Sunday, September 24, 2023

Perry

The small town of Perry sits in Perry County, not too far from the county seat of Perryville. And in Perry you will find an old train station that was built in 1918 for the Rock Island Railroad.

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The Rock Island Railway ran from Memphis to Amarillo, but ceased operations in 1980. The rail lines in Perry are still used by a shortline railroad that runs between Little Rock and Danville (the Little Rock & Western Railway). The old station had been used for storage for decades, and was almost torn down a few years ago.

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But preservationists were able to make a deal with the railroad, and the building was saved. It was actually moved about 150 feet down the tracks to a piece of land owned by the city of Perry. The hope is that maybe someday it could be turned into a museum.

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Harris Brake Lake

Harris Brake Lake is a 1,300 acre lake built in the 1950s by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, near Perryville. It is filed with all sorts of little fishies, like crappies, bass and catfish. And it also has a few interesting things to take pictures of, like these two cypress trees sitting out in the water. I stopped by the other day and got a quick picture with the infrared camera:

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Monday, September 18, 2023

Twister

It's now been a few months since the tornado went through our neighborhood. Most of the damaged homes down the street have been torn down, or are in some sort of state of repair. But there are a few that, for whatever reason, have been left untouched. They remain standing just as they were after the storm passed through. Massive holes in the walls reveal glimpses into stranger's homes, like clothes still hanging in the closets. Sheets still on a bed that will never be slept on again. Who knows why some houses are still left untouched? Disputes with insurance companies, I guess.

Of course the tornado left a long path of destruction that day. It passed through Little Rock, then crossed the river and went into North Little Rock. It took down thousands of trees in Burns Park, then passed through the neighborhoods of Amboy and Indian Hills. From there it went through Sherwood and then Jacksonville.

I grew up in the neighborhood of Indian Hills, which saw many homes get destroyed by the storm. The tornado actually went just a block away from the house I used to live in for about 20 years. I hadn't had a chance to drive through the old neighborhood since the storm, but I was recently in that part of town and decided to pay it a visit. It was shocking, of course, to see so many houses destroyed. Just like our neighborhood, there were houses under repair, and one that had already been rebuilt. But also, sadly, a few houses that were also untouched. They had massive holes in the roof, with so many questions remaining about what happened to the people who once lived there.

As I was heading home, I passed by this church that had been hit by the tornado.

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The damage was so great that most of the building was torn down. But it's so striking to see the small details of what still remains. The steeple, crooked and leaning. Ceiling tiles still hanging over what was once the sanctuary, along with a few light fixtures. It's now been a few months since the tornado, but who knows how long it will take to fully recover?

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Thursday, September 14, 2023

Cato

The small community of Cato sits on the edge of Pulaski County, to the north of North Little Rock. It was a thriving little town, and there is still an old church there that was built in 1872. The church was originally named the Frenchman Mountain Methodist Episcopal Church.

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There isn't much to Cato now. The population went into a steep decline in 1940 when Camp Robinson was built. The Army bought most of the land, cutting off access to the town. The church closed in the 1960s, but it is still well maintained and in great shape.

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Monday, September 11, 2023

Hawthicket

The old Hawthicket Church sits along a lonely and dusty dirt road in rural Faulkner County. Its rusty metal door is locked tight, because this church no longer has a congregation. The old church rarely gets visitors, other than the cows that walk along the barbed-wire fence in the pasture lands next to the church.

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The church was probably built around 1950. It replaced an older wooden buidling that had also served as a school. That church had been described as a "little white wooden church with a tin roof and wooden pews" that had stood for about 100 years. A member of the church thought that the old building probably wouldn't last much longer, and set about raising funds to build a new church. The new church, built with bricks and a shingle roof, would be a structure that she thought would stand forever.

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But by the time she had managed to raise funds to build the church, most of the congregation had already transitioned to the nearby Bethlehem Cemetery. There is no record of there ever being a church service held here.

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What was built as the "little brown church in the vale" became an orphan church. It has no owners or official caretakers. The people who own the cemetery are kind enough to mow the grass in front of the church, but they aren't able to do any maintenance on the building.

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Several holes have appeared in the roof, and they grow after each and every storm.

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The bricks of this old church have been resilient so far, but with such a large hole in the roof you have to wonder how much longer this church (which was built in order to "stand forever") will continue to hold out.

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Thursday, September 7, 2023

Kingfisher Trail

Last Saturday morning, it was cloudy and somewhat cool outside (which meant the heat index was not 110). So we decided to take the boys and the dogs out to do something outdoorsy. We headed to Pinnacle Mountain State Park, which surprisingly wasn't all that crowded. We did the Kingfisher Trail, which is short enough for a three year old. And, most importantly, it has a playground next to it.

It's a nice trail, as it runs through some forest and along the Little Maumelle River. I tried to do my best to take pictures, which wasn't easy since I was also holding a dog leash and making sure a toddler doesn't run off into the water.

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Along the trail are two massive bald cypress trees, which are thought to be over 500 years old. It's amazing to think that these trees could have been growing around the time that the Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel were painted.

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Monday, August 28, 2023

A Sky Full Of Stars And Mosquitoes

Recently we had one of those rare and blessedly cool string of days, which was like an oasis during the blast of furnace heat we've had this summer. It was actually pleasant to be outside. Which meant that it might be a good time to attempt some star trail pictures.

So one night after work I packed up the camera gear and hurried out to an abandoned church near Keo. And while I remembered all the camera gear, I made one major flaw. I forgot to bring bug spray. To the Delta. In the summer. As soon as I exited the car, I was immediately attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. I tried to set up the camera, all while skeeters were biting my arms, legs, and neck. I tried to get the camera in focus while their high-pitched whine rang in my ears.

It was all for nothing. The camera lens fogged up after about thirty minutes and nearly all of the shots were useless. Whoops. But I think it's a good spot, so I'll try again. But maybe in the winter when there won't be any mosquitoes to deal with.

I did wipe the condensation off the lens and tried to get a shot of the church, with a sky filled with stars above. You can just barely make out the Milky Way, I think it would be brighter if it wasn't so close to Central Arkansas' blob of light pollution.

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Thursday, August 24, 2023

Blanchard Springs Caverns

On one of the last weekends of the summer break, Jonah and I drove up into the Ozarks and visited Blanchard Springs Caverns. It is a nice place to visit in the dog days of August. It might be 100 degrees outside, but in the cave it's a nice and chill 58 degrees.

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Blanchard Springs is the largest cave in Arkansas, and features massive stalactites, stalagmites, columns and flowstones. It's thought that some of these formations began over a million years ago. Also in the cave are these delicate and fragile "soda straw" formations.

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It's not the easiest place to take pictures, since it's a dark cave deep underground. During the tour you obviously can't stop and take pictures with a tripod, so I did the best of what my old camera (and Iphone) could handle. They used to do photographer tours in the cave back before Covid, hopefully they will start those back up again soon.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Shirley

The road to the small town of Shirley in the Ozark Mountains has to be among the most curviest roads in the state. It's fun to drive (as long as you don't get car sick), plus there are a few neat things to see along the way. Like some old barns:

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And this old school/church building:

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Just outside of Shirley is an old rail bridge, which was built in 1908, which crosses the Little Red River.

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When rail service through Shirley ended, the bridge was paved over and converted into use for cars.

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The bridge is very narrow, and with flimsy-looking guardrails. I wasn't brave enough to actually drive or walk across one...

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Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Hot Springs

Recently I took Jonah on a quick trip to Hot Springs to celebrate the end of summer and the start of the new school year. We first went by the Mid-America Science Museum, which is a fun little place for kids. Then we headed over to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower. The tower sits on the top of a hill in the National Park, and provides some nice views of the city and the nearby mountains.

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It had been about 100 degrees when we made it to the Science Museum. But at the top of the tower it was actually quite comfortable, thanks to some cooling winds coming in from an approaching thunderstorm.

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The tower stands 216 feet tall, and was built in 1983. It replaced two previous towers that had been built on the mountain, in 1877 and 1906.

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We headed back to the car and followed the curvy road as it ran along the top of the mountains...

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We dropped down into the city, which was busy with summer tourists. I pulled over and got a few quick pictures of my favorite building in Hot Springs - the Medical Arts Building.

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The art deco skyscraper was built in 1929 and was the tallest building in the state. It had been almost entirely abandoned for decades, but is now in the process of being converted into a hotel.

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Just down Central Avenue is the old Army-Navy Hospital, which was built in 1933. It sadly has been empty and vacant since 2019, and already you can see broken windows on the front of its imposing facade. I hope a new use can be found for this historic structure, and that it doesn't meet the same fate as the Majestic Hotel.

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And then we made one last stop in Hot Springs, at one of the mountain overlooks. It provides a great view of the city and the old Army-Navy Hospital, along with the Tower. The massive storm was moving in, and it started raining while we were up there. I hurried back to the car and started driving home (perfect timing since we drove through pouring rain the entire way back to Little Rock!).

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Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Helena

Helena was once one of the most vibrant and important cities in Arkansas, but now it feels neglected and forgotten. It was incorporated in 1833, along a spot where Crowley's Ridge met the Mississippi River. The town quickly became a vital spot along the River during the steamboat era. In 1883, Mark Twain wrote that "Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the Mississippi."

Several Civil War battles were fought in and around Helena. And in the 1930s, Helena became known as "the blues capital of the Delta," and was the home to such musical luminaries as Robert Johnson, Robert Lee McCollum, Roosevelt Sykes, and Sonny Boy Williamson. But modern economic realities of the Delta have been rough on the city.

I don't know why Helena feels so cut off from the rest of the state. Maybe it's because its location? It is on the Mississippi River, but far from any interstates or other big cities. Our state government often has to be reminded that the Delta exists, especially for places like Helena. The city has been under a boil order since the end of June due to issues with its aging water infrastructure. The state of Arkansas, which currently has a billion dollar surplus, offered the city a paltry $100,000 loan.

There are lots of neat old buildings in Helena, but many have been left empty and abandoned. And sadly, many of those were severely damaged by a storm in 2020. But the buildings that remain paint an interesting picture about what Helena was once like, and the history it still has to share.

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One building here used to house Bullock's Cafe, which I was wish was still open because the food there must have been delicious. A friend I follow on Twitter (Terry Buckalew - @tmabuckalew - who you should definitely follow if you are interested in the Blues) reports that Bullock's had amazing food, and the owner Cora Bullock would pull you in the back and you could pick your food right off the stove. It was famous for awhile, and was in a few travel magazines and news stories.

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There is a picture of Cora at work in the kitchen on this photoblog from 2007.

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This old building sits a few blocks away, along the Mississippi River levee. It has been abandoned for some time now, with the gutted interior now covered in layers of graffiti and random debris. The outside is home to these invasive vines, looking to take over the concrete walkway.

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This cracked and faded paint was on one of the rusty metal doors leading into the building.

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A few blocks away is an old motel, the Downtown Inn. It has been closed for several years, with tall weeds sprouting in the former parking lot.

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And a few more shots from around downtown Helena:

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I drove over to the industrial area along the river that looks like its home to buildings that process grain (I guess, I really have no idea?). There is an old building here, that may have once been a factory. It sits empty and abandoned, the only inhabitants are mice (judging from the numerous pieces of poop on the ground).

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In one part of the building, trees were seemingly growing right on the concrete floor. They were pretty tall, so it seems like they've been growing there for quite some time.

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After that I needed to start driving back towards home. But I got one last shot at this neat old Victorian house. They definitely don't make them like this anymore:

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