Monday, October 19, 2020

Hot Springs

Pretty soon it will be mine and Caroline's seventh anniversary(!), which we usually like to celebrate by making some sort of trip somewhere. But this year is different, thanks to Covid and the fact that we have a newborn baby. So we made a quick little overnight visit to Hot Springs, after my In-laws were kind enough to watch both kids for us (it didn't take much convincing).

It was an ideal trip for the circumstances of having to travel in 2020. It was nearby, in case there was some sort of baby-related emergency. Plus there were plenty of places with outdoor seating that would we could safely visit during the pandemic. We even splurged a little by going out to dinner in an actual restaurant, a rare treat that we haven't enjoyed since March. We ended up getting dinner at the Vault at 723, which was delicious. But we couldn't help but overhear the loud argument at the table next to us (which wasn't all that close, due to social distancing). Of course since it was 2020, the argument was about Trump.

We stayed downtown and had plenty of time to explore. We walked along the sidewalk by Bathhouse Row, which was lined with Magnolia trees and with a decent crowd of people (about half of whom were wearing masks). This is the view of the Quapaw Bathhouse, which was built in 1922.


And then the Ozark Bathhouse, which was also built in 1922:


At the end of Bathhouse Row is the National Park Service's Administrative Building, which has this small fountain out front. The fountain was added in 1936, and there is a bit of steam from the hot spring water bubbling out.


And a closer view of the old Army and Navy Hospital, which was built in 1933. The building absolutely dominates Hot Springs.


And unfortunately the building is empty now, without any plans for its future. This is extremely unfortunate news that could cause irreparable harm to a Hot Springs landmark. And it is something that does not need to happen. This building could immediately be converted into so many different new uses (a hotel or lodge? Apartments?). What does not need to happen is for it to sit empty and deteriorating for years and years. We've seen this happen before in Hot Springs at the Majestic Hotel, which was closed and left to the elements in 2006. In 2014 a fire damaged most of the old building, which was then torn down and destroyed. Now all that is left of this once-grand hotel is just a few pieces of concrete, bricks and a few stray pieces of tile. I'd hate to see the old Army and Navy Hospital meet the same fate.


We were staying downtown at the Waters Hotel, which sits in the fully-restored Thompson Building (built 1913). The hotel has a rooftop bar, which I think is one of the best bars in the city (the others are the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Maxine's). While I admit the rooftop bar needs an expanded beer menu, you can't beat the view. Especially at sunset....


In this shot is the Army and Navy Hospital, along with the Maurice Bathhouse (built 1912) and the Fordyce Bathhouse (built 1915). Here's another view of the sunset, which bathed downtown Hot Springs in a warm golden light.


The next day we checked out of the hotel and grabbed lunch downtown (at Grateful Head Pizza, also delicious). We had planned to spend more time in Hot Springs before heading home back to the kids, but it was a Saturday and the city was absolutely packed with people. The sidewalks were crowded (with lots of tourists, judging from the sheer number of cars with out-of-state license plates). We tried to avoid the crowds by taking one of the scenic mountain drives, but there were more and more people there as well. The parking lot at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower was full, with cars parked haphazardly along the narrow road. There were multiple cars parked at all the trailheads and overlooks too. We decided to head on home, but I made sure to get one last picture along the road (in one of the brief times there wasn't any cars driving by).


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Lorance Creek

One great thing about living in Little Rock is that while it is a big city (by Arkansas standards), there are still lots of places that you can easily get to and see nature. One such place is the Lorance Creek Natural Area, which is just a short drive from downtown. 


The Natural Area is jointly owned and managed by the Nature Conservancey and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. The 390 acres of the Natural Area preserve a shallow, groundwater-fed swamp. A short, paved trail (ADA accessible) first cuts through an upland pine-oak forest before a wooden boardwalk stretches out over the swamp. From there you have a great view of a mosaic of cypress and tupelo trees. 

In fact, you can find over 600 species of plants here, along with 125 bird species and 25 reptile and amphibian species (along with countless mosquitoes). 



Sunday, October 11, 2020


It is almost a little surreal driving to the old Roundtrip Filling Station in Sherwood. First you drive by the rows of car dealerships and chain restaurants along the suburban concrete expanse of Hwy. 67/167. Then you head east on a road that plunges through a dark and murky swamp. Next you pass an assorted collection of homes until you see the old station, which looks so out-of-place here that it seems randomly placed like someone hit the wrong button on a game of Sim-City. 
The station was built in 1936 for the Pierce Oil Company. The station closed in 1981, and then it sat empty and abandoned for a few decades. The building was the victim of the typical decay and vandalism, and was listed in 2013 as one of the state's endangered historical structures by the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas. But in a rare Arkansas preservation success story, the city of Sherwood began renovating the building in 2013. Progress was halted when an arsonist tried to burn the building down in 2014, but the building reopened in 2015 as a police substation.


Thursday, October 8, 2020

North Little Rock High School

The Art-Deco North Little Rock High School building was constructed back in 1930, and was designed by noted architect George Mann (who also designed Little Rock Central High and the Arkansas State Capitol). I have a strong connection to the school - my Grandparents were students there and became high school sweethearts while attending the same class. I followed their footsteps a few decades later, and graduated from here in 1997 (go Charging Wildcats!). 

The school had a major role to play in history, albeit one that is mostly forgotten now. In 1957, North Little Rock attempted to desgregate their schools by having six African-American students enroll at the previously all-white NLR High. But this all occurred at the exact same time as the crisis at Little Rock Central High School, where the Arkansas governor called out the National Guard to prevent that school from being desegregated. In response to the governor's efforts at Central High, the NLR School Board voted to postpone their integration plans. 

Undaunted, the six African-American students (Richard Lindsey, Gerald Persons, Harold Smith, Eugene Hall, Frank Henderson, and William Henderson), still decided to show up on September 9 for the first day of school. They were greeted by a crowd of white students who pushed and shoved them as they tried to walk up the steps. They were ultimately blocked from entering the school by a mass of white students and segregationists. The NLR Six were then instructed by the School Superintendant F. Bruce Wright to enroll instead at Scipio Jones High School, the city's African-American high school. The Superintendant told them that "I don’t think integration will work at this time, judging from the temperament of the crowd.” The North Little Rock schools would not be desegregated until 1964, when eight African-American students were admitted to two all-white elementary schools. 

I grew up in North Little Rock, but never heard about the NLR Six until a few years ago. It was not something that I ever learned about it in school, even if it occurred just outside of the room where I had attended American History classes. 

The old 1930 Art-Deco building stayed in use until 2016, when a brand-new school building was constructed right by the old one. So the halls and lockers and classrooms of the old building are silent and empty now. The city had a difficult time finding a usage for the old building. Because it is located next to an active school, access would be limited (so no apartments) and there were other limitations (you can't smoke or drink alcohol on the property). But a few months ago they decided to use the building as administrative offices and to use some of the classrooms for a "Center of Excellence." As a NLRHS alumni, I'm very grateful the building will be preserved.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Pentax Junction

My Father-In-Law was kind enough to lend me his old Pentax K1000, so I decided to take it out for a little photo-shoot at the Junction Bridge.


I'm a fan of Pentax cameras - my very first real camera was a Pentax P30T, purchased way back in the 90s when I was in high school. My second camera was a Pentax ZX-50, which I got while in college. They were all great little cameras, even if I didn't really know what I was doing most of the time with them (I still don't).

Monday, October 5, 2020

Pine Bluff

Pine Bluff is an old city - first founded in 1819 and incorporated in 1839. As an older city, the downtown area has an interesting collection of older buildings that can be very photogenic. So I headed down there with the camera to try to do some socially-distanced photography. A few blocks from Main Street was this old motel, which has since closed and is abandoned (but it is for sale). The swimming pool has been filled in and has grass growing where people used to dive in. No life guards were on duty that day.




Nearby is an old Greyhound bus station, which is also closed and empty. I looked but couldn't find a date when the building was built, but I did find that the station was the site of a refusal, by an African American war veteran in 1944, to go to the back of a segregated coach bus. The bus was preparing to go to Little Rock with the typical seating of the Jim Crow era, with whites in the front but Blacks in the back. The returning soldier, who was disabled, had taken a seat near the front. He was asked to move to the back of the bus when another white passenger got on the bus. When the solider did not respond, the white passenger uttered a racial slur and punched him. Several of the other Black passengers on the bus came to his defense, causing a confrontation. This was 11 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery, and would be a preview of the upcoming confrontations of the Civil Rights movement.





By the train station is the old African American Masonic Temple, which was bult between 1902 and 1904. It was the tallest building in the city when it was built, and it still towers over the other buildings and nearby train traicks. Among the businesses housed here was the Unity Bank And Trust Company, which opened in 1902 and was Arkansas' first African American-owned bank.


 The building is empty now, and was listed as one of Arkansas’ "Most Endangered Places" in 2015. But that designation also notes that the structure is in fairly good shape, all things considered, and that the owners hope to rennovate it into a mixed-use development. I hope the building can be saved, I would love to see what it looked like on the inside.


And along the sidewalk along the side of the bulding, where tall grass was growing through the cracks in the pavement.


 Vines covered the back of a nearby older building, nearly shrouding this door from view.


 And nearby were these old electrical meters, which were still since they were connected to buildings that were no longer occupied. A vine (which was maybe poison ivy?) snaked up between the boxes.


Pine Bluff has unfortunately developed a bad reputation, and has turned into one of the most unfairly maligned places in the state. And I, of course, realize that I am helping contribute to that here by posting pictures of abandoned and rickety old buildings. In my defense, these pictures were taken as part of an ongoing photography project that has meant to focus on abandoned and empty places. It is not my intention to only portray the city this way. There is a lot of activity here that is not always shown. There is a sparkling new aquatic center in Pine Bluff, and a brand-new fancy library that looks to be state-of-the art. On this visit, construction crews were building new sidewalks along Main Street. The city is not as dire as people in other parts of the state make it out to be. 

There are lots of murals on the buildings downtown, showcasing various parts of the city's history. This one featured trains and the city's history with the railroad. A few vines were growing up onto the bricks.


Another photography project that I just started is to document the places connected to our state's sad history with lyching. That barbaric act has affected numerous cities across the state, including Pine Bluff. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a lynching in March of 1910 occurred near this spot right by the train tracks. Part of the description of the lynching is that it "was so quiet that when the news spread many persons could not give credence to it." One of the most shocking and terrifying things to read about these lynchings is how they were perpetrated by crowds who were described as quiet. To read more about the lynching of Judge Jones in 1910, please click HERE.


Another lynching occurred near one of the most prominent buildings in town - the Jefferson County Courthouse. The courthouse was built between 1856-1860, and is one of the oldest in the state. Unfortunately a fire destroyed most of the building in 1970, but the original facade was preserved and saved.


The lynching by the courthouse occurred in 1892. Again, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: "The news spread around town, and a mob of 200 armed men met the train at 9:00 p.m.. Despite pleas from the mayor, the mob stopped the train and took the prisoner, marching him up the main street to the courthouse. By this time, the size of the mob had grown to around 1,000. While the crowd yelled, a rope was put around Kelley’s neck, and he was taken to the courthouse steps and given a chance to speak. He denied his guilt, saying that he had bought McAdams’s watch. The crowd then hanged him from a telephone pole that stood directly across from the courthouse. During this process, he allegedly confessed that he had hit McAdams but did not intend to kill him. After he was strung up, more than 100 bullets were fired at him." You can read more about it all HERE

Just up the road from the courthouse, along a narrow alley is this old ghost sign for Coca-Cola. The ad promises that Coke "relieves fatigue," and as a parent of a fussy 7 week-old baby I can attest that the ad is true (we're living off of caffeine right now). 


And one last picture form Pine Bluff, taken on the way home. This grand old Victorian home is covered in vines, with a downed tree covering the sidewalk. But a few dogs rushed out to bark at me while I took this, and a car was parked in the driveway (which makes me think people are still living there). But this such an amazing house I would be hesitant to give it up, no matter what shape it's in.