Thursday, July 23, 2015

Deserted Culkin Academy, Vicksburg, Mississippi

(Note: click any photograph to enlarge it.)
Generations of Warren County students who lived east of Vicksburg went to school at the Culkin Academy, later the Culkin Elementary School. When I first moved to the area in the mid-1980s, Culkin was still open, and I recall a PTA fund drive to buy air conditioners. The last year of operation was around 1999. A coworker's children attended elementary school there before the new Sherman Avenue Elementary School opened.
The old "Culkin Academy" sign is still engraved in the architectural concrete. On the front wall, each window was topped with the symbol of an academic discipline (in this case, mechanics). According to a friend at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the building can be considered Art Moderne style, designed by a Modernist master, E.L. Malvaney of Jackson. It was completed in 1942. This was during World War II, but construction obviously started before the war began, likely funded by the Works Progress Administration. The county was lucky on the timing because most civilian construction was terminated or put on hold during the war years.
The classrooms are a mess. Many of the windows no longer have plywood covers, so I was able to place my camera on the window ledges and use time exposures. For a few years, a fellow rented the building and raised worms (yes, a worm farm). But I can't tell in what part of the building this animal husbandry occurred.
Not much is happening out back on a sultry summer day. 

Suzassippi wrote about how the high school in Eupora, Mississippi (now the Webster County school district), may be an architectural match to the Culkin Academy

There may be a use for the Culkin school yet. On July 7, 2015, the Vicksburg Post reported:
The sheriff’s department uses a building on the school’s campus for self-contained breathing apparatus training and tactical training like searching through smoke filled rooms, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said. The department also practices intruder simulations besides using the site for other law enforcement training purposes. Pace said it gives the department’s employees real world experience so they can be prepared for any emergency that might arise in the schools, offices or other locations.
Photographs taken with a Panasonic G3 digital camera with the Panasonic Lumix 12-32mm lens. I processed the raw files and converted to black and white with PhotoNinja software.

Friday, July 17, 2015

On the Delta: the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

When you visit Olympia, Washington, a great day's outing is to walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. 
"Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located where the freshwater of the Nisqually River meets the saltwater of south Puget Sound, creating the Nisqually River Delta. The delta is a biologically-rich and diverse area that supports a variety of habitats including the estuary, freshwater wetlands and riparian woodlands. It is considered the last unspoiled major estuary in Puget Sound. The Nisqually Delta has been designated as a National Natural Landmark because of its national significance as one of the best examples of this kind of coastal salt marsh system remaining in the North Pacific.
Nisqually Refuge is famous for the more than 275 migratory bird species that use the refuge for migration, wintering, or breeding. The refuge provides rearing and migration habitat for steelhead trout and several salmon species, and habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered species. The Black River Unit, southwest of Olympia, provides high quality habitat for Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, migratory birds, and a diversity of other species." (from the US Fish and Wildlife Service).
The first European settlers came to the area in the 1830s. By the late 1830s, the economy began to shift from fur trading to farming and sheep-grazing. During the late-19th century, settlers throughout the Puget Sound area built dikes and drained river deltas. The soil in the former tidal marshland was rich and fertile, making excellent flat farmland. But as a consequence, estuarine habitats were lost, including much of the Nisqually River estuary.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is slowly removing some of the old dikes and allowing natural tidal flow to return to the creeks and channels. The photograph above, taken at low tide, shows pilings in one of the channels, possibly remains of weirs.
In 1904, a farmer, Alson Brown, and his wife bought 2,350 acres in the Nisqually delta. He built dikes and converted the fertile land to crop production and to chicken, hog, and cattle farming. After World War I, Brown went bankrupt, but subsequent owners raised the dikes and built the tall twin barns in 1932. This was during the Depression - how did they raise the funds?
The barns were damaged in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake and have been closed since then. They are secured and in reasonably good condition, so the Fish and Wildlife Service has maintained them to some extent. On a sunny clear day, they are a nice photographic topic.
Let's briefly look at Olympia. 
 This is downtown Olympia from the west.
The state capitol was begun in 1890 but construction languished because of funding issues. The building was finally completed in 1928, during the easy-money years of the Roaring Twenties. At a height of 287 feet, the dome is said to be the fifth tallest masonry dome on earth, meaning a dome held up by its stone bearing walls without reinforcement.The US capitol in Washington is higher, at 302 ft, but it has a steel framework. The 2001 earthquake caused serious damage and required a $118 million renovation and internal reinforcement.

Trivia item: The Capitol has the largest collection of Tiffany lights in the world, some 438 units. Go see them. The chandelier above the rotunda weighs 10,000 lb and is suspended 50 feet above the floor. Serious lamp.
Washington State is a wonderful place to live if you like organic vegetables and fruits and locally-sourced ingredients (like Italy, Spain, or other civilized places with a real food culture). Apples and pears are local specialties. This photograph is from the farmers' market in downtown Olympia.

Camera notes: the square frames are from a Fujifilm X-E1 digital camera, with raw files processed in PhotoNinja software. A polarizing filter helped darken the sky on this amazingly clear and sunny February day. The long wide panoramic frames are from a Hasselblad XPan film camera (which was manufactured by Fuji). The XPan had a film opening of 72x24mm, or twice the width of a standard 35mm camera frame. A friend took me flying over the area in a cloth airplane of the type where you can swing open the window.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Vicksburg's Lost Masonic Temple

During the early 20th century, most American cities of any size or commercial prominence had a Masonic Temple or Lodge. Often it was a well-built building in the commercial area, typically dating from the late-1800s or early 1900s. The Masons must have been fabulously wealthy to be able to buy land and erect substantial brick buildings in major cities. I sometimes wondered if Vicksburg had a lodge, and by pure chance, found some photographs in the Library of Congress' holdings.
This rather severe three-floor building is the former Masonic Temple, at the corner of Grove and Washington Streets. The view is looking uphill to the east along Grove Street. This building and the small shops to the left were razed sometime before 1985, and the grassy lot now serves the weekly farmers' market. The present Highway 61 Coffeehouse and Attic Gallery are just off the frame to the right, where the cars are pointing. The metadata from Library of Congress does not provide a specific date other than post-1933. My guess from the cars is mid-1970s.
This is the view of the rear. The windows are broken out, so it must have been abandoned at the time the photograph was taken. My friend from Mississippi Department of Archives and History checked and found an undated article from the Vicksburg Sunday Post, apparently from the 1970s with a photo of the building and a caption noting that it had recently "been taken by Urban Renewal" and demolished. The article was mostly about the history of the lodge and the contents of  in its cornerstone. The urban renewal craze of the late-1970s demolished many historic buildings in Vicksburg.
This is a photograph 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). The Temple is the building with a light roof in the middle left. Note the gas tank in the middle of the photograph near the river.
This is postcard 90864-01-postcard_View North from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The temple is the tall building in the right center. The Yazoo Canal is in flood, and I wonder if this was taken during the 1927 flood?
This is the grassy field where the buildings once stood. They were already gone when I moved to town in 1985. The limestone block wall in the center may be Civil-War era. The building on the right received a major renovation and conversion into a BBQ restaurant. It operated for only a few months (maybe a couple of years?), and the building is for sale.
The Reverend Dennis painted the Masonic symbol in several places on Margaret's Gro on North Washington Street. He spent two decades decorating the old grocery store as a "Bible Temple to God." The Reverend passed away a few years ago, and his Temple is crumbling away.

If anyone can add any information about the Vicksburg Masonic Temple, please add to the comments. Based on a quick search, I found two present lodges. I do not know how active they are.
1. Masonic Temple, W.G. Paxton Lodge #559; and
2. William H. Stevens Lodge #121, F&AM Masonic Lodge in Vicksburg, MS.