Monday, April 24, 2017

Downtown

While I was in downtown Little Rock one evening last week, I had the camera with me so I made a few pictures. It was right around sunset, and I stopped by a few spots. The first was the Old State House, which was built between 1833 and 1842 and is the oldest surviving state capitol building west of the Mississippi. It was replaced by the current capitol in 1912. The building has seen its share of excitement. When the state of Arkansas was only one year old, the Speaker of the House of Representatives killed a state representative in a knife fight on the floor of the house. In less extreme news, the building served as the backdrop when Bill Clinton announced he was running for President, and then was the site of his election night victory parties in 1992 and 1996.

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Just further down Markham Street is the Pulaski County Courthouse. Unfortunately, I've had to make too many visits here in the past year or so while waiting for a case to make it's way though the system. But it is an impressive building. It was built in 1914 by the same architect that designed the current capitol building. The four story limestone building was designed in the Beaux Arts-style, and has Classical features like tall Ionic columns and Roman arches. The interior features a large stained glass dome, and below that a rotunda with twelve statues that represent art, agriculture, machinery and justice.

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Across the street is the Robinson Center Music Hall, the municipal auditorium that was built in 1939 by the Public Works Administration. The building is named after Joe T. Robinson, who served as a US Senator and who also ran for Vice President in 1928 (he was selected by Al Smith, the governor of New York for the election. They lost to Herbert Hoover). Since it opened, the Robinson Center has hosted all sorts of concerts and plays, including performance from Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. I think the first concert I saw here was Third Eye Blind in 1997. The building just recently underwent a massive $70.5 million renovation.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Burgess Falls (Tennessee)

Caroline needed to travel to Nashville earlier this month, so I took a few days off so that Jonah and I could tag along. So while she was busy with work, I had the day free to see some sights in Tennessee with the baby. I decided to make another attempt at taking pictures at Burgess Falls, the impressive 136-foot waterfall that is an hour or so away from Nashville. I've made a few trips here in the past, but haven't ever been able to get a good picture. The first few times the sun was out and the light was too harsh for pictures. I tried again last year, but the trail was closed due to flood damage.

But this time, things were looking promising. It was predicted to be cloudy and rainy all day, and most of the trail had reopened. So we got back in the car and made the drive east, eventually arriving at the park. I loaded up Jonah in the stroller and started walking towards the overlook to the waterfall.

In hindsight, it probably wasn't my brightest moment in parenting. It was a chilly and rainy, and holding an umbrella while pushing the stroller uphill in the mud wasn't all that easy. And while I went on a fairly easy trail, it clearly wasn't designed with strollers in mind. By the time we arrived at the overlook, I hurried to get a few pictures while an unhappy baby let me know that he wasn't too pleased with the trip and with our being out in the rain. But I did at least get the picture, and Jonah fell asleep in the car on the way back to Nashville.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Union School

After leaving Sally Ann Hollow, we decided to try to hit one more spot before heading home. The old Union School sits in the Ozark National Forest, but not many people visit it. It's actually pretty difficult to find the school, since you have to ford the Little Piney Creek to get there. The creek was actually pretty high when we crossed it, and I was glad we were in Matt's Xterra. My poor car would have probably been washed downstream if we tried to cross in it.

The Union School was built in 1929. It replaced the first Union School, which was built in 1886 but burned down in 1928. The current Union School is a "1-1/2 story wood frame structure, with a gabled roof, weatherboard siding, and a stone foundation." It's in amazing shape considering its age.

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And one last shot of the interior of the school. The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and was also used as a church, Masonic lodge and a community center.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sally Ann Hollow

The other weekend, I met up with Matt Kennedy and checked out a promising looking area in the Ozarks, with the hopes that we would find some neat waterfalls. So we met in Conway on Sunday morning and drove up to the hills, heading towards Sally Ann Hollow. This hollow is a scenic but rarely visited area that is just filled with waterfalls.

The hollow is in the Ozark National Forest (in Johnson County), and we arrived to see some bright clear skies and the sun shining down. Which makes for pleasant hiking but not the best conditions for waterfall photography. Clouds and storms were predicted to move in later on that afternoon, so we started the hike into the hollow. I was happy to see there was plenty of water in the creek, and we passed by several small waterfalls. Since the sun was out, we didn't stop to get any pictures yet.

After some walking we eventually reached a waterfall that is about ten feet tall. When we went to get a closer look, some clouds moved through and I hurried to get a quick picture. After just a few minutes the clouds moved on and the sun came back out.

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I don't think very many people have been back in this hollow, but unfortunately we still saw some faded beer cans sitting on the ground. Probably the main reason why this area isn't visited more often is that there are tons of downed trees in the hollow. It actually looks like a tornado may have passed through here. At one point the entire hollow was covered with fallen trees, which blocked our way like a barricade. After scrambling up the steep hillside we finally made it through, and were treated to some more waterfalls. Luckily the sky had finally clouded up and we started taking a bunch of pictures.

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This waterfall dropped down through three different levels, and this is the top and middle tier of the falls. All together the falls were probably about 20-30 feet tall.

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Along the creek there were numerous wildflowers and ferns growing. This patch of fiddlehead ferns were growing right by the creek, just below the top level of the waterfall.

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There were some really neat waterfalls in the hollow, including this waterfall where the creek drops about 15 feet and then cascades down the steep hill for maybe 70 feet or more. It was hard to find a good angle that managed to capture how scenic the falls were.

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The cascade ends here, in a small grotto where the walls are covered in thick moss.

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We had started to run out of time, so we started to head back to the car. Along the way, I stopped at a few small waterfalls that we passed by earlier when the light was too harsh for pictures.

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There are more waterfalls in this hollow that we missed on this trip, so it definitely needs a return visit. Hopefully that will come soon!

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Old Mill

Last weekend I made the obligatory visit to the Old Mill in North Little Rock. It's a popular spot, and is probably even a cliche place to take pictures now. But I grew up in North Little Rock (in fact my grandparents used to live just a few blocks away from the Mill), and I'm fond of the place. The park around the Mill always looks great in the Spring, and I was eager to go check it out again. The azaleas were blooming, along with the dogwood trees.

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Of course, the Mill was absolutely packed with people. I think the vast majority of people were getting portraits taken (with at least two engagement photo sessions going on). It took awhile, but I did manage to finally get a shot of the Mill without any people wandering through the frame.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Downtown Lightning

Some big storms were predicted to pass through last Friday night, so like any normal and logical person I decided to go stand in the rain next to a metal tripod and attempt getting some pictures of lightning. So I drove to downtown Little Rock and went to the top of a parking deck, where I hoped I'd get a pretty good view of the storm as it came in from the west. While I waited, I passed the time getting a few pictures. This is the view of the Simmons Tower, the 40-story skyscraper that is the tallest building in the state. I like this building in the foreground with a strange segment of a brick wall attached, which looks like it was ripped like a sheet of paper.

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Eventually, the storms finally hit. I had to hide the camera as strong winds and rain blew through, soaking everything in the parking deck (and removing a bunch of pollen in the process). Once things calmed down a bit, I set the camera back up and actually managed to get a shot of a lightning bolt cutting through the sky. This is one of about 70 pictures taken during the storm, and the only one that managed to capture any lightning.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

River Market

The Central Arkansas Library just built a new parking deck, which provides them with more parking for their main building and also the Cox Center and the Arkansas Studies Institute. It also, conveniently, provides a great view of President Clinton Avenue and the River Market. So one night last week I drove downtown and headed to the top of the parking deck. I set up the camera and got a few pictures as it started to get dark.

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I got a few more pictures while being tempted to go visit the Flying Saucer, which was just a few feet away. Here's one last view, with the trolley passing through the bottom of the photo:

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

St. Mary's Catholic Church (Plum Bayou)

From Tucker, I made the short drive over to St. Mary's Catholic Church near Plum Bayou. The church is old, and sits alone along a quiet country road. You can tell that it is old, but it's hard to guess from looking at it how historic the little church is. The church was actually founded way back in 1789 on a barge in Arkansas Post. The barge moved upriver to Jefferson County in 1832, and then settled in this spot in 1869. In 1927 the brick exterior was added. The cross on the church is thought to be original, and was covered in copper to protect it from woodpeckers.

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I wanted to try to get a picture of star trails above the church, so I waited until it started to get dark and set up the camera. I was a tiny bit annoyed to see that there is a street light all the way out here in the middle of the country, so I had to move the tripod around to avoid the light being in the shot. But after it got dark enough, I set the camera up to start taking pictures. After about two hours I had about 230 or so shots, which I later stacked together to create this picture. The bright streak in the sky isn't a star, it's actually Venus.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tucker

Last weekend, I made another trip to the Delta to take a few pictures. Right around sunset, I stopped at the small town of Tucker, in Jefferson County. Tucker is known as the home of a maximum security prison now, but it used to be home to large plantation. The Tucker Plantation was established in 1871, and mostly grew cotton. The plantation grew large enough that it supported its own store and post office. The store still stands, although the only thing remaining are the walls. But standing next to the store is the old "Big House" of the plantation. It's now abandoned and empty, nearly hidden by thick overgrown plants.

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I couldn't find any information on when the house was built, but it does look like it probably dates to the turn of the 20th century. Here are a few shots taken while looking around the inside:

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And the view looking out the old house's back door:

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And one last shot, of some daffodils in the backyard that were already blooming.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Louisiana Purchase State Park

After leaving Helena, I had just enough time to swing by the Louisiana Purchase State Park before it got dark. Why is there a park about the Louisiana Purchase sitting in east Arkansas? Well in 1815, President James Madison ordered that the lands of the Louisiana Purchase be properly surveyed. So two surveyors headed out that year to begin the task of surveying the wilderness. They decided to begin in Arkansas, but probably regretted that decision when they began to slog through the swampy terrain of the Delta.

One of the surveyors headed out from the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers, the other one from the confluence of the Arkansas and the St. Francis Rivers. Where those two lines met became the initial point, and it was from this point that all surveys of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase would originate. The spot where they met was in the middle of a headwater swamp, a spot which has somehow managed to never have been drained or developed in the hundreds of years since. The swamp is now a State Park, and there is a boardwalk that conveniently takes you out over the murky waters.

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And the sun setting over the swamp. It was February but there were already mosquitoes out.

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In 1926, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a commemorative stone at the Initial Point. The swamp is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic Landmark.

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And one last shot looking up at the canopy of trees. The swamp contains several different types of trees, including tupelo, bald cypress, buttonbush and black willow.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Helena

The next stop on the drive through the Delta was the city of Helena-West Helena. Situated along the Mississippi River, Helena has a surprisingly large amount of history and culture. The city was incorporated way back in 1833, and was an important stop along the Mississippi during the steamboat era. That location (about halfway between Memphis and Vicksburg), meant that it was a strategic spot during the Civil War. Later on, Helena was one of the places that helped bring about Blues music.

Like so many other Delta communities, Helena has faced some hard struggles in the last few decades. Unemployment, political divisions, crumbling infrastructure, a declining population and lingering racial unrest have plagued the town. But there are some positive changes happening, especially in the downtown area. It really seems like the people there are trying to turn things around and bring life back to Helena.

I say this because just about all the pictures that are going to be posted here are going to be of abandoned buildings, but that's because I've been working on a project involving endangered architecture in the Delta so that is what I focused on. Wile there are many abandoned and decaying buildings here, that isn't all there is to this city.

Anyways, when I drove into Helena my first stop was the old Centennial Baptist Church. The church was built in 1905 and has been listed as a National Historic Landmark. The church was led by the Reverend Elias Camp Morris, who was considered to be one of the most progressive African American ministers at the turn of the 20th century. The architect of the church was Henry James Price, who like Morris was born into slavery. The church they built is impressive, but I'm not an expert at architecture so I'll let the Encyclopedia of Arkansas explain it. They say the church is "a stunning brick Gothic Revival building. Typical Gothic architectural elements are ribbons of lancet windows, buttresses, and brick corbelling. Two tower entries on the south and north corners of the church provide access to the 1,000-seat sanctuary. Buttresses divide the elevations of the building into bays, and corbelling on a prominent front gable creates a vergeboard effect. Brick is also used to create decorative patterns on the tower friezes in the form of crosses and squares. Centennial exhibits the typical lecture-hall floor plan with a raised chancel for the choir, pulpit, and lectern. The most striking features of the sanctuary are exposed curved beams, similar to medieval European hammer beam roofs. Curving braces elaborated with pendants arc from the walls, and original suspended multi-globe light fixtures emphasize the height of the beadboard ceiling. A 1908 pipe organ constructed by Henry Pilcher’s Sons of Louisville, Kentucky, is situated in the center of the chancel.". Over the years, the church hosted civil rights pioneers like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois.

The last service in the church was in 1998, and since then the building has been boarded up and closed. But the building has not been forgotten, with several attempts being made to preserve and renovate the building into a cultural center.

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The church actually sits directly across the street from the recreation of Fort Curtis, a fort that originally was built by Union troops during the Civil War. Helena's prominent spot on the Mississippi River meant it was taken over fairly quickly by Union troops. Several fortifications were built around the city to help defend it from the Confederates, including Fort Curtis and several battlements placed on the low hills that surround Helena. The defenses were tested on July 4, 1863, when Confederate troops attacked the city. They didn't have much luck, and Helena remained in Union control for the remainder of the war.

A recreation of the fort has been constructed, with several canons placed along the site of the old battlements. This one almost seems like its pointed directly at the old Centennial Baptist Church.

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I headed a few blocks over and parked in downtown Helena. I walked a few blocks around Cherry Street, passing by the old Cleburne Hotel. The hotel was built in 1905 but has been closed now for several years. Near the front door you can still see an old painted sign which is promoting a breakfast at the cost of only 25 cents.

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And the view of the back of the hotel, featuring a variety of boarded up windows. I would love to be able to get permission to be able to go inside here to take pictures.

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Just a few blocks away is this old abandoned building, which looks like it may have been a warehouse at one time. This doorway opens out onto a walkway that overlooks the Mississippi River levee.

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On the floor above, a tree has started growing through one of the windows.

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Across the street was another abandoned building, which dates back to 1910 and used to house the Helena Wholesale Grocer Co. The roof of the building has recently collapsed, and work is underway to clean out the debris and tear down the building. Part of the walls still stand, so you have the odd sight of blinds still hanging on the windows in the front of the building, but there is no roof and the interior has been cleaned out.

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There is a storage room nearby that has mostly survived intact (besides missing most of a wall). The shelves are still loaded with papers, including a bunch of payroll records that date to the 1970s. It amazes me to think that someone probably spent an incredible amount of time preparing these records, and carefully stored them away. But then they were left to sit for years, and are now sitting in the open and exposed to the weather. All of these papers will probably just be thrown in the trash pretty soon.

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I walked back down Cherry Street, passing by this row of old buildings just across the street from the Cleburne Hotel. The buildings look to be closed off, with boarded up doors. But there is still some stuff on display, including a creepy mannequin looking out through one of the windows.

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Just south of downtown Helena is an old industrial area, which has a few old factories and warehouses. I drove by this one old building and had to stop. It looks to have been abandoned for quite some time. The cavernous interior was empty, except for a few trees trying to grow on the concrete.

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I haven't been able to find anything about the history of this building. But I would love to know anything about when it was built and what it was used for.

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The rusty metal thing here was huge, probably about the size of a car.

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Towering over the building was this old chimney, which was partially covered in vines. It might still be the tallest structure in Helena, although it probably hasn't been used in years.

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After that, I started the drive back towards Little Rock. I did make one more stop along the way, just before it got dark (those pictures will be posted soon!).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Old Phillips County Jail

The next stop on the drive through the Delta was the old Phillips County Jail. The jail, long abandoned and vacant, sits just south of the small town of Marvell.

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The prison was built as part of a penal farm between 1935 and 1937 by the Works Progress Administration. It was used as a prison until it closed in 1973. It has been empty since then, although judging by the graffiti there are several people who pay regular visits here. This is one of the rooms with the smallest amount of graffiti.

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The paint on the walls (at least the paint not covered by spray paint) is peeling and cracking. This section of paint almost looks like an aerial view of a river system.

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And another shot of the paint, reflecting years of sitting in the heat and humidity of the Delta.

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The prison feels dark and claustrophobic, with narrow concrete walls. It didn't seem like it would have been the most enjoyable place to be, especially since it was built in the days before air conditioning.

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After taking a few more pictures, I headed back to the car and then drove into Helena (pictures coming soon!).