Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Flood of 2019 (Part 3), the Yazoo Backwater near Onward and Yazoo City, Mississippi

We will continue our review of the flooding in the southern part of the Mississippi Delta, the area known as the Yazoo Backwater. The last article was about the area near the town of Redwood. Here we continue north a few miles to Onward and briefly jump east to Yazoo City.

Onward is an unincorporated farming community near US 61 south of Rolling Fork. Onward is known for two historical notes:
  1. This is near the site where president Teddy Roosevelt refused to shoot a baby bear that had been tied to a tree as a target for the president. A toy company picked up on the refusal to shoot, started making stuffed bears, and the rest is history - one of the most successful children's toys ever. It became an international toy, as well; my Steiff bear was from Germany.
  2. The Onward Country Store has been in business since 1913. It is (or was) a popular stop with European tourists who travel on US 61, the Blues Highway. But there is bad news: the Onward store may have closed as of April 2019, according to an article in The Vicksburg Daily News. I will write about the Onward Store soon. 
Onward Store, 1996, before removal of gasoline pump canopy (4×5" Tri-X film, 75mm f/8 Supar-Angulon lens)
This is the front of the Onward Store as of 1996. The store faces US 61 (the Blues Highway) and is just south of the intersection with Rte 1. Residents of Eagle Lake need to drive on Rte 1, then turn south on 465 and access the mainline levee. The levee road eventually gets them to Eagle Lake.
Farm north of Rte 1, April 11, 2019 (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, yellow filter)
Farm fields north of Rte 1 near 465 junction, March 29, 2019 (Ektar 25 film, Hasselblad 501CM, 250mm Sonnar lens)
Some of the fields north of Rte 1 were semi-dry, but heading west and closer to the mainline levees, the road dipped down, and the surrounding fields were inundated.
Flooded woods, Hwy 465, March 29, 2019 (Fuji Acros film, Vito BL camera, 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar lens, GGr filter)
Flooded woods, Rte 1 near levee, April 11, 2019 (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm lens, ½ sec f/16½) 
Rte 465 takes off south from Rte 1. The day I drove on it, a short section was underwater, but people were driving through, so I did the same carefully. The road runs through forest, much of which was flooded. What struck me was the number of snakes. I saw numerous ones that were squashed and hit at least one when it slithered across the road just in time for my tires. It appears that they cross from the woods on one side of the highway to the other. Most looked like black water moccasins, but one nicely patterned fellow sitting quietly in the middle of the pavement looked like a rattlesnake. (I decided to not get out and check in person.)
Unoccupied house, US 61, Onward (Fuji acros film, Vito BL camera, GGr filter, 1/30 sec f/11½) 
Back in Onward, the fields just east of 61 were dry. I saw this unused mid-century house slowly being engulfed with vines.
Dusk at Egremont, view west, March 29, 2019 (Vito BL camera, 50mm Color-Skopar lens, GGr filter) 
Egremont is a small community south of Rolling Fork. I have more Egremont photographs to share in the future.
Hwy 16 west of Yazoo City, March 13, 2019 (Ektar 25, Hasselblad 501CM, 250mm Sonnar lens)
Hwy 16 west of Yazoo City, March 13, 2019 (Ektar 25, Hasselblad 501CM, 250mm Sonnar lens)
To the east, Yazoo City (the "Gateway to the Delta") sits on the edge of the loess bluffs. But to the west lies the flat Mississippi Delta and the Yazoo River. The fields along Hwy 16 were inundated as of mid-March when I took these pictures with my Hasselblad camera.

This concludes a short look at the flooding in the Yazoo Backwater. As of mid-June, much of this area is still under water. Depending on water conditions, I may do some more exploring and photographing.

Click the link for Part 1 of this series.
Click the link for Part 2 of this series.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Flood of 2019 (Part 2), the Yazoo Backwater near Redwood, Mississippi

This is Part 2 of our article about the 2019 flood in west central Mississippi. In the previous article, we covered the inundation in the area around Vicksburg, which is directly affected by the level of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers. Here we will look at the flooding that occurred north of the Steele Bayou flood gates.
Yazoo Backwater (from NOAA)
The Yazoo Backwater is the area of the Mississippi Delta that is north of the Steele Bayou floodgate. As I wrote in the previous article, if heavy rail has fallen in west central Mississippi, the water heads south through creeks and bayous, eventually into the Yazoo River and then to the Mississippi River. But levees line the Yazoo River, and if the Mississippi River elevation is high, the US Army Corps of Engineers closes the Steele Bayou gates and the local drainage has no way to escape into the Yazoo River. The result is varying degree of inundation in the area shown in gray on the map.
MS route 465 just west of US 61, Redwood, Mississippi, March 13, 2019 (Kodak Ektar 25 film, 250mm Sonnar lens)
Eagle lake is an oxbow lake in the southern part of the Yazoo Backwater. It is the blue crescent at the lower left in the gray area. The residents were told to evacuate in January. But many decided to stay in their homes and tried to hold back water with sandbags. One of my friends lives there and said convicts were brought in to help with sandbagging. She cooked meals for all the workers.
Hunting camp on stilts off US 61 near MS 465 turnoff, March 14, 2019 (50mm Distagon lens)
In March, this elevated mobile home was visible from a dirt road, but now the foliage is too thick.
Hendricks Lane off Floweree Road, March 14, 2019 (80mm Planar lens)
Farm shed, Perry Circle off Floweree Road, Redwood (photograph from former railroad embankment, 80mm Planar lens)
Morning Star MB Church, Floweree Road (80mm Planar lens, polarizer)
Tree trunk, Floweree Road, March 15, 2019 (80mm Planar lens, polarizer)
Floweree Road is a U-shaped road that takes off from US 61 just north of the turnoff for MS 465. It was an interesting road to bicycle in January because of the water all around. We saw a dead boar being eaten by vultures. Presently (June 6, 2019) Floweree Road is completely inundated and impassible by cars. All the scenes above are at least 1-2 ft deeper in the water now. The railroad once ran near Floweree Road, and many farmers parked farm equipment up on the embankment.
House and flooded car, US 61, Redwood, March 29, 2019 (Fuji Acros 100 film, Voigtländer Vito BL camera, 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar lens, yellow filter)
Inundated house, US 61, Redwood, March 29, 2019 (Acros film, Vito BL, GGr filter)
Mobile home and almost-safe vehicles, US 61, Redwood, March 29, 2019 (Acros film, Vito BL, GGr filter)
Cars parked along US 61 for safety, near Floweree Road, Redwood (Acros film, Vito BL camera)
Farm off US 61 near Floweree Road, Rdwood (Acros film, Vito BL, yellow filter)
This has been a quick look at the scene off US 61 (the Blues Highway) near Redwood, Mississippi. I will continue this 2019 flood topic the next article.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Flood of 2019 (Part 1): Vicksburg, Mississippi


The Mississippi River and Yazoo Backwater flood of 2019 will go down in the record books as one of the longest-lasting inundations in this part of the world. The Mississippi River rose above flood stage of 43 ft on the Vicksburg gauge in early January and stayed high June In the meantime, the central part of the state received record rainfall in January and February, filling creeks and streams in the Yazoo Backwater.
Plot of water level measured at the Vicksburg Gage, located near the Interstate 20 bridge. Major flood is defined as 50.0 ft on the gage. Plot from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Plot of Mississippi River stage over the first five months of 2019. Spike in mid-May is a bad data point.

Brief background

Let me digress with a short explanation of the hydrology of the region and why you see so much water. Levees (or dikes) line the Mississippi River all the way from central Missouri to the mouth of the river in the Gulf of Mexico, well south of New Orleans. The purpose of the levees is to prevent the river from flooding farmland and towns in the midwest during high river stages. The Yazoo River is a tributary of the Mississippi, meaning it flows into the larger river. The Yazoo drains west central Mississippi, much of it comprising the broad flat alluvial plain known as the Mississippi Delta (the same Delta famed for Blues music).

But during high water, several complicated issues arise:
  • Problem no. 1: If the Mississippi River is in flood, the water will back up the Yazoo and inundate farmland and towns. Therefore, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) built levees along the Yazoo. The USACE installed flood control gates into the levee at a place called Steele Bayou, near the town of Redwood. The USACE closes the gates to prevent those flood waters from rolling over the farms of the southern Delta.
  • Problem no. 2: If there has been heavy local rain in west central Mississippi, the streams and bayous of the Delta rise. But if the Mississippi is simultaneously in flood, the Steele Bayou gates are closed. Therefore, there is no place for the local runoff to drain out, and the water collects and rises behind (or north of) the gates. February to June of 2019 was one of these periods when both the Mississippi River was in flood and there had been torrential rain in the state of Mississippi – for weeks. There was no place for the water in the Yazoo Backwater to go, and the area experienced the longest-lasting inundation since the 1973 flood. 
  • To add complexity to this problem: in 1941, Congress authorized the USACE to install pumps near Steele Bayou to pump Yazoo backwater water up and over the levee into the Yazoo River. However, the construction was not funded. These pumps would be some of the largest on earth and today would cost over $300 million. The EPA cancelled this project in 2008. Congress, farmers, and environmentalists have been fighting over the infamous pumps since the 1940s. You see where this is going….
I will divide this topic into three articles. This first will show photographs from Vicksburg and the area south of the Steele Bayou flood gate, meaning the area directly influenced by the water elevation on the Mississippi River. The next two articles will cover the terrain north of the Steele Bayou flood gate, the southern part of the Mississippi Delta (note, this is not the delta in the Gulf of Mexico - the terminology is confusing).

For some more information about how all this water reaches the Gulf of Mexico, see my 2011 article about the Old River Control.

Vicksburg scenes

Yazoo Canal from North Washington Street
These are the flooded woods next to the Yazoo Canal along North Washington Street. Unfortunately, many little forest animals like possums and raccoons come out of the woods and get hit by cars.
Big River Shipbuilders on Port Terminal Circle, Port of Vicksburg, March 21, 2019 (Fuji Acros film, Vito BL camera)
The shipbuilding and repair company needed to set up a floating walkway for their employees.
Ford Road, Vicksburg, March 8, 2019 (Hasselblad 501CM, 80mm f/2.8 CB Planar lens)
The Ford subdivision, located just north of the Vicksburg Forest Products complex, floods almost every year recently. I asked an older gent why the houses were allowed to be built in this vulnerable area. He said in the past, other than during the historic 1973 flood, the land did not flood. If this is true, what had changed?
Young Alley, Vicksburg (80mm Planar lens)
Vicksburg Southern Railroad (VSOR) tracks extending north to International Paper mill north of Redwood (250mm Sonnar lens)
The cottages off Young Alley appeared to be dry this year. Further north, the Vicksburg Southern Railroad tracks serve as a levee, keeping the water partly away from North Washington Street.
Raised mobile home off Falk Steel Road, photograph taken from VSOR tracks, March 8, 2019 (50mm Distagon lens)
The raised mobile home os on its own berm, therefore being safe from flooding. I saw a fellow leave the house and walk through the water using a garbage sack as a form of waders.
Kings Crossing Road west of N. Washington Street, March 15, 2019 (80mm Planar lens)
Kings Crossing Road leads west to some fields and woods. Many years ago, a fellow had a number of railroad postal cars parked in a field, but an old gent in a pickup truck said the rail cars were dragged away for scrap. The gent in the truck said the aluminum boat was his and he used it to get to his house.
Farm road off N. Washington Street, March 14, 2019 (250mm Sonnar lens)
In the photograph above, the flooded fields are beyond the railroad embankment and tracks.

The color photographs are from expired Kodak Ektar 25 film, exposed with a tripod-mounted Hasselblad 501CM camera with 50mm, 80mm, and 250mm Zeiss lenses. The colors are not quite right, but by using the gray dropper tool, the SilverFast scanner software recovered most colors.

High- and low-water records


Flood Categories (in feet)
Major Flood Stage:50
Moderate Flood Stage:46
Flood Stage:43
Action Stage:35

Historic 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) 50.23 ft on 01/15/2016
(10) 50.20 ft on 04/16/1897

Show More Historic Crests

(P): Preliminary values subject to further review.

Recent Crests
(1) 49.90 ft on 03/16/2018
(2) 48.50 ft on 05/25/2017
(3) 36.44 ft on 05/22/2016
(4) 43.32 ft on 03/18/2016
(5) 50.23 ft on 01/15/2016
(6) 37.32 ft on 12/14/2015
(7) 45.96 ft on 07/26/2015
(8) 37.84 ft on 06/08/2015
(9) 42.98 ft on 04/01/2015
(10) 38.40 ft on 04/20/2014

Show More Recent Crests

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Lost Victorian House, Cherry Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

2432 Cherry Street after the fire (Fuji Acros film, Leica M2 camera) 
Damage visible from Dewitt Street
A beautiful victorian house at 2432 Cherry Street suffered a catastrophic fire in mid-2018. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the house was grievously damaged. The house formerly belonged to my friends, Leslie and Daniel, but they had sold it a few years ago. Nevertheless, they were devastated by the news of the fire.
While biking by the house in February 2019, I saw a tractor and some men looking at the property. That meant trouble, imminent demolition. I talked to one of them, and he said it would be hopeless to rebuild the house.
This image shows the elegant central hallway.
Once the demolition team began work, it was all over within 3 or 4 days. I saw them salvaging some materials like iron railings and some timbers. But most of the house was reduced to a pile of crushed timber.
Some unusual ladies lived here in the past. Hmmm, I should have bought one. Regardless, slowly but surely, Vicksburg is losing its architectural heritage.

Monday, May 27, 2019

On the Dixie Overland Highway, Historic US 80 - east Louisiana

Mississippi River bridges at Vicksburg, with I-20 on left and US 80 on right, 2005 during low-water (Rolleiflex 3.5E camera)
The historic Dixie Overland Highway crossed the Mississippi River just south of Vicksburg on the Old Vicksburg Bridge. Then, it headed almost due west towards Tallulah, Monroe, Shreveport, Dallas, and, eventually, Los Angeles.
1996 aerial photograph of Mississippi River bridges, view west towards Louisiana (Kodachrome film, Nikon F3 camera) 
The Vicksburg Bridge & Terminal Co. built the Old Bridge during 1928-1930. It featured a single railroad track and a dual lane highway. It was open to vehicle traffic until 1998 and has been closed since then except for special events, like the annual Bricks and Spokes bicycle event. Kansas City Southern still runs many trains a day across the bridge. The Interstate 20 bridge, on the left in the photographs above, opened in 1973 when I-20 was under construction.
There is not too much to see in the little Louisiana town of Delta. US 80 heads west past farm fields and some forest land. The Kansas City Southern railroad tracks parallel the highway.
Former depot, Mound, Louisiana, Kodak Ektar 25 film, Rolleiflex 3.5F camera, 75mm f/3.5 Planar lens
Mound was a farming community with a depot and a general store. I photographed the depot in 2005, but it has since been moved away (it has been preserved). I also have photographs somewhere of the general store. Today, the Vicksburg-Tallulah regional airport is just north of US 80. There are some nice homes on Rte 602 between US 80 and I-20.
Scott Field, Tallulah, Louisiana (Fuji Velvia film, Leica M3 camera)
Just east of Tallulah, the historical Scott Field is located within sight of US 80. This was one of the original stops for the young Delta Airlines in the 1930s, and the terminal reflects typical 1930s  airport architecture. The field is now used for crop-dusting aircraft and this handsome building (with zinc tiles) has been restored.
Snyder Street, Tallulah, Louisiana (Fuji GW690II camera)
We reach Tallulah, a mid-size Louisiana farming town. Sadly, the downtown is pretty rough. The strip was formerly Snider Street, which paralleled the railroad tracks. Today, trains roar by and do not stop, and many of the stores are closed or collapsing. There must have once been a depot, but I do not know where. I have recorded Tallulah before. My wife and I occasionally bicycle on LA 602, which takes us through Tallulah on a wide swing through farm fields and forests.

This ends out short ride on the Dixie Overland Highway. Some day, I need to explore US 80 further west as it crosses central Louisiana.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On the Dixie Overland Highway, Historic US 80 - west Mississippi

We will continue on our trip in Mississippi along what is left of the Dixie Overland Highway, now US 80.

The present US 80 crosses the Pearl River south of downtown Jackson and runs north of Interstate 20. West Jackson was a bustling commercial zone in the post-World War II decades. Preservation Mississippi as written about some of the motels and other architecture along this strip. Today, it is a bit (well, very) dingy. The scenery is marred with fast food restaurants, old warehouses, and strip malls that clearly saw better years a long time ago. I recently wrote about the old Metrocenter Mall, which is only partly occupied now (click the link).
KCS tracks view east, Old US 80 near Clinton, Mississippi (Olympus Trip 35, TMax 100 film)
Post Drive, Old US 80 (Olympus Trip 35, TMax 100 film). The fence has been extended and now obscures all of the yard
US 80 runs through Clinton just north of I-20 (near Mississippi College) and then merges with the interstate.  I assume the old route was absorbed by the interstate. But the frontage road south of I-20 west of the Norrell Road exit may be the old Dixie Highway. It winds through woods and past old houses and past farmland.
Old Hwy 80 east of Bolton (Olympus Trip 35, TMax 100 film)
East of Bolton, it is hard to tell how much of Old Hwy 80 is the Dixie Overland and how much is modern frontage road.
Main Street, Bolton (Olympus Trip 35, Tmax 100 film)
Mack's Cafe, Old US 80, Bolton (Kodachrome 25, Leica, 50mm lens)
The first "main" town we reach is Bolton. We have explored Bolton before (click the link). There is not much to see there now.

Former Dodge dealer (no longer extant), Edwards, Mississippi (Yashica Electro 35CC camera, Ilford Delta 100 film)
National Youth Administration gymnasium (formerly for Edwards High School, Edwards, Mississippi
Edwards is the next town on our trip west. Edwards, too, has seen much better and more prosperous days a long time ago. I previously wrote about Edwards in the rain.

Woodman of America hall (no longer extant), Edwards, Mississippi (Kodachrome slide, Leica M3, 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit lens)
A former coworker tried to preserve the Woodman of America building, but the last time I drove through town, all that was left was a concrete slab. 
Shotgun house, 304 Old Hwy 80, Bolton (Olympus E-330 digital camera) 

Former filling station, US 80, west of Edwards (Fuji X-E1 digital camera)
A few older shotgun houses remain in Edwards.
Old US 80 west of Edwards, Mississippi (Fuji X-E1 digital camera)
Smith Hall, Bonner Campbell Institute, Edwards (Panatomic-X film, Fuji GW690II camera, 90mm lens)
Heading west, you pass the grounds of the Bonner Campbell Institute, formerly the Southern Christian Institute. Sadly, most of the historic buildings have been demolished, despite their status on the National Register of Historic Places. I thought the pillared Smith Hall was quite elegant.
Big Black River crossing, Old US 80 (Hasselblad, 50 mm Distagon lens, Fomapan 100 Classic film)
Bridge commemoration (Olympus E-330 digital image)
Proceeding west, old US 80 descends and crosses the Big Black River over the 1929 R.H. Henry Bridge.
US 80 near Bovina, Mississippi (Fuji X-E1 digital camera)
The Dixie continues west bypassing most of the town of Bovina. The road is narrow and would be dangerous to bicycle because of a lack of shoulders and the fact that some people drive much too quickly.
Former "Colored Motel" east of Vicksburg (Pentax Spotmatic, 24mm SMC Takumar lens)
Lobby of former "Colored Motel" (Pentax Spotmatic, 24mm SMC Takumar lens)

As the Dixie Overland approached Vicksburg, motels welcomed the weary traveler. One pink and now very overgrown motel just east of Mt. Albans Road formerly had a sign, "Colored Motel." I may have a picture of it somewhere but have not found it yet. It has been unused since the 1980s or earlier. Currently, the building is being engulfed by kudzu.
Pinewood Motel, US 80, Vicksburg, closed since the 1980s (4×5" Tri-X negative, Tachihara camera)
The old Pinewood Motor Lodge has also been closed since the 1980s. I suspect these businesses were unable to compete with newer hotels built near Interstate 20, which was constructed through Vicksburg in the early 1970s.
We finally reach Vicksburg. Here is an old Chamber of Commerce brochure, courtesy of Preservation Mississippi. US 80 crossed the Mississippi River on the old 80 bridge, now closed to road traffic and pedestrians but still leased by the Kansas City Southern railroad. Today, US 80 and I-20 use a new bridge, built in the 1970s. We will explore US 80 in Louisiana in a future article. I will not cover Vicksburg in this article. Just type "Vicksburg" in the search box and you can find plenty of articles about the city - color, black and white, summer, winter, snow, and even some digital.