Tuesday, September 5, 2017

History Through Postcards: Steamboats On the Rivers



Steamboat's A-Coming!!
Steamboat's A-Coming!!

For those who lived along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, that cry was exciting. Steamboats in many ways were the only link our ancestors had to the outside world.
During the 1810s there were 20 boats on the Mississippi River. By the 1830s there were more than 1200. But, it wasn't just the Mississippi River that handled steamboat travel. We know that in the 1880s and possibly earlier, steamboats moved up and down the Pemiscot Bayou north of Dell, as well Big Lake, Little River, and the St. Francis River. In this part of the country, a boat was about the only way to travel through the swampland. . .until the railroad arrived around 1902 (in Dell). . .


If the steamboat happened to be a Showboat or a Passenger Boat,  the festive songs of the calliope filled the air miles before it's destination, calling everyone to the river.

The Liberty Belle


Inside a Passenger Steamboat

A showboat was a form "Floating Theater" that went from town to town along the waterways.  Plays, musicians, singers, melodrama and vaudeville were featured. . .

Riverboats, Memphis, TN

As late as the 1950s, a type of showboat often tied up at Barfield Landing outside of Blytheville, Arkansas. For a night on the town, these boats were popular. There was a huge dance floor, a live band, drinks and food. I was small but remember Mom dressing in beautiful evening wear  and Daddy looking so handsome in his suit and tie. They often went with other couples and had to leave home early to ensure a place on the boat. I could hardly sleep knowing that the next day I would hear all the details.  My imagination ran wild. By the time I was old enough to experience it myself, the 'dance' boats were gone.


Passenger Steamboats were very popular before the 20th century. . .Southern farm roads and railways were almost non-existent. . .but on a steamboat, a person could travel from Memphis to New Orleans, for instance, in Southern Style. . .

Belle of Memphis Dining Room

Steamboats were also the 18-wheelers of our century, carrying barrels of food, lumber, lumber products, tobacco, general goods for the household. . .anything that could be shipped.


More important to the many farms and plantations along the way, steamboats carried our bales of cotton to the markets. . .or to a port city such as Memphis. . .or St. Louis.

Memphis, TN ca 1870

Memphis was a major port on the Mississippi River for decades. . .


Memphis Levee 1909






1914




While the passengers traveled lavishly,  the boat workers had a life of sweat and toil for very little pay. . .The hazards of the river never let up. . .

1906

"You and me
We sweat and strain
Body all aching
And wracked with pain
Tote that barge
Lift that bale
Get a little drunk
And you land in jail. . .

I get weary
Sick of trying
I'm tired of living
Feared of dying
But ol' man river
He just keeps rolling along."
from the musical Showboat

The Delta Queen, ca. 1970s

Eventually, the steamboats were forced off the River, due to the safety hazard of their wooden hulls--with one exception. In the 1970s the Delta Queen was granted the opportunity to again travel on the Mississippi, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers. Joining its sister stern-wheeler were the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen, both built with a steel hull.  I was fortunate in my adult life to experience river travel on the Delta Queen four times. . .and the Mississippi Queen twice. . .Wonderful experiences. . .Nowadays, the only steamer with overnight accommodations is the new Queen of the Mississippi, which is based in Memphis. . .



Only a few steamboats still move along the Mississippi River in New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and other river cities. . .offering short trips on the paddle-wheelers. . .The sight of these historic riverboats convey a powerful reminder of steam-boating during the antebellum days of the past. . .days that are gone now and only spoken of in river folk lore. . .

The Robert E. Lee





. . .yet one truth remains. . .
that OL' MAN RIVER. . .He just keeps rolling along. . .




Coming Next: 
HISTORY THROUGH POSTCARDS: COTTON GINS AND MARKETS




Thursday, August 31, 2017

Little Chapel in the Field Reveal



We've done it . .The Little Chapel in the Field exterior is finished. . .Would you like to venture a guess of the final cost of this up-grade? . .$136.25. . .Had John and I not done the work ourselves, of course it would have been more. . .But, we enjoy a challenge. . .We had to take it slowly. . .and could only work when we had a spare hour or two. . .We also spent time searching the barns for make-do items we could incorporate. . .'It was a labor of love.'
I've had the idea for a while. . .since the year we purchased the up-right piano from a local country church. . .Crossroads Baptist Church was razed several years ago. . . The Blaylocks got in touch with us before the church was torn down. . . They ended up giving us so much more, including pews, a podium, songbooks and Bibles. . .I thought we might build a chapel for ourselves one day. . .Like we need more buildings . .(I think at last count we had twelve.)
Chapels or churches among the tenant houses and in local small communities are historically a big part of our Delta history. . .Country churches dotted the back roads. . .where almost every little settlement had it's own. . .Many were used for grades 1-8 schools in the early 20th century also. . .
So after a tornado damaged the roof and porch of our smallest example of a tenant house, I saw an opportunity to turn it into our own unique little chapel. . .As they say, 'The rest is history'. . .(pun intended).


The building we started with sure didn't look like much. . .just a small, grayed outbuilding. . .damaged by the winds and tornado. . .
Obviously. . .something needed to be done. . .We rolled up our sleeves and got to work. . .Nothing sketched out. . .We made it up as we went. . .The only rule was: We had to use as many repurposed supplies as we could. . .only purchasing items if we had absolutely nothing else.


 Our first task was to remove the porch. . .saving the decking that was usable. . .
Instead of side steps, we decided to place steps at the front.



We needed posts next. . .After combing the barn stalls with no luck, I remembered that I had seen the 1950s metal posts from my Grandmother's home in the loft of the big barn. . .Did I wait for a younger person to come along and climb up there? . . Of course not. .  .I've climbed all over that barn in my lifetime. . .I wasn't about to stop now. . .Sure enough, after upsetting Sissy and Fred (our barn owls) and digging through decades of junk, I spotted them. . .Perfect. . .
We did purchase the side railings. . .but the hand rails were recycled off the previous deck. . .They were given to us several years ago. . .




We decided to add the steeple before the porch roof. . .Can you guess what it is? . .A garden trellis. . .
It was black iron, so John simply painted it white. . .He made the aluminum cross from an old pair of crutches. . .We decided to leave the steeple open because we often have very strong winds and find ourselves in constant repair mode of our other buildings. . .This way the winds can blow right on through. . .


The building was spray painted white to look as if it were a little weather worn. . . the metal posts and rails were hand-painted with enamel. . .

First coat of paint. . .



Replacing the skirting with vintage corrugated tin. . .salvaged from other buildings over the years. . .was probably the hardest task of all. . .It wasn't the tin itself but the ground of 'concrete' (gumbo). . .If you live in this area, you know what gumbo is. . .and how it turns to 'concrete' in the Summer heat. . .Poor John had to get the pick axe out. . .for two days. . .


Once the skirting was in place, it was time to frame in the roof. . .and add new corrugated tin. . .leftover from re-roofing one of the shotgun houses earlier in the Spring. . .


We wanted a larger bell. . .and will be on the look-out for one. . .
but for now, the smaller bell will do. . .
To make the porch look more complete, we filled in the peak with more tin. . .





Our little chapel was done. . .We thought. . .but it was looking a little plain and lacking. . .We didn't want real windows for maintenance reasons. . .This had to be simple. . .


I was inspired by the country church birdhouse that John made for us a few years ago. . .Why not copy that idea on a much larger scale?. . .Had no idea what to use that wouldn't be costly. . .We searched the farm. . .without luck. . .One day while on a run to Lowes, I spotted fencing marked down to 98c per board. . .I guess you know we loaded them up. . .




Finally, the day came to begin adding accessories. . .and flowers. . .I planted white lilies in the concrete planters. . .It will be next year before they bloom. . .I also added day lilies to a big planter in back. . .Pulled out the wrought iron chairs and table, stored from my childhood home. . .Mulch. . .A bench on the porch. . .Simple things. . .
By the way, those stones around the flower pots are chunks of concrete salvaged from an old fireplace torn down a few years ago. . .That's the nice thing about having a big farm with lots of barns and buildings. . .STORAGE galore. . .


By next year, when the flowers and shrubs begin to take hold, our Little Chapel in the Field should look as if it has been there for decades. . .Isn't it amazing? . .One of my friends has dubbed it 'adorable'. . .It's almost hard for us to believe the before and after photos. . .

Before

After

Our Little Chapel in the Field turned out much better than we ever expected. . .Next Summer we'll work on the interior. . .adding the items from Crossroads Church and a few other articles we have found along the way. . .For now, I'm content to enjoy the outside. . .


Early Sunday is my favorite time to sit on the porch and gaze out at the cotton fields. . .enjoying the cool of the morning and the many Blessings we have here at the farm. . .It's very quiet, except for Faith (our dove) cooing at me. . .and sometimes a mockingbird fusses a little. . .No traffic or distractions. . .No tractors or machinery. . .Cool. . .Quiet. . .Calm. . .On days like that, my thoughts inevitably will go back to an old church hymn from my youth. . .

There's a church in the valley by the wildwood,
No lovelier spot in the dale (Dell),
No place is so dear to my childhood.
As the little brown (white) church in the vale. . .






Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Busy Summer



Schools are opening. . .The weather has cooled. . .Feels like Fall is on it's way. . .For us, it has been a VERY busy Summer. . .and we're not finished, yet. . .Thought you might like to see just a few of our projects. . .Our biggest project was the Little Chapel in the Field. . .The exterior is done. . .and I'll be posting photos of that work soon. . .

We're taking a slightly different direction with our Farmstead for the coming years. . .I will be sharing that with you soon. . .As in all things of Life, if you want to continue growing, changes often happen. . .It's a good thing. . .


Friday, June 2, 2017

Another Person's Trash Adds Color to the Tenant Houses



If you travel some of these back roads and see a white GMC pulled to the side and two people in the fields chasing discarded tires, just honk the horn and drive on by. . .We haven't lost our minds. . .We're not having truck problems. . .We're simply helping the local ecology and carrying on a Delta tradition. . .Old Tires. . .Spray Paint. . .Instant flower beds. . .What fun. . .


Originally, I wanted to make a border with the tires but we didn't find enough discards on our several trips out. . .Then one day I found a name brand spray paint for 1.50 a can and came straight home with it, painted those tires. and stacked them up. . .Still have to fill them with some dirt and flowers. . .That's later. . .I have another project that will bring even more color to the houses. . .Won't be long before I reveal it. . .


I painted more than the tires, though. . .Once I got started, I couldn't quit. . .benches. . .bins. . .rusted buckets. . .The only thing that stopped me was. . .I ran out of paint !!!!!


Certainly not Chic Decor. . .is it? . .but, it's exactly right for the old shotgun houses in the Historic District. . .Brings back some good memories for me. . .of the Turners. . .Cowboy. . .Cora. . .others I knew along the road. . .

So. . .in the future, if you see us on the roadside picking up tires, give us a honk and a wave. . .We'll be 'at it' again. . .




Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Daunting Task: Inventory, Repair, and a New Look for the Smith Grocery Museum


One of my very favorite places to hang out and reminisce on a regular basis is our almost 100 year old grocery museum. . .It's hard to believe that the building is that old. . .Built in 1919 by my grandfather Earl Magers, the store was located on Second Street in Dell. Over the years, it was rented by several store owners. Granddaddy owned it until ca. 1956, when he deeded it over to my Mom, my brother, and myself. I have such fond memories of the C A Smith Grocery Store from my growing up years that when we moved the building to Duncan Farmstead, no other name for it was right. I was able to use an old photograph to get the sign as much like the original as possible. 


While the exterior of the building resembles C. A.'s store, the interior does not. We were so blessed to have had so many donations from local people that we wanted to incorporate them into a typical company store. Thanks to Marguerite Brownlee and Marcia Partin, we have wonderful store fixtures and glass displays from the Brownlee Store and one of the early Dell Post Offices down to the postal directory. I cannot thank them enough for allowing us to save this part of Dell history. One of the displays dates back to 1903 and was first used in an early Dell establishment.


To fill those displays, in the beginning, I relied on family items and my collections. . .Now, almost ten years later, we have had numerous donations from friends in the Dell area, as well as others who live further away but knew of our project. We are grateful for each and every donation and have assured the donors that these items will continue on here at the historic district in the future. 


Which brings me to the daunting task at hand. It's time to put things in order and inventory each and every item. While listing our inventory, we are also changing the items within the store to better display all the generous donations and less of the family possessions. . .and to reflect the early 20th century time period. 


When we begin to 'restock' the shelves, our plans are to restore the donated items to their original appearance, as much as possible.. Repair, paint, and polish is in the work ahead of us. But first comes the weeding out of personal collections and family items for an estate sale and the inventory of all that will stay with the Historic District. . .Yes, a daunting task. . .but a definite step forward in protecting our local heritage.


We have a LOT of work ahead of us. . .
and we have several changes to make. . .
but I'm excited about the project, 
 knowing it will all come together. . .one day. . .