Monday, May 20, 2013

Abandoned Grand Station Casino and the 2013 Mississippi River crest, Vicksburg, Mississippi

The 2013 flood season in Vicksburg, Mississippi, was notable for two reasons. First, the crest in Vicksburg occurred on May 19 with a height of 44.2 ft on the Vicksburg gauge. This was officially in flood but was well below the 57.10 ft elevation of 2011. Second, the abandoned Grand Station Casino (originally Harrah's) was towed away from the Vicksburg waterfront on Friday, May 18.
Harrah's Casino, March 1997, Kodak Ektar 25 film, Rolleoflex 3.5F camera
Let us go back in history. The casino was built by Harrah's Corporation in 1993. It was the second to open in Vicksburg after riverboat gambling was authorized by state law. At that time, a casino had to be on floating plant, so all the gambling facilities were on a barge made to look like a river boat. The hotel and restaurants could be on land. Harrah's leased land from City of Vicksburg and built a very nice hotel with a walkway to their barge.  According to the Vicksburg Post, the total investment was $30 million.  The facility became Horizon Casino in 2003 when Harrah's sold to Columbia Sussex. Several subsequent changes in ownership led to bankruptcy and an auction of the remaining assets on April 26, 2013. The City will probably never collect years of rent owed on the waterfront land.

This is the view of the Harrah's casino from the top roof of the hotel in March of 1997. The former manager kindly let me go up with some of the maintenance staff and the help of tall ladders. The river was in flood, and the coffer dam was totally covered, so the barge really did look like a river boat moored in the Yazoo Canal.
Yazoo Canal, view north
This is the view of the Yazoo Canal looking north. The water was lapping at the base of the floodwall, and the city workers had put stop logs in the wall. None of the waterfront ramp was visible. See my article on the 2011 flood for information on how the timbers are installed.
Undated post card from the Cooper collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
This is approximately the same view to the north, taken in the early 1900s. Notice the long covers over the platforms at the depot to provide shade for train passengers.
Yazoo Canal, view south
Undated post card from the Cooper collection, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Looking south, Levee Street parallels the Yazoo Canal.  The confluence with the Mississippi is in the distance.  The 1997 scene is rather pathetic when you consider what a bustling commercial and industrial port this was one hundred years ago.  Then, you would have seen steamboats, wagons, supplies, timber, trains, shops, and people.
Here are city workers installing the steel uprights to prepare for high water in 2008.
This is the waterfront on May 19, 2013, with the barge gone.  The corners of the cofferdam are visible. Who will pay to remove them?  I assume they are a hazard to navagation.
Horizon Casino awaiting scrap
The shell of the former casino is sitting at a boatyard operated by Keyes Recycling Center, Inc.  Mr. Keyes bought the barge at auction for $10,000. So much for depreciation.
Haining Road, view west, Port of Vicksburg
Haining Road and the Port of Vicksburg facilities are on fill land and high enough to be safe from flood waters.
This is a 2007 view from the Yazoo Canal of a derelict tug at the boatyard.
The Yazoo Canal was dredged in 2007 to deepen and widen it.
The low woods north of Haining Road flood when the water rises above about 42 ft.  The metal posts on the right are water pumps, used by the City of Vicksburg water plant.

For more information about river stages in Vicksburg, the list below is from the National Weather Service web page:

Historical Crests
(1) 57.10 ft on 05/19/2011
(2) 56.20 ft on 05/04/1927
(3) 53.20 ft on 02/21/1937
(4) 52.80 ft on 06/06/1929
(5) 52.50 ft on 04/28/1922
(6) 51.60 ft on 05/13/1973
(7) 51.50 ft on 02/15/1916
(8) 51.00 ft on 04/20/2008
(9) 50.20 ft on 04/16/1897
(10) 49.90 ft on 04/27/1913

Low Water Records
(1) -7.00 ft on 02/03/1940
(2) -6.80 ft on 11/01/1939
(3) -5.80 ft on 01/06/1964

The 1997 square photographs from the roof of the casino were taken with a tripod-mounted Rolleiflex 3.5F camera (Carl Zeiss Planar 5-element 75mm f/3.5 lens) using Kodak Ektar 25 film. This was the sharpest color print film ever marketed.

Update January 2015: The barge is moored in the Yazoo River Diversion Canal neat Ergon Refining; no outward change in status.

Update July 23, 2015: The hotel has been open for about a year under the name Portofino Hotel. It will close this week in preparation for construction of a new casino.


Lynette said...

Thanks for these photos and this interesting post.

PhDingblog said...

Great photographs. Thanks.

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Unknown said...

Having spent most of a year of my life doing architectural work on the Hotel and Casino Boat, it is good to see the Hotel is still there, but distressing to see the Casino boat gone. I found it using Google Maps and Street view, and it is good to see it is still afloat. It would be nice if someone could use a 40,000 sq. ft. floating building for something better than scrap metal.
Robert Wood - Architect

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