Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Architecture from our Industrial Past: Bates and Androscoggin Mills, Lewiston, Maine

Undated post card showing Bates Mill and canal, Lewiston, Maine (from Wikimedia)
Outflow canal, Upton Mills, Mill St., Lewiston (Kodachrome 64 film, Rolleiflex camera, 75mm lens)

Northern New England (USA) is full of former mill towns with amazing 1800s brick mill buildings. Most of these were built in the early- to mid-1800s on rivers, where water power could power the machinery. Most of these mills spun cotton or wool into textiles, while other factories produced shoes. These industries represent the early flourishing of the industrial revolution in the United States. 

The New England States and northern New York provided a perfect geology for our early industrial expansion because of the steep terrain, dependable rainfall, and hard rock geology. Rivers flowed down over numerous waterfalls where water wheels could be placed and a factory established. Flowing from hard rock terrain, the rivers flowed clean, and hydro projects were not plagued with silt and mud accumulation. Bustling towns grew up around these factories. Being close to the coast, merchants shipped manufactured textiles and other goods to ports like Portland, Portsmouth, Boston, or Providence for transshipment to Europe.

1910 photograph of the Androscoggin River (from Wikimedia)

Lewiston is the largest city in Androscoggin County, Maine. This part of Maine was populated by Quebec families and was incorporated as "Lewistown" in 1795. With the development of mills and the arrival of the railroad, the town boomed economically during the mid-late 1800s, attracting thousands of Quebecers to migrate. French is still commonly spoken. 

The textile industry's profits declined greatly after World War I. Starting in the 1950s, Lewiston's mills started to close (an example of early outsourcing, where textile companies shifted manufacturing to the US South, where labor was cheap and non-unionized). 

The status of these huge mill buildings has been fraught with economic and historic preservation issues. According to Wikipedia:

After a difficult economic period in the 1980s that saw high unemployment and downtown stagnation, several key events have led to economic and cultural growth, including the transformation of the historic Bates Mill Complex. Because the city took over the complex in 1992 after back taxes went unpaid, years of taxpayer frustration in the city's need to maintain the 1.1-million-square-foot (100,000 m2) behemoth led to two referenda (one non-binding vote, the other binding). Voters soundly supported the need to pursue redevelopment by maintaining the property and selling it to private developers. In 2001, the city sold three mill buildings to local developers. In 2003, Platz Associates sold the Bates Mill Complex, with the exception of Mill 5 and a small support building. For the next four years, a number of business enterprises expanded after Platz redeveloped the mill building. The Bates Mill complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2010.

A relative who lives in Lewiston knew the manager of one of the redevelopment projects. His foundation intended to find new tenants for one of the magnificent old Bates Mill buildings. She made the connection and we all had the chance to tour the building and learn about the development plans. He generously let me take photographs inside.

Bates Mill #1 or #5, Canal Street, Lewiston (Ilford XP2 film, Rolleiflex 3.5E Xenotar, 1 sec. exposure)
These views of the cavernous halls give you a sense of the size of this building. Iron posts support huge timber joists, and the tongue-and-groove flooring felt solid enough to support tons of machinery. This was construction from an era when we were proud of what we built, and it was made to last decades.
This photograph shows how the iron posts hold up the ceiling joists. The fluorescent light fixtures would have been a post-World War II addition. The outer wall were brick bearing walls.
Sink for workmen (or ladies) to clean up
Hot water boilers
Former cooler or freezer (unknown purpose)
What an impressive building. I could spend hours wandering around and photographing the structure. The machinery had been removed long before we were there, and none of it was left.
Undated photograph of Androscoggin Mill, photographed by Drew & Worthing, 22 Tremont Street, Boston (from Historic New England, photograph number OVP0241)
After our tour, I drove a short distance west to the old Androscoggin Mills. At its peak, this was another massive complex of buildings, roads, and canals. I do not know how many of the buildings are still standing or which one I tried to check out. The one I approached was locked, but several out buildings were open or partly collapsing.
I tried the door, but it was jammed or locked. And the signs of a security service were a bit ominous.
Heat exchanger? Power House, Androscoggin Mill, Lewiston
Boiler in power house, Androscoggin Mill, Lewiston
This has been a very short tour of the two of the mills in Lewiston, I have more photographs from other towns along the Androscoggin River, but I need to scan them. Some are 120 size Kodachrome transparencies, which are mounted and do not fit in my scanner. A project for the future...

The black and white photographs above are from Ilford XP2 film exposed with a Rolleiflex 3.5E camera. I exposed the film at EI=400. Most exposures were 1 sec. long, and I placed the camera on beams or furniture to brace it. The XP2 has a long tonal range and is very sharp, perfect for this type of subject matter. Problem: when I recently looked at the negatives, they were deep purple color and seemed to be fading. Possibly the film had not been fixed properly. I decided to scan them before they deteriorated further. This is a chromogenic film (like color print film but monochrome only) and is usually considered to be less stable than traditional silver-based black and white film. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Lost to Fire: Powers Country Store, Grangeville, Louisiana

In early 2017, I visited the extremely interesting Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, Louisiana. This is the research facility that helped confirm the existence of gravitational waves. A similar laboratory is in Hanford, Washington, and the two confirm each other's observations. On my way home, I drove west and north on the way back to Mississippi. Passing through Grangeville, I saw Power's Country Store on LA 37. Quick stop. The proprietor generously let me take some photographs inside with my Rolleiflex. This was one of these handy stores that sold munchies, drinks, hardware, and various other supplies. It was active with customers coming and going.
The outside looked like an old building with many additions over the years. Its not possible to tell what was there in the late-1800s.
The steps led to the part of the store with hardware, seed, and feed
The inside was a fascinating look at an older time. Mounted deer on the walls. Miscellaneous snacks and groceries. Tools, seeds, and automotive supplies on a higher level. Bare light bulbs and fluorescent tubes - nice stuff. Old-timers, bubbas, and children milled around.

These interior scenes were 1-second tripod-mounted exposures on Kodak Tri-X 400 film. I bought some cold juice, thanked the folks at the counter, and headed home.

I forgot about these negatives and did not scan them until July of 2020. Then I looked for information about Powers Country Store and was horrified to learn that it burned down on June 26, 2018, only a year after I visited. From WAFB 9 (Baton Rouge):
GRANGEVILLE, LA (WAFB) - An old neighborhood grocery store that has been a staple in St. Helena Parish for more than a century is gone. Powers Country Store in Grangeville was destroyed by fire Monday night. 
Flames shot nearly 20 feet into the air as firefighters battled the massive blaze at Powers at around 10:30 p.m. Cell phone video taken by someone who witnessed the destruction spread quickly on social media, perhaps because the old store holds a piece of rich history. It has been open since 1896. An old, rusted sign bearing the store's name and the couple, Frank and Ramona, that started a restaurant some 60 years ago is all that remains.
From The Advocate (Times-Picyune, New Orleans):
Until the fire, the Powers Store remained a vibrant place for people living and working in the area, including the local gravel pit workers, Graves said.

“Usually at lunch time the parking lot is packed,” Graves said. “Now I don’t know what they’re going to do, I guess go to the truck stop a little farther south. It is going to really sting not having it there.”

Suzanne Hornsby Hobgood was among several people who stopped by Tuesday to extend condolences. She said she remembered buying candy from Frank and Ramona Powers when she was a kid. As an adult, she brought her family to do the same.

“I’d come out here and bring my children. And now I’ve been bringing my grandchildren,” she said.

Hobgood said the store was filled with history, including an antique cash register, deer mounts from hunting trips and old photographs. 
I am sad; this is how we lose out cultural heritage. As time goes by, people forget. Within a few years, almost no one will remember that Powers Country Store once existed and served the community.

Older Urban Decay articles about country stores (please click the links):

Lorman, Mississippi
Lorman, Mississippi in 2019
Farnham, Virginia
Roy's Store, Chatham, Mississippi
Onward, Mississippi
Learned, Mississippi
Betigheimer Store, Edwards, Mississippi
Willis Store, Edwards, Mississippi
Yates Store, Utica, Mississippi
Twin Arrows, Arizona (Route 66)

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Demolished: Historic House/Office on Clay Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In early December (2019), my wife told me that she saw a house on Clay Street being pulled down. That was odd but not unique for this city. I headed over with my Rolleiflex, and sure enough, the back of the house was already crushed. I had not previously paid any attention to this house. It looked like many others that formerly lined Clay Street, built in an era when there were many residences on this road. It was gloomy and wet, perfect for this type of scene (and my favorite photography light). The Vicksburg Post reported:

Vicksburg Post, Dec. 9, 2019:
If you are one of the hundreds of drivers who pass along Clay Street each day and happened to notice what looked like a home that had collapsed, don’t worry; it’s collapsed on purpose. 
The now-vacant building, located at 2603 Clay St. that was once a chiropractic clinic, is being torn down by its new owners. 
Monday morning, a track hoe was working on the rear of the sloping building that once faced the Firestone Auto Care Center on Clay St. 
“I acquired this property back in early spring, and was hoping to save it, but it just wasn’t worth saving. I wished it was,” property owner Pat Daughtry said. “It was too close to the street; it was right up on Clay Street.” He said the property will be up for sale after the building is removed. 
According to Vicksburg city directories from 1958 and 1966, the building housed the practice of chiropractor John W. Donovan. Daughtry said the building was built for Donovan’s practice before Clay Street was widened from two to four lanes and had room for cars. 
“It was set back just enough to where they had an entrance and enough room to park,” he said, adding the clinic was at street level and the living area downstairs under the clinic.
According to county property tax records, the most recent use of the building was as a duplex.
I spoke to Mrs. Daughtry one day at the supermarket. She said her husband had hoped to restore or move the building, but it was just too badly decayed. Also, there was almost no space in front after Clay Street had been widened to four lanes.

The photograph above is from a Rolleiflex 3.5E medium format camera with 75mm ƒ/3.5 Xenotar lens on Kodak Panatomic-X film. Praus Productions in Rochester, NY, developed the film in Xtol developer. I scanned the negative with a Minolta Scan Multi medium format film scanner.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

On the Erie Canal trail: Lockport and Medina, New York


Room with a view, houses overlooking the locks, Lockport, New York (Fuji X-E1 digital file)
Lockport is the county seat of Niagara County in northern New York. It is known for the fascinating locks which lift (or lower) boats and barges on the Erie Canal. According to Wikipedia,
The canal reached Lockport in 1824, but the Flight of Five Locks were not completed until 1825. By 1829, Lockport was an established village. The community was centered on the locks, and consisted mainly of immigrant Scottish and Irish canal workers brought in as labor. The workers remained in Lockport after the completion of the locks, giving the city a heavy Celtic influence still discernible today, especially in the Lowertown and North Lockport neighborhoods.
The city of Lockport was incorporated in 1865.
The Erie Canal was supplanted by the larger New York State Barge Canal in 1918, and the famous south "flight of five" locks was replaced by two much larger locks E34 and E35. The north "flight of five" lock chambers still remains as a spill way.
Lock 35, Lockport, NY, with full capacity
View from gate at Lock 35 looking down to Lock 34

The photograph above is complicated. In the foreground is one of the gates that keeps the water in the pool at Lock 35. Looking down, you see the lower lock then beyond, the Erie Canal.
1839 engraving of Lockport by William Henry Bartlett (1809 – 1854), from Wikipedia 
Erie Canal view upriver towards Locks 34 and 35 (left) and former locks (right)
The bike trail took us steeply downhill past the locks.

One of Lockport's most infamous former residents was Timothy McVeigh, the convicted terrorist responsible for Oklahoma City Bombing.


Example of Medina Sandstone used in architecture
Main Street, Medina, NY
The Village of Medina is a charming little place where we stayed at the end of our 1st day of biking the Erie Canal tour. The previous night in Buffalo was rather interrupted and unrestful, so Medina looked like it would be a peaceful stopover. The bike group set up tents at the Clifford H. Wise Middle School, which had very nice grounds.

The buildings along the Main Street Historic District consisted of brick or Medina Sandstone commercial structures in excellent repair. Look at the craftsmanship in the arches over the windows.
The side streets, such as Gwinn St. in the photographs above, were lined with early 20th century wood frame houses and cottages. This is small-town Americana at its best. Will our McMansion ghettos age as well as these neighborhoods after a hundred years?
The Medina Railroad Museum is on Gwinn Street. We arrived in town too late to enter the depot, but I read that it contains one of the largest model railroad layouts in the country. That would have been fun.

Dear Readers, this ends my short set of memories of my 2018 Cycle the Erie Canal tour. It was a lot of fun, the other cyclists were very nice, and I lost weight. Maybe try again in 2021? Will we have figured out the virus by then? We can only hope....

Thursday, October 1, 2020

On the Erie Canal Trail: Canajoharie, New York

Canajoharie is a handsome little town south of the Mohawk River in Montgomery County, New York.  It was an important trading area for the Mohawk Peoples before the Revolutionary War. Because the Mohawk and Iroquois allied with the British, the natives were forced to leave after the war, and the State of New York sold land to speculators. According to Wikipedia, the town of Canajoharie suffered major fire three times. As a result, the town passed an ordnance prohibiting wood construction for homes. As a result, many of the handsome older homes in town are brick or locally-quarried stone.
This was Day 6 of the Erie Canal Bicycle Tour, and it had been a long 62 miles from Rome. And the last part of the day included a hill! But Canajoharie was really interesting, and the architecture was classic small-town Americana and photogenic. As usual, the residents were cheerful and welcoming.
Junction of Church, Mohawk, and Montgomery Streets
Elegant stone building, Church and East Main Streets
Mohawk and Church Streets
Brick boarding house(?) or apartments at the junction of Mill and Rock Streets
Church Street historic buildings
I was pleased that most of the handsome 1800s buildings were clean and appeared to be occupied or in use commercially. Nice job.
Handsome cast-iron store front, 47 Church Street, Canajoharie
Millions of storefronts throughout the United States used cast iron as both structural and ornamental elements in their construction in the late-1800s. As documented by the National Park Service,
In the second half of the 19th century, the United States was in an era of tremendous economic and territorial growth. The use of iron in commercial and public buildings spread rapidly, and hundreds of iron-fronted buildings were erected in cities across the country from 1849 to beyond the turn of the century. Outstanding examples of iron-fronts exist in Baltimore, Galveston, Louisville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Richmond, Rochester (N.Y.), and especially New York City where the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District alone has 139 iron-fronted buildings. Regrettably, a large proportion of iron-fronts nationwide have been demolished in downtown redevelopment projects, especially since World War II.
Ah, yes, "redevelopment," which in USA often means let the developers pillage and raze older structures so that they and corrupt politicians can make a quick profit, regardless of the damage to social and architectural structures in the community. Quick, tell me how much mall architecture will be valued in the 2100s, let alone in decade. Quick, how many strip malls are worth anything architecturally?

Fortunately there is growing appreciation for cast iron construction and its decorative elements. The National Park Service Technical Brief 11 covers some of the issues in rehabilitation.
A final historical note: this little town played a role in the Revolutionary War. You are always surrounded by history in New York, which added so much to the Erie Canal Tour.

These photographs are from a Moto G5 mobile camera. I used Photoshop Elements 11 to correct converging vertical lines for some of the frames.