Saturday, April 28, 2012

Historic Houses, Ano Trikala, Peloponnese, Greece

Drive about three hours west of Athens into the northern mountains of the Peloponnese, and you reach a cluster of historic villages on the north slopes of Kyllini (click for the Google map link). At an altitude of about 1100 m (3600 ft) they are cool even in summer and snowy in winter. The area is famed for cherries and olives. Built on the ruins of the ancient Miseo, the villages consist of Kato (Down), Mesaia (Middle) and Ano (Up) Trikala, but really merge into one community now.

Trikala has been occupied for a long time. You can see semi-ruined stone houses throughout the town, many of which may date from the late-1800s or early 1900s. They typically were built of stone walls and wood roof joists, so even after the roof rots and fails, the walls will remain for decades or centuries.

A few notes on rural depopulation: Until the early 1960s, Greece had a largely agrarian economy. Many villagers lived an almost self-contained existence, growing their own produce, and selling some products, such as olive oil, in coastal cities. Because of bad roads, a trip to the coast from an interior village was a long and tiring effort. Starting in the 1960s, Greece experienced an economic boom, and with it came better roads and education. Children were educated and moved to the city. Urban life was easier, more exciting, and more cosmopolitan. Many only occasionally returned to their original homes to see their parents and grandparents, and slowly, many interior villages depopulated. By now, two generations have lived in the city, and many of these city dwellers have no interest in the backbreaking work and comparative loneliness of a mountain village (Where are the nightclubs, the shops, the music scene?). A moving and personal description of the gulf between urban and rural residents is described in The Olive Grove: Travels in Greece, by Katherine Kizilos, an Australian journalist of Greek descent (Paperback: 260 pages; Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications (September 1997); Language: English; ISBN-10: 0864424590).

Some older houses have been restored and are occupied, such as this handsome house with a carved doorway.

The prosperity of the late-1990s and early 2000s brought tourism to some towns, especially ones like Trikala with spectacular settings and great views. The developers moved in and overbuilt vacation bungalows and apartments. Just as in the USA, many are now bankrupt, and their apartments stand empty. With the ongoing financial crisis, few Greeks are buying property now. The eternal dream is that rich Germans or Americans will come to Greece, buy property, and spend money. Vacation bungalow anyone?

(All photographs taken with a Fuji F31fd digital camera. This time I violated my normal tripod rule on architecture and hand-held the camera.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 11: Duncan

Duncan is another small agricultural town in Bolivar County, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Like the towns featured in previous entries, the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroad tracks once ran through the commercial center of town, but a resident told me they were removed in the early 1980s.

To reach the center of town, you turn off U.S. 61 and drive west on East Main Street (also called Hwy 444). This former country store is on the south side of East Main. I wonder if it was once a gasoline station with room for a customer to pull in under the overhang? Many early 20th century filling stations looked like this.

Further west on East Main, I came across this curious store with a 45 degree front, about 1920 vintage. Another former filling station? Just next door was this contemporary blue food mart. Many of the convenience stores and gasoline stations in the Delta are run by Pakistanis and Indians.

Turning left on West Part Street, I came across the efficient-sized Town Hall (or at least, that was clearly this building's original purpose), c. 1910.

East and West Park Streets once paralleled the railroad tracks. These small commercial buildings were on East Park, facing the tracks.

This building on West Park was a former service station, according to a gent I met. Notice the patterned stucco/cement siding, made to look like limestone blocks. Many late-1800s houses in Vicksburg have similar patterned stucco.

Finally, this little steel building was once a seed store. Duncan is a cute little town, very quiet at dusk.

All photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with 14-45mm Lumix lens, tripod-mounted.

Update February 3, 2015: MississippiPreservation wrote an interesting article on the February 25, 1929 tornado, that killed 21 people and destroyed 100 homes.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 10: Alligator

Alligator, Mississippi, is another small agricultural town in Bolivar County. It is a nice little town and, like many in the Delta, was likely much more prosperous decades ago. Many Italian workers came here in the early 20th century to work on farms during what was a thriving agricultural economy. Oddly, the Telegraph (UK newspaper) ran a story in 2009 about the election of a black mayor. The Telegraph article outlines some of the economic and social issues facing these small towns.
The commercial strip was built parallel to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley railroad tracks. The tracks are now gone, but the embankment clearly marks their former existence. Most of the commercial buildings on Front Street are closed. As you can see, they were classic square-front brick and cast iron stores from about 1900. The Saturday I drove through town, not much was happening and dudes were hanging around the storefronts.
About four miles east of Alligator on East New Africa Road, I came across this MB church. Two gents were doing some carpentry and we chatted. They said the church was built in the late 1800s.

The Mississippi Delta 9: Hushpuckena and Shelby

A friend suggested I visit the semi-abandoned town of Hushpuckena, about 4 miles north of Shelby in Bolivar County. This was an excellent suggestion because driving along modern US 61, you would not know the former town existed in a grove of trees. You have to turn off and look for Old Highway 61. I stopped at one occupied 1960s-style house, and a young lady said there were plenty of empty houses for me to photograph.
Most interesting to me was the old country store (or company store, if one company once owned all the fields around here). I could not make out the faded signs.
The roof over the left half of the building had failed and the jungle was taking over. From the decorative side plate over the door lock, you can see that this building had been made with pride.
A door on the side was open and I took some photographs inside. The manila folders on the floor contained thousands of 1980s medical records from Bolivar County Hospital. What were the easy chairs for? Did someone have a party reading X-ray and diagnostic reports? Very odd. I love exploring old buildings because you never know what you might find.
Shelby is only a few miles away. The former Shelby Bank & Trust Co. once occupied the cutest little square-front building. A friend informed me that the Roberts Insurance Agency also once used this building. The dark sky is a result of a polarizing filter. Sadly, many of the other commercial buildings in Shelby are gone.

These are digital images taken with a tripod-mounted Panasonic G1 digital camera, most with the 14-45mm Lumix lens. The scenes in the old Huskpuckena store were taken with the superb Olympus 9-18mm lens for micro four thirds (µ4/3) format.

Some black and white film photographs from this same trip are in this article (click the link).

Update March 2013:  The medical records have been removed, according to a physician I know in Greenville. When I told him the story, he was alarmed and had the files removed and destroyed. He said the files were still pertinent because two of the names he saw were his coworkers from the Greenville hospital.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mississippi Delta 8: Mound Bayou

The city of Mound Bayou, in Bolivar County, is the next stop in our ongoing tour of the Mississippi Delta. Mound Bayou has an interesting history in that it was founded for and by former slaves. According to Wikipedia,
"Mound Bayou traces its origin to people from the community of Davis Bend, Mississippi. The latter was started in the 1820s by the planter Joseph E. Davis, who intended to create a model slave community on his plantation. Davis was influenced by the utopian ideas of Robert Owen. He encouraged self-leadership in the slave community, provided a higher standard of nutrition and health and dental care, and allowed slaves to become merchants. 
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Davis Bend became an autonomous free community when Davis sold his property to former slave Benjamin Montgomery, who had run a store and been a prominent leader at Davis Bend. The prolonged agricultural depression, falling cotton prices and white hostility in the region contributed to the economic failure of Davis Bend. 
Isaiah T. Montgomery led the founding of Mound Bayou in 1887 in wilderness in northwest Mississippi. The bottomlands of the Delta were a relatively undeveloped frontier, and blacks had a chance to clear land and acquire ownership in such frontier areas. By 1900 two-thirds of the owners of land in the bottomlands were black farmers. With high debt and continuing agricultural problems, most of them lost their land and by 1920 were sharecroppers. As cotton prices fell, the town suffered a severe economic decline in the 1920s and 1930s."

This is Isaiah Montgomery's house on East Main Street. It is now closed and semi-secured. The undated black and white photograph is from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. I think there is a horse grazing in the side yard, in keeping with he spirit of this town being the center of an agricultural community.

Mound Bayou has seen more prosperous days. Just north of Isaiah Montgomery's home is an abandoned low-income housing unit.

Further north on North Edwards Avenue is the historical Taborian Hospital, now closed. The hospital was founded by the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a fraternal organization. For over twenty years, the hospital provided low-cost health care to thousands of African-Americans in the Mississippi Delta. This was one of two hospitals in the delta dedicated to serving this population group in an era when most public hospitals would only admit white patients. The other facility was the Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital in Yazoo City, featured in a November 2010 essay.

The Taborian Hospital opened in 1942. All members of the staff, including doctors and nurses, were black. Equipment included two operating rooms, an x-ray machine, incubators, electrocardiograph, blood bank, and laboratory. Operating funds were generated almost entirely from membership dues in the International Order and from voluntary contributions. The hospital closed in 1983, after years of financial pressures. As you can see in the last two photographs, the building is deteriorating and the interior is a mess.

The Preservation in Mississippi blog featured the Taborian Hospital in 2010. The following paper provides more background:

Smith, A.R.J.,  2003. Managed health care: the Taborian Hospital experience, 1942-1983. Journal of the National Medical Association, J. Natl. Med. Assoc. 95(1): 84–89 (avail. online, , accessed February 6, 2013). 

In 2000, Mississippi Heritage Trust placed Taborian Hospital on its 10 Most Endangered Places list. A rural development grant may revive the building, but I do not know when this will happen.

A 2012 article in Preservation in Mississippi has fascinating interior photographs taken before cleanup and restoration.

Here is a Mound Bayou photograph by Lee Russell from the Library of Congress:

"Title: Negros going to church, Mound Bayou, Mississippi
Creator(s): Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1939 Jan.
Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 35 mm.
Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-fsa-8a25117 (digital file from original) LC-USF33-011972-M2 (b&w film nitrate neg.)"

Heading north near Highway 61 are some run-down farm buildings.

Across the road, the flooded fields provide nice reflections.

Photographs taken March 10, 2012 with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with polarizing filter.

Update: here are two black and white film photographs of the Taborian Hospital. These are from Kodak Panatomic-X film exposed with a Fuji GW690II camera with 90mm ƒ/3.5 lens. I cleaned chemical blobs and lint using the heal tool in Photoshop CS5.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Forgotten Vicksburg Road: N. Fisher Street

North Fisher is another one of Vicksburg's odd semi-hidden streets. Now you gain access from Hugo Street to the south. Once upon a time, the road snaked down the steep hill from Fort Hill Drive, but I am not sure if it is passable now.

I drove here in 2003 to photograph two houses on the City of Vicksburg demolition list. When the city inspector deems a house to be dangerous, sub-standard, or vermin-infested, and the owner cannot be located or refuses to make repairs, the city has the authority to demolish it. The spray-painted number indicates that the inspector had been to the property. The interior photograph shows the inside of No. 1507. The City used to fax the demolition list to me; then one day they said I had to go downtown and pay for photocopy reproduction. Odd.

Surprise, the second house was also No. 1507. Both are now gone.

The color photographs are scans of Kodachrome 25 film, scanned with a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 as TIFF files. Nos. 1 and 2 were taken with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera with 50 mm f/2.8 Elmar lens. This was a 1970s version of the 50 with dual focus scale.  The black and white view of 1507 (the second 1507) is a scan of a 4×5-inch Tri-X sheet, exposed with a 75 mm f/8 Super-Angulon lens.  I developed the Tri-X in Kodak HC110 Dilution B.  This has been my normal development method since the 1970s.