This is the first of what will hopefully be an on-going project. The idea is to do a sort of before-and-after series of pictures - which I know has been done before. This my feeble attempt at it...
The Old Mill is the iconic structure in North Little Rock. It was never an actual mill - instead it's a gigantic sculpture. The mill was built as the centerpiece for a park, a novel setting that attempted to attract people to buy homes in the planned neighborhood that was to be built around it.
The Mill was the product of Justin Matthews, who also developed the neighborhood of Park Hill in North Little Rock. He wanted a sort of tourist attraction to be the centerpiece of a new neighborhood, which would be carved out of the rolling hills to the west of Park Hill. Matthews hired Mexican sculptor Dionicio Rodriguez to design and construct the mill, which would sit in a patch of land that was unsuited for houses due to its "rough and unsightly terrain."
Rodriguez used reinforced concrete to create the mill building, and also the bridges around the park. The concrete was sculpted in a faux bois style, so that it was made to resemble wood. Even when the mill was new, it was designed to look old. The idea was to create a place where even Rip Van Winkle would feel at home (a claim used in an ad that appeared in the Arkansas Gazette). Even now, all these years later, it's still a popular place to visit.
The Old Mill - in May of 2009
The picture I'm going to use for the "before" view of the Old Mill is one that is particularly close to me. It was actually taken by my grandfather, Mr. John H. Crossman, Jr. He was a young man then, about 20 years old. I think he took this shot back in the winter of 1934. It looks like there is a layer of snow on the ground - you can see tire tracks in it. I wonder if my grandfather was doing do-nuts there in the foreground before parking the truck to get out to take pictures.
I headed out to the Old Mill a few weeks back, and tried to find the spot where my grandfather stood while taking his picture. I think I did find the spot, or at least one close to it. This is the photo my grandfather took, in 1934:
And the same view in 2011, some 77 years later:
The most striking change between the two pictures are the trees. In the picture taken in the 1930s, the Old Mill looks naked and exposed. The decades since have seen the landscape around the mill grow and mature. In the Spring, the trees provide a thick backdrop to the old building. The Old Mill still looks the same, the decades haven't changed or altered it much. A lot of old buildings whither and fall apart. But the concrete that makes up the Old Mill remains strong, which is good since those old bridges and steps see thousands of visitors every day...
When I went to take the "after" shot, I wondered what must have been going through my grandfather's mind when he was taking the "before" shot. He would have been about 20 years old - did he wonder what his future would be like? A few years later he would marry his high-school sweetheart (my grandmother). A few years later, his life would change again, as he ended up being enlisted in the Navy during World War II, serving in Okinawa. In the 1950s, my grandparents bought a house. Their new home was located just a few blocks away from the Old Mill, in the development that was in Justin Matthews plans when he built the mill. My grandparents raised their three kids in that house. And a little bit later, that same house would see six grandchildren come through. One of those grand kids (my cousin) would actually have her wedding right there, at the Old Mill. Both of my grandparents were in attendance.