Sunday, July 29, 2012

Levee Street, the Lassiter Warehouse, and the Vicksburg Waterfront

Long-term readers may remember my 2010 post on the brick Lassiter Warehouse on Levee Street. This was the last example of this type of commercial warehouse that once lined the Yazoo canal and Vicksburg waterfront. It was partly dismantled to recycle the bricks, and now the shell stands empty and unused.

The casino just to the south is also closed. The barge is still in its artificial cofferdam lake, but the aerating machines are not running and the water is getting fetid. The property opened as Harrah's in November, 1993. It became Horizon in 2003 and was then sold to Delta Investments in 2010. As usual, fate unknown.

A good sign is the visit of the American Queen on May 17, 2012. The American Queen was launched in 1994 and may be the largest steamboat ever built (I assume this means river paddle boat). This vessel and two other others, the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen, were regular visitors to Vicksburg before the 2008 recession. The Delta was a classic wood steamboat, originally outfitted in Scotland and operated on the Sacramento River in California for decades. The original operator filed for bankruptcy and the American Queen was taken over by the U.S. Maritime Administration. The current owner, Great American Steamboat Company, bought it from the Maritime Administration and recommissioned it. We are glad to have her back.

The floodwall has a new mark painted on it to commemorate the record high water from the flood of 2011. This 2011 article provides some background to water levels and what the numbers mean. This article shows how the City of Vicksburg blocks the roads when the river level reaches the floodwalls.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fading commercial block on Grove Street, Vicksburg

View north, from "Vicksburg: A Study in Urban Geography" (1931).
As late as the 1930s, a view to the northwest from a tall building in downtown Vicksburg would have revealed a bustling commercial city with warehouses, shops, small manufacturing concerns, and homes. The black and white photograph is from a 1931 paper (James, P.E. 1931. Vicksburg: A Study in Urban Geography, Geographical Review, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1931), pp. 234-243). Today, many of those shops, warehouses, and commercial buildings are gone, lost to fire and neglect. Empty lots leave few clues as to what was once on those sites. Old-timers tell me that the 1970s "urban renewal" was deadly to historic architecture.

917-921 Grove Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi
In this article, we concentrate on a partial block of commercial buildings at the corner of Grove and Walnut (see the circle on the map). Once, the block must have continued downhill to Washington Street, but since the mid-1980s, these are the only remnants. The middle building is 917 Grove, the one on the right 921 Grove.

The simplicity and symmetry of these buildings always intrigued me, and I photographed them many times. The color views above are scans of Kodachrome 25 film taken with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera.

These two black and white photographs from 1990 are prints on Polaroid Type 54 film, taken with a 4x5" camera with a 90 mm Kodak Ektar lens.  Type 54 was a wonderful, full-tonal range print medium. A good friend told me she used to visit a club or lounge in one of the buildings. A hair-dresser also occupied one of the shops for many years.

Here is the same front-on view in color, another Kodachrome scan. Notice how the architect had to fit the building on a steeply-sloping hill.

Kodachrome, Leica camera with 20 mm Russar lens

In 2004, the building on the left was ready to collapse and the roof had partly fallen. This interesting stair led up to a door on the back. Photographs taken with Kodak Panatomic-X film in a Fuji GW690II camera.

Afterwards, someone partly rebuilt the building, but a recent article in the Vicksburg Post said the city was ready to condemn one of the units (I am not sure which one). As usual, fate unknown.

Update July 2013:  Here are two interior photographs from the corner building, no. 721.  You can see a small fireplace.  Most of these small fireplaces were used with a coal insert, not for open wood fires. With Vicksburg being a railroad junction, there was always coal available, and coal burned hot and long.
Grove Street commercial block from Washington Street, 2013
(If any readers know more of the history of these buildings, please comment. Thank you!)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Kuhn Memorial (Charity) Hospital, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The long-abandoned Kuhn Memorial Hospital, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, has become a popular site for urban archaeology, or at least for decay photography. The spooky old buildings are only a half mile northeast of the Warren County Courthouse on a large lot south of Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard, formerly known as Jackson Road.

The site was the original location of the Vicksburg City Hospital in the 1830s. The State took over the operation of the facility in 1871 and re-named it the State Charity Hospital at Vicksburg. For an excellent summary of the hospital's history, readers can refer to a 2010 article in Preservation Mississippi. The red brick building ("a substantial house") in the antique postcard (from Mississippi Department of Archives and History) was in use until 1962. A modern annex was built in the rear in 1959 and the institution was renamed Kuhn Memorial Hospital. One of the comments written in response to the Preservation Mississippi article noted that the 4th floor was a minimum security prison. Another noted the presence of mental patients.

The building on the right was an annex for Confederate veterans. It burned under mysterious circumstances in 1918. The site is now forested. Today, we forget that for well over a half century following the Civil War, veterans from both sides of the conflict needed medical care and, often, housing and food. Many were crippled or in very poor health.

The state replaced the original brick house in 1962 with this substantial and rather stern modern building. In 1993, it was still secure and intact. (Kodachrome slide taken with a Leica M3 rangefinder camera and the 35 mm f/2 Summicron-RF lens (the famous 1st generation 8-element version)). 

The hospital is still visible from MLK Boulevard, but is now moldering and nasty.

These photographs show the east and west sides of the 1962 building, with the 1959 annex in the back.

On December 31, 1989, The Vicksburg Post ran an article titled, "Closing of Kuhn Memorial Is Vicksburg's Top 1989 Story." The article summarized the convoluted arguments in the 1989 legislative session regarding funding for Medicaid versus continuing to fund Mississippi's three charity hospitals.

On February 23, 2010, The Vicksburg Post ran an article on the hospital titled, "20 Years After." The former business manager remembered how the hospital was a multifunctional facility, with a burn center, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Kuhn provided free or low-cost health care to residents from all over central Mississippi. Most were Medicare patients after the program began in 1965. The hospital employed a variety of specialists, including doctors from the Philippines, Cuba, and Korea. In addition to medical services, the hospital was also a training facility for nurses and resident doctors.

The hospital closed its doors in 1989, a victim of changing economic priorities and poor economic modeling. Details of the closure can be seen in the
Mississippi Code of 1972, as Amended. "(1) From and after July 1, 1989, the Kuhn Memorial State Hospital at Vicksburg, the South Mississippi State Hospital at Laurel, and the Matty Hersee Hospital at Meridian shall be closed, and the Legislature shall not appropriate any funds for the operation of those hospitals after that date." Thus ended the era of state charity hospitals in Mississippi. 

Medical care for the poor continues to be abysmal in this state. And the state government refuses to expand Medicaid, another chapter in the sad saga of marginalizing and degrading the poor.  

In 1994, the State gave the land back to the City of Vicksburg (according to The Vicksburg Post article). In 1996, the City sold the property to Lassiter Associates of Baton Rouge. As of 2012, it belongs to the Ester Stewart Buford Foundation of Yazoo City. 

For a few years, the buildings were locked and windows secured with plywood. Once vandals removed the plywood, deterioration accelerated.

This is the breezeway that connected the 1959 and 1962 buildings.

The interior is a mess of decayed and collapsed acoustic ceiling tile, vandalized electrical fittings, and peeling paint. On my own, I hesitate to venture too far into the building because of security. One day, a policeman drove around the property in his cruiser and seemed most surprised to see me with my large tripod. He did not expel me but warned me of debris and hazards (hint, better clear out).

This is a loading dock on the west side of the 1959 building, near the prominent water tower that is visible from a long distance. This is a height of land, possibly selected in the 1800s because of breeze and fewer mosquitoes.

(April 2014 note: Please click the link for a 2014 update.)

UPDATE: the entire hospital has been razed. There is no remnant left for photography or exploring. 

This is one of the older parts of town, and Jackson Street (Openwood Road) was the historical route to Jackson. This pink wood-frame house at 1499 MLK Boulevard has been deserted since 2010. (2014 update: the house has been demolished.)

A few blocks to the east is Feld Street, another one of Vicksburg's little-known one-way streets (see Figure 1, the road map). The road runs along a ridge crest, and the houses line the road at ground level, with their rear sections supported on pillars. This was a common construction practice early in the 20th century. Nos. 512 and 516 were both deserted and on the City condemnation list. Once lost, these lots canon be redeveloped.

I took the 2010 photographs with a Sony DSC-R1 digital camera, tripod-mounted. The two 2012 photographs are from my Panasonic G1 camera mounting a 1949-vintage Leica 5 cm ƒ/2.0 Summitar lens. At maximum aperture of ƒ/2.0, it produces swirly aberrations around a sharp center.

For later articles and photographs of Kuhn Hospital, please type "Kuhn" in the search box. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Railroad Warehouses, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Fort Belvoir is an expansive U.S. Army base located on the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, about 8 miles southwest of Washington, DC.

The U.S. Army began using the Belvoir peninsula as training area for the Army’s Engineer School in 1915. When the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, the army needed to train and equip tens of thousands of troops in a short period. This led to the development of a semi-permanent cantonment, named Camp A.A. Humphreys (the former Chief of Engineers from 1866-1879). Over 5,000 soldiers and 6,000 civilians cleared, surveyed, and constructed the camp in only 11 months under difficult conditions and heavy snowfall during the severe winter of 1918. At that time, the Belvoir peninsula was largely undeveloped, consisting of forest and some small farms.

Previously, access to the Belvoir Peninsula had been by boat down the Potomac from Washington, but the Army realized this would not be adequate for a major cantonment housing thousands of troops. The unpaved Washington-Richmond Highway (now US 1) was surfaced in concrete in 1918, and army engineers constructed a railway linking Camp Humphreys with the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. Eventually, tracks led to numerous warehouses, supplying supplies, fuels, and vehicles for over 20,000 troops. The rail link also served to train Army engineer troops whose specialty was building and running railroads.
This is the only historical photograph I could find, showing construction of the rail bed using mules and manual labor (from the WashCycle web page).
Even more unusual, the Army laid over 20 miles of narrow-gauge (2-ft) track on the post. The narrow-gauge rail was valuable in the European war theater, where most local roads were dirt or mud then.

"From March until the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918, hundreds of soldiers and engineers trained on the little Camp Humphreys railway, learning how to put together track, build railway trestles and run the tiny steam and gas locomotives. Many of these tiny trains accompanied the troops to Europe, where the Americans and their British and French allies used them to help turn the tide, bringing victory in Europe."

"The two-foot-gauge railway at Camp Humphreys also played an important role in moving supplies and workers engaged in construction projects for the rapidly expanding installation."
Now we come to the purpose of this blog. The last Army railway equipment left the base in 1993 and the track was subsequently removed. But many of the warehouses remain in place. In typical Army fashion, the buildings are secured, painted, and well-maintained, and look like they could be put into operation at a moment's notice (except no trains will pull up ever again). You can see the platforms at the right height for unloading boxcars.
I am not sure what was stored in the neat rows of galvanized steel buildings.
The brick warehouses were also in good condition, and I could not tell if they were being used. Notice the clever security grates designed to allow the swing-out windows to open.
The main base is closed to casual visitors, but the 1,200-acre Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge is open to the public. It offers excellent birding opportunities. There were some plans to convert the old rail line to a rails-to-trails bike and running path, but I do not know how the army would manage the security aspects.

I took the warehouse photographs a Sony DSC-W7 digital camera, tripod-mounted. This was a decent-quality early-vintage digital compact camera. But, it did not record the RAW file, and the jpeg compression was too great, leading to odd artifacts. Still, it served me well for six years until it finally developed power problems. The two wetland photographs are from a lower-resolution Canon PowerShot S330.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July on the National Mall - 2005

In commemoration of the July 4th Independence Day holiday, here are some photographs from one of the biggest celebrations of them all, the one on the National Mall in Washington, DC. I had the opportunity to spend a few months working in Virginia in 2005 and could not resist going downtown for the concerts and fireworks display.

As advised, I arrived in the morning before lunch. Security was tight, and police checked everyone entering the mall area. Part of the Mall still had vegetable gardens, remnants of the Folk Life Festival from June. Summer in Washington is great because there are festivals of one sort or another almost every weekend, but you have to put up with the humidity.

At the Capital, people had already staked out their spot on the steps, and it was not even noon. The sun was blazing down and the temperature was at least 90° F. Were they really going to sit out in the sun for over 7 hours? Answer: yes. Police had placed pallets of water nearby for people to stay hydrated.

This is the view of the concert they would see many hours hence. You can see the heat haze in the distance - summer in the city. I did not want to sit in the sun, so I moved on.

The lawn in front of the Capital was filling up by early afternoon.

A few areas along the side had some shade; perfect for a nap.

There was even free food, if you were willing to wait in line.

Some vendors had set up their displays, including the bumper sticker guy. Guess who was the President at the time?

The 4th is a great day to display your patriotic garments.

Finally, I decided to settle down on the grass west of the Washington Monument, which is on a low hill. The US Marine band played a concert near here, and the Monument was much closer to the fireworks, which were to be launched from the Reflecting Pool.

Finally, concert time at 7 pm, and then the fireworks. The Lincoln Memorial is in the distance beyond the Pool. I took the Metro home at 11 pm - long day.

Photographs taken with a Canon PowerShot S330 compact camera. This was an early-vintage digital unit, but I was impressed how well it handled difficult exposures. The color palette is a bit bright, but it works well. The built-in jpeg compression was too high, resulting in odd artifacts.