Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hot Springs

Hot Springs has to be one of the most architecturally diverse cities in the state. For being a fairly small city, the sheer number of historic buildings here is staggering (though not as many as it could be, too many have been torn down). But it is also one of those places that you can always find something interesting to get pictures of, so I eagerly headed down there a few weeks back with the camera.

Just outside of the city is the old Chewaukla Bottling Factory, which was built in the 1930s but closed in the 1980s. It is abandoned and falling apart, sitting nearly hidden in the woods.

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The ruins are built around five springs, which have been popular for centuries (legend has it that Native American tribes had medicinal cabins here. The name Chewaukla means "sleepy water"). Sometime in the 1930s, this brick building and some smaller gazebos were built to help lure in tourists to taste the waters.

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The building has now been abandoned for several decades, the brick walls are crumbling and the roof is long gone.

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Just down the road is the old Whitely Mill, which was built in 1921 and was used to power electricity for a nearby house.

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From there I headed into downtown Hot Springs and stopped by the old Knickerbocker Hotel. The hotel was built sometime around 1900, and catered exclusively to Jewish tourists and residents. But it too also eventually shut down and the building is abandoned (though it has been listed for sale recently).

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From there I visited the wonderful Superior Bathhouse Brewery to sample a few drinks, and then headed out at dusk to get a few more pictures. This is looking down Central Avenue towards the Medical Arts Building and the Arlington Hotel. The Medical Arts Building is one of my favorite buildings in Hot Springs, it was built in 1930 but has been mostly abandoned now since the 1990s. On the right is the Arlington Hotel, which was built in 1924 and is still the largest hotel in the state (though it is starting to show its age, but a new owner has come in and promised to bring the hotel back to her former glory).

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And a closer view of the Arlington:

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And another view of the old Medical Arts Building. While I was taking this, someone walked by and asked if I was trying to take pictures of ghosts.

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I headed along Bathhouse Row in the National Park and stopped to get a shot of this view of Central Avenue. Here is the old Thompson Building, which was built in 1913 by the same architect who also designed the Arlington Hotel, the Ozark Bathhouse, the Arkansas State Capitol and Little Rock Central High. The upper floors of the building had been vacant for decades until they were recently converted into a hotel which opened earlier this year.

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Further down Bathhouse Row is the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which was built in 1912. Of the eight bathhouses along Bathhouse Row, the Buckstaff is the only that has remained in operation since it opened. All the others eventually closed when people stopped taking medicinal baths (and after the state made the city shut down the illegal casinos that used to operate across the street).

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At the end of Bathhouse Row is this small fountain, which sits in front of the National Park Service's Administration Building (which was built in 1936). Looming in the background is the old Army and Navy Hospital, which was built in the 1930s.

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Hot Springs is a neat city, and I've always enjoyed my time while visiting there. But for all of its charms, Hot Springs can be a frustrating place. It has such a great amount of history, but then so many buildings downtown are abandoned and empty. And I hate to say it, but there is a certain bit of trashiness there that can sometimes bubble up to the surface like spring water. This sadly became apparent when I was out taking pictures that night along Central Avenue. As I was standing by the camera and tripod, someone in a car driving by yelled out a particularly nasty slur at me (I don't want to repeat it here, but it begins with an f and is seven letters long). Which was really just more disappointing than anything. I'm sure whoever did it was only trying to think of something crazy to yell at tourists that night, and I was just an easy target. But for a city that is trying so hard to attract tourists and redevelop its downtown, it's a shame that things like this happen.

Anyways, this is the shot I was trying to get while people were yelling things. It's a view of the Ozark Bathhouse (built in 1922 and now a fancy spa), and the tall magnolia trees that line the sidewalk. After that I decided it was time to head back to the car and get back home to Little Rock.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

In The Delta

Last weekend, I took another drive through the Delta region of eastern Arkansas. While the Delta lacks the tall bluffs and mountains of the Ozarks and Ouachitas, I think that it's a really photogenic area (and one that I've been working on a photo project on for awhile). There is a lot of history here, and miles and miles of verdant fields that produce healthy crops of rice, soybeans, cotton and mosquitoes.

But it is also a region that has been struggling with a stagnant economy and decades of population loss. Perhaps the best example of this is the city of Pine Bluff.

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Nearly all of the buildings along Main Street are empty and boarded up, and several have collapsed in recent years. Downtown Pine Bluff was quiet when I drove through, which granted it was a Sunday afternoon but there didn’t look to be another soul around for miles. This old building, which sits right by the train tracks that bisect the town, sits gutted and empty except for water that has flooded the area where the floor used to be. A sign on the broken door said that this used to be a dance studio.

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But I did drive by a bright spot in Pine Bluff’s future – the old Pines Hotel. The hotel was recently sold, and actually it was cleaned up and studies are being conducted to see how it can be saved. Hopefully it will be brought back, and then help provide a spark that could bring new life to this part of town.

I left Pine Bluff and headed south and stopped by this old church, which appears to not have been used much in the past few years (although someone does mow the grass still).

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This old barn was nearby, sitting along a dusty dirt road and baking in the afternoon sun.

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I had some troubles taking pictures in the harsh afternoon light, and also in reaching a few places that I had wanted to get pictures of. One place had "no trespassing" signs posted at it, the other ended up being on private property. Since I really didn't want to be shot by anyone that day, I headed off to find something else to point the camera at. I ended up finding this little muffler man, trying to lure business along Hwy. 65 in Dumas.

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It was starting to get a little late in the day, and the sun was starting to drift closer to the horizon. This was taken at a field along Hwy. 65 as a freight train rushed by on the tracks directly behind me.

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Further up the road I passed by another old church, which sat in the golden light from the sun. It also doesn't look like it's seen many services lately, although there was a healthy congregation of wasps guarding their nests along the side of the building.

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And another view of the church, and the lonely country road that it sits along.

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Just down the road, the cotton fields were starting to bloom.

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I made one last stop, at an old abandoned house that actually sits in the shadow of the Varner prison unit. I couldn't find any information about the house, which has a roof that has collapsed over the front porch. But there is a small family cemetery that sits nearby, with old graves baring the Varner name. So this might be the old home for the Maple Grove plantation, which the state of Arkansas purchased in 1902 so that it could have land for the nearby Cummins prison. It was a bit eerie to be there, the old house and cemetery overlook the prison that is home to the state's Death Row inmates. I wonder what the people who are buried there would think of their once grand house, now abandoned and collapsing? That their farmlands were sold to a prison system that would house violent criminals, and also the place where those same prisoners were put to death?

I assume the Arkansas Department of Corrections is in charge of the property. The grass around the house and cemetery looked to have been freshly mowed, and the graves were in good condition. The only sounds were the chirping of crickets, and the dull rumble of traffic along the distant Hwy. 65. It was starting to get dark, and the windows in the old house were reflecting the last bit of light from the setting sun.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Benton

The Old River Bridge in Benton is aptly named, since it is pretty old. The span over the Saline River was built in 1891, and it's one of the oldest bridges in the state. It was used until 1974, when the wooden platform was damaged by a big truck carrying concrete blocks. After that it was decommissioned, and has quietly sat unused for decades along a lonely stretch of river.

But there are plans to repair and renovate the bridge. The span will be a part of a proposed pedestrian and bicycle trail that will link the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Hot Springs National Park. The plans include taking the bridge down, then conducting extensive repairs and then replacing it back in its original spot. Right now the three counties along the proposed trail are trying to secure funding.

In 1996, the bridge was featured in the film Slingblade, where Billy Bob Thornton's character was seen standing on the bridge before a pivotal scene. Wait that movie came out in 1996, that's over 20 years ago!!!?! Now I'm feeling old.

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On the way back home, I drove through Benton and stopped to get a few pictures of this old ghost sign that was promoting cigars. The building is right by the old courthouse.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Scott

The small town of Scott is only about 20 miles from Little Rock, but it is a world apart from the capitol city. It is an old town, filled with old farms, homes, churches and barns. The rich farmland has attracted people here for centuries, and most of the land is taken up by cotton and soybean fields. Interspersed throughout the fields you can still occasionally find traces of this area's farming history, including a few old sharecroppers houses. I'm not sure how old this one is, but it looks like some recent storms have damaged the roof.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Scenic Route

After a quick visit to Fayetteville to see my brother, I decided to take the scenic way home. Which meant forgoing the freeway and instead taking the Pig Trail south through the thick woods of the Ozark National Forest. The Pig Trail is one of the prettiest drives in the state - the road curves through the mountains, and is often flanked by tall trees.

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Near the town of Cass I turned onto Hwy. 215 and headed east. This is another scenic road, passing through more forests and even running parallel to the Mulberry River for awhile. Along the way is this old church, which sits just above the river.

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There wasn't much traffic on the road, so it was ok to run out and get a few pictures.

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As we got closer to Clarksville, we passed by this old store. It's now closed and abandoned, with overgrown trees surrounding the outside of the building.

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I headed into Clarksville, where I was feeling a little nostalgic. This is going to make me sound old, but twenty years ago I was just beginning my freshman year of college at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville. So for old times sake, I drove by the campus to have a quick look around. Surprisingly, things haven't changed all that much in the two decades since I first stepped foot there (I'm sure the cafeteria food probably hasn't improved much). I ended up parking and walking onto campus to see if I could get some pictures inside the chapel, which is the oldest and prettiest building at the University. But of course, the doors were locked. I was a little frustrated that they didn't roll out the red carpet for such a valued and important alumni such as myself. Oh well. Maybe they're mad that I still owe on my student loans?

I made one more stop, visiting an old bridge over Spadra Creek in Clarksville. The bridge dates back to at least 1930, and is now part of a trail that runs for several miles along the creek. I got a few pictures before heading back to the car and heading on home.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Junction Bridge

I don't know how many pictures I've taken at the Junction Bridge over the years (there are probably way too many posts on this blog just titled "Junction Bridge" already), but it's a hard place to resist taking pictures. It has to be one of the best places to get pictures of the Little Rock skyline and the river.

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The Junction Bridge is an old rail bridge that was first constructed way back in 1884, which was later converted into a pedestrian bridge in 2008.

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It's also a great spot because you can take a few pictures and then head over to the Flying Saucer for a drink if you'd like (which I did right after taking these pictures).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Broadway Bridge

The Broadway Bridge first opened in 1923, and served traffic crossing the Arkansas River for several decades until the state highway department decided to replace it. The bridge was torn down last year (after several attempts to bring it down, the bridge was stubborn). The new replacement bridge opened a few months ago, with a cost of only $98.4 million. While I was downtown last week, I tried to get a few shots of the new bridge. So here's a shot from the north side of the river, looking south towards downtown Little Rock.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Delta Star Trails

A cold front passed through the state last weekend, bringing with it some much-needed lower temperatures and a significant drop in the humidity. Along with making it actually tolerable to be away from air conditioning in the summer, the low humidity also meant that there was some extremely clear skies at night. This would turn out to be perfect conditions for astrophotography.

I decided Sunday afternoon that I should probably take advantage of this by actually going out to take pictures. So I charged the batteries and gathered all the camera gear, and headed out to the Delta. There was a spot that I had actually visited a few weeks before that I thought would be a perfect spot for getting star trail pictures, and luckily it's only about an hour away from home. Along the way I made a quick stop at this field, near the small town of Coy.

At first glance, it just looks like a low hill that stands up from the field that surrounds it. But this spot is actually quite historic - this is an ancient mound that was built by a Native American culture that occupied this area from around the years 700 - 1000. Not much is known about the people who built this, but they are also the same ones that built the nearby Toltec Mounds.

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From there I drove further into the Delta towards this old building. According to the owners of the property, this building was used to store and to dry rice. The machinery inside is out of date and not used anymore, but it is still the tallest building for many miles. It was amazingly clear outside, and the sky above it was covered with a countless number of stars.

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It was also surrounded by a countless number of mosquitoes. I was attacked by a relentless swarm of mosquitoes while I attempted to set up the camera and tripod. I'm not trying to exaggerate, but there was a literal cloud of mosquitoes that descended on me like sharks. I tried to get the camera set up as quickly as possible while being feasted on by a unending onslaught of mosquitoes. And of course, bug spray was the one thing that I forgot to bring with me.

I did manage to get everything set up, and left the camera to take pictures for about an hour and a half (luckily it wasn't carried away by the mosquitoes). When I got home, I found some cortizone and then combined the nearly 200 pictures from that night together to create these star trails. The camera was looking due north towards Polaris, the North Star.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Delta

After leaving Stuttgart, we decided to hit a few other neat spots that were nearby. One spot was this old church, in the small town of Humnoke. The church is abandoned, and the walls are beginning to lean in precariously. There's no telling how much longer it will be standing.

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South of Humnoke is this silo, which is easy to spot since it is the tallest structure for miles.

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We then went by this abandoned church near the town of Scott, which was guarded by a thick congregation of dragonflies and wasps.

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We visited another church down the road that was also abandoned and empty. The outside is in rough shape, and it looks like it may also collapse sometime soon. The interior had been gutted, but this old electric organ had been left behind.

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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.