recently restored for steam locomotive tourist trains.

In the 1990s, there was a well-known bakery here where Athenians would buy bread before returning to the city (about a 5-hour drive to the south). The village ladies above had probably seen it all: strange tourists with tripods and cameras, city-slickers with bags of fresh bread and cherries.

I took these photographs with a Rolleiflex 3.5F twin-lens reflex camera with 75 mm f/3.5 Planar lens (5-element version). Film: Tri-X Pan Professional (120-size), developed in Kodak HC-110 developer. The negatives were scanned on a Noritsu system. The map was made with ESRI ArcMap software.