Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Riceland Hotel

At five stories, the Riceland Hotel is still the tallest building in downtown Stuttgart. On a busy Saturday morning, cars cruised down Main Street in front of the hotel, and people visited the shops and stores that sit in the neighboring buildings. But the Riceland Hotel was quiet, it is home now only to stray cats and a few occasional pigeons that fly through the windows that aren't boarded shut.

I was recently given permission to go inside the old hotel and take pictures, so I headed down to Stuttgart earlier this month. The once-grand Riceland Hotel opened way back in 1923, and was for several decades the center of social life in Stuttgart. But the hotel closed in 1970, and has been left empty and abandoned. But through the cracked paint and plaster, you can still find signs of the hotel's former grandeur.

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This was taken in what was once the hotel's lobby. When it was open, the hotel hosted several celebrities, including Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Pulitzer and Clark Gable.

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This was taken in a room next to the lobby, which was once the hotel's coffee shop.

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The hotel was designed by George R. Mann, the same architect who also designed the Arlington Hotel, Little Rock Central High School, the Pines Hotel, the Albert Pike Hotel, the Pulaski County Courthouse and the Arkansas State Capitol.

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The building has been victim to a lot of graffiti and vandalism lately, some of which was pretty awful (I tried to avoid as much of it as I could in the pictures).

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Most of the windows in the building are boarded up, which made taking pictures difficult since it was very dark in many of the rooms.

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Despite being abandoned and left to the elements for so long, the building did seem to be in decent shape. There was, however, some considerable water damage on the fifth floor because of some holes in the roof. It had actually stormed just before we arrived to take pictures, and rain water was percolating throughout the building.

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This is part of the old elevator machinery that sat in a room at the very top of the building.

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I was a little nervous stepping out onto the roof, since there was so much water damage. But there was this view, looking out towards Stuttgart. Back in the olden days, there was a rooftop garden here that offered dancing on Friday nights and was advertised as being "cool and above the mosquitoes." According to local legend, a party here in the early 1960s got so out of control that a piano was thrown from the roof by a group of drunken revelers.

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And one last shot from inside the hotel, looking down from the top of the staircase.

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Although it has been empty for decades, the Riceland Hotel still occupies a prominent spot in downtown Stuttgart. There have been talks of renovations to the hotel recently, so hopefully something can happen to help save it from further deterioration. It's a long shot, but the building is well worth preserving.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

4th of July

We had some free time during the Independence Day holiday, so we ventured down into Hot Springs. It was hot and sunny, and Central Avenue and Bathhouse Row were busy and crowded with people. I tried to take a few pictures, and ended up with this shot of the Quapaw Bathhouse, which was built way back in 1922.

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On the 4th of July, I headed to downtown Little Rock to try to get some pictures of the fireworks show over the Arkansas River. I had planned on taking pictures from the top of a parking deck, but everything there was locked and shut (probably to keep people from going up there to watch the fireworks, I guess). So I ended up heading to the Clinton Park Bridge, which stretches across the river by the Clinton Presidential Library. It wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be, and it was a fairly good spot to see the fireworks.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Lurton

After leaving the Buffalo River, I headed south on Highway 7 towards home. But I made a quick little stop in the small town of Lurton, and got a few pictures of an old abandoned hotel. The hotel was built in the 1930s, but has been abandoned now for several years.

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There's no telling how much longer the building will be standing, but I'm guessing it won't be for too much longer.

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Just down the road was this church, which was also abandoned and which was slowly being encased in a shroud of vines. Just above the door, the plants had just about covered up where a sign said "Everyone Welcome."

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Buffalo River

I've been wanting to do a little camping/photo trip, especially before the heat of the summer settles in and makes it unbearable outside. So I headed up to the Buffalo River for a quick little overnight trip. It rained heavily on the drive up there, with remnants of a tropical storm actually moving across the state. It rained enough for the Illinois Bayou by Dover to get high and muddy, but the rains didn’t really stretch too much further north. The Buffalo River was low when I finally arrived in Boxley Valley.

The Buffalo River is one of the prettiest places in this part of the country, and Boxley Valley might just be the crown jewel of the river. Boxley is a historic district, and it does have a deep and rich history. Native Americans are thought to have lived in or around the valley for centuries. Settlers moved into the Buffalo River area and Boxley sometime around 1830. A few decades later, some small Civil War skirmishes were fought around Boxley. After the war, things quieted down and people living in the valley continued to farm and make do in a remote stretch of land.

One of the first buildings you see when you drive into the Valley is the old Villines cabin, which was built in 1850 by one of the first pioneer families to settle in Boxley Valley. The cabin was converted into a barn many decades ago, but now there were signs advising people to avoid getting too close because the building is unstable. Hopefully the National Park Service will do some work on the building soon to keep it from collapsing.

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Boxley Valley is also home to lots of wildlife, including a large herd of elk and also a few trumpeter swans. There were a few elk out grazing in a pasture by the river, but I ended up stopping to get a picture of this donkey that was curiously watching the cars drive by.

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I drove across the valley and stopped at one of my favorite spots in Boxley.

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The old barn here was built sometime in the 1920s, and was surrounded by a sea of tall grass.

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It was getting close to sunset, and golden light was streaming across the valley and hitting the fog-covered hillsides.

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I headed over to the Steele Creek campground, and tried to get a few pictures of the river as it flowed past Roark Bluff. I ended up wading into the river (it wasn’t deep but the water was cold) to get this view. It was a peaceful evening. The smell of campfire smoke was drifting through the trees from the nearby campground, and people were swimming and fishing nearby in the river.

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After it got dark, I headed back over to Boxley Valley to try to get a few more pictures. It was too cloudy and foggy to get any good star pictures, so instead I tried some lightpainting on this old barn.

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And then at the old Beechwoods Church, which was built in 1918. The cemetery in front of the church is the final resting place for many of the first families to settle in Boxley Valley.

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I made the short drive back to Steele Creek, and camped there overnight. It was a cool night, with lows down in the 60s. Which is camping weather you can’t really beat in the summer. I set the alarm to go off about an hour before sunrise so that I could do a short hike to an amazing overlook on the top of Roark Bluff. It was still dark when I crossed the river and headed off into the woods. I managed to miss the trail, and ended up hiking the wrong way on another trail for about 15 minutes. I backtracked and eventually found the correct trail, and then panicked because the sun was beginning to rise above the mountain. I had wanted to get to the overlook early enough to get some pictures before sunrise, but now I was running out of time. I hurried up the hill, rushing along the trail that was nearly covered by overgrown grasses that was probably home to all sorts of snakes and ticks.

But eventually I made it to the overlook, which provides a spectacular view of the river and the almost 200 foot tall bluff. Roark Bluff is the longest bluff on the Buffalo River, stretching along for about three-quarters of a mile. Fog drifted over the river, drifting through the trees along the mountains that tower over the water.

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It is a pretty spot, but also very dangerous spot since you are standing a few hundred feet above the river. It is definitely not a spot to visit if you’re scared of heights, have kids with you or if you’ve been drinking. There is a narrow sliver of rock that extends even further out over the river from where I was standing, but I wasn’t brave enough to venture out that far. I took a few pictures before hiking back down the hillside to solid ground.

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Thick fog still drifted along the river, although the sun was starting to break through. This is the view of the Buffalo River from the spot where Steele Creek flows into the river.

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I again made the short drive back into Boxley to get a few shots before the fog burned off.

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This old barn sits at the base of Cave Mountain, which does actually have a cave on it. The cave was the site of a small Civil War skirmish, when Union troops attacked some Confederate troops who were mining bat guano in the cave that they had intended to turn into gun powder.

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And one lost old barn shot, taken before starting the drive back home. This is a strange little barn that is built directly into the side of a hill.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Boston

From Cape Cod, we headed back into Boston. Our first stop in the city was the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, which sits on a point and overlooks Dorchester Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and downtown Boston. The library opened in 1979 and was designed by the architect I.M. Pei. It is a striking building, which is dominated by a large 115 foot-tall glass pavilion.

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The library houses all sorts of exhibits about the Kennedy Administration and has a recreation of the Oval Office. I wished there was more information about his life before he became President, but they did have a few artifacts on display from his childhood and his time in the Navy. It was still a pretty interesting place to visit.

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We just recently made a trip to Dallas, and went by Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was murdered. It was a sad and frustrating visit. People were rushing out into the street to take selfies on top of the white “X’s” that mark the spot where the president was shot. People were selling conspiracy theory junk on the grassy knoll, and others were accosting tourists trying to ask for money. It was tacky and disrespectful, so it was refreshing to visit a place this library that showcases his life and not just the tragic end to it.

This is the view looking back at the library, with downtown Boston in the background.

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From there we headed into Boston, checked into our hotel and grabbed some dinner. After we put Jonah to bed I headed out and tried to get some pictures in downtown Boston. I ended up at Fan Pier Park, which sits along the Riverfront and provides some great views of the skyline.

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It was a pleasant evening out, with a nice breeze. The bars and restaurants along the water were packed with people, and the park was filled with lots of people out walking (and a few other people taking pictures).

Not sure what this old building in the water is, but it looked cool…

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Just a short walk away is the Boston Tea Party Museum, which commemorates the spot where demonstrators dumped crates of tea into the harbor in 1773 to protest Tea Act. The protest helped lay the foundation for the Revolution.

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Fan Pier Park provides some sweeping views of downtown Boston, and I grabbed a spot and waited for sunset. Along with other tourists and locals out, there were lots of seagulls and even a few seals out in the water.

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After sunset, the sky and the buildings lit up with deep colors. It was a great view of downtown Boston, which is a vibrant and historic city. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to an American History class, so I had forgotten how much history has happened in this city over the past few centuries. Boston was founded way back in 1630, making it one of the oldest cities in the country.

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The next day we headed out and hit the Freedom Trail, the 2.5 mile path that connects several sites that were important to the Revolutionary War and the history of Boston. It ended up being a little bit of a hectic visit. I’ve been a bit spoiled, I guess, by living in Little Rock. It is technically a city, but it's nowhere close to being a big city like Boston. We never have to worry about finding a place to park downtown, or really having to deal with any big crowds. But going through the Freedom Trail with a stroller was maybe not the best idea. It didn’t help that Boston was holding their Pride Parade that day, so lots of streets were closed and the narrow sidewalks were packed with people.

But we joined the crowd and started the Freedom Trail at Boston Common. The trail passes by the Massachusetts State House and then goes by the Park Street Church, which was built in 1810.

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Next to the church is the old Granary Burial Ground, which was founded in 1630 and is the third oldest cemetery in Boston. The cemetery is the final resting place for many Revolutionary War figures, including John Hancock, Robert Paine, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. The cemetery also holds the graves of the people killed during the Boston Massacre.

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We went into the King’s Chapel and Burial Ground, but the bright sun was a little harsh and the pictures didn’t really turn out. We then went by the Old South Meeting House, a church that was built in 1729 and was the spot where the Boston Tea Party was organized. Due to its association with the Revolution, British forces occupied and gutted the building in 1775, filling the interior with dirt so that it could be used to practice horse riding.

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Just outside of the Old South Meeting House was this memorial to the victims of the Irish Famine.

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We followed the Freedom Trail to the Old State House, which was built in 1713 and is one of the oldest public buildings in the country. Before the Revolution, the building served as the seat of the colonial government. It was in front of the building where the Boston Massacre occurred in 1770.

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We went next to Faneuil Hall, where we got lunch at the touristy Cheers restaurant there (the beer was good, at least). We then walked into the North End, got a cannoli from Modern Pastry and then went by Paul Revere’s House. There were a lot of people waiting in line in front of his house, so my pictures didn’t really turn out. But by then we had a tired little baby and we needed to return the rental car to the airport, so we headed back to the hotel.

The next morning I had to fly back home, so we again woke up Jonah and packed up the bags and headed to the airport. I tried to get one last shot of Boston, from the window of the plane as we took off. Our visit to Boston was short, and we didn’t see everything that we wanted to see. But we will definitely try to return again soon!

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