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Snapshots: Anniston - Alabama's Model City

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Snapshots: Anniston - Alabama's Model City

I came to Anniston, Alabama to visit the relatively new Freedom Riders National Monument designated in 2017 by President Obama. Anniston became the last stop on the route of the original Freedom Riders’ ride to protest segregation on interstate transport in the South in 1961. When the bus crossed the line from Georgia into Alabama, Anniston was the first station over the border. The Greyhound bus pulled into the station where it was met by White Segregationists and Klansmen who let it be known that integration would not stand in Alabama. When the bus pulled out of town, it was attacked and set on fire just six miles down the road. A few blocks away, the Trailways bus used in the ride was boarded at the station and the Freedom Riders were badly beaten. While the Monument is still in development, there are some fascinating signs and diagrams at the sites of both of the former bus stations. Both are informative and unbiased, as I would expect from the National Park Service. I thought it was worth the trip just for that, but as I looked around town, I really liked what I saw. Anniston has a well-maintained Main Street area (actually called Noble Street), and some cool old buildings and businesses. There are some great murals and a nice art project around town made from old bicycles. There were some beautiful abandoned buildings in Anniston as well, which I find fascinating and interesting to photograph. Anniston was given the nickname “The Model City” in the late 19th Century, since it was a carefully planned city which grew up around an iron furnace after the Civil War. Originally called Woodstock, it was renamed Annie’s Town after the daughter of the Union general who had expanded the town and enlarged the furnace after the war. The name was later shortened to Anniston. While I was only there for a few hours, I really enjoyed my visit to Anniston, and I hope you will enjoy the photos that resulted.

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Snapshots: Birmingham - Alabama's Magic City

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Snapshots: Birmingham - Alabama's Magic City

Birmingham is Alabama’s most populous city, and was, from its very beginning, an industrial town. Founded in the wake of the Civil War, Birmingham got its name from its British cousin, the UK’s industrial center. One of the only places in the world where large amounts of iron-ore, coal and limestone are all naturally present, Birmingham was destined to become a steel town. The city would become a major producer of rail lines and rail cars and a major railroad hub itself. As the steel industry grew, so to did the town as some of the South’s earliest skyscrapers were built. Birmingham grew so fast during the Industrial Revolution and was so well suited to emerging industries that it became known as “The Magic City”. For many of the same reasons, the Great Depression hit Birmingham particularly hard, and with its residents fighting for work animosity grew, especially along racial lines. Birmingham would rebound during and after World War II, but as the Civil Rights Movement took hold, it became a primary battleground in the cause. It was obviously where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and police violence against peaceful protesters garnered international media coverage. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young girls, was one of the final straws that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and had many newspapers refer to Birmingham as “Bombingham” or “The Tragic City”. Today, Birmingham is a mid-sized but somewhat sleepy city. There are some beautiful old buildings and plenty of modern ones too. Birmingham has taken ownership of its role in the Civil Rights Movement with the excellent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and a number of signs and statues around the city. With a great Minor League Baseball stadium, a vibrant University district and some excellent breweries, live music venues and restaurants, Birmingham is definitely a city on the rise. I really enjoyed my stay in town, and would definitely recommend you visit, especially in the spring when baseball is in the air and the flowers are in bloom. Enjoy these photos I took during my stay in The Magic City.

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Snapshots: Selma - Faded Glory in the Black Belt

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Snapshots: Selma - Faded Glory in the Black Belt

Selma, Alabama is a stunning city. Rarely have I driven into a place on this whole journey where I have been more eager to jump out of my van and start taking photos. The downtown area is packed with historic buildings reminiscent of days gone by. The neighborhoods are full of old Victorian-era mansions that hark back to better days in the Queen City of the Black Belt. As in most of the Black Belt of Alabama, cotton was king during the antebellum period and Selma’s position right on the Alabama River made it a prime place for a thriving city. During the war, Selma was a major shipbuilding center and manufacturing town for the confederacy. The post-war years were difficult on Selma and race relations were strained way past the point of breaking as lynchings and intimidation were common occurrences. Selma became notorious during the Civil Rights Movement, especially on the topic of voting rights, and was the jumping off point for the Selma to Montgomery March. Driving or walking around Selma today, it is apparent that the city has seen better days. Buildings are crumbling and many of the old homes are boarded up and falling apart, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture what it once was. As in so many parts of the country, the economy in Selma is struggling and there aren’t enough jobs or money to go around. I hope for the best for the future of this beautiful city. You should definitely go for a visit, spend some time in the wonderful Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail visitor center run by the National Park Service, walk across the Edmund Petus Bridge and then just go for a ramble and see what you can find. While at first glance you may think that “Queen City” is a bit grandiose, but the deeper you look the more appropriate you’ll find it. I hope you enjoy these photos from The Queen City of the Black Belt.

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This Week on the Road - April 25th-May 2nd

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This Week on the Road - April 25th-May 2nd

It’s been busy, busy, busy out here on the road this week. This week has taken me from Selma to Demopolis in Western Alabama, back through Tuscaloosa to Birmingham and then north and west through Bankhead National Forest and on to Muscle Shoals where I am writing to you from today. I celebrated Orthodox Easter, hiked to some waterfalls, shouted “Roll Tide”, ate quail, and of course took lots of photos along the way. I’m into the home stretch of this leg of the journey as I need to be home in a week and a half, so I’ve been hustling out here. I have made plenty of time to stop and smell the beautiful wildflowers though, and enjoy some hills after 4 months of flatness in every direction. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along.

After publishing last week’s This Week, I headed directly for Old Cahawba, the first capital city of the state of Alabama. It served as the capital from 1820-1825, but regular flooding caused the legislature to move out to higher ground. The city declined over the next century and by the time of its centennial, Cahawba was all but abandoned. Today there is nothing left but a few brick columns, an old cemetery and a few foundations. There really wasn’t much to see, but I enjoyed wandering around and imagining myself back to its heyday when its citizens probably thought it was a pretty cool place. Cahawba is managed today as a State Archaeological Site. It’s only about 20 minutes from Selma and for me it was worth seeing, but I wouldn’t necessarily go too far out of my way to visit…

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Snapshots: Montgomery - The Heart of The Heart of Dixie

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Snapshots: Montgomery - The Heart of The Heart of Dixie

Montgomery, Alabama is a town full of history. Founded on the Alabama River soon after Alabama became a state in 1819, it became the state capital in 1846. Montgomery served as the capital of the Confederacy for four months following the state’s secession, and is where Jefferson Davis took his oath of office as President. Montgomery has also been the site of many Civil Rights battles, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr. served as the pastor for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for several years. Today, Montgomery is a clean and quiet city with some beautiful buildings, a great riverfront and lots of fascinating museums. I really enjoyed my visit to Alabama’s capital city and hope you enjoy these photos from my stay.

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Snapshots: Dothan, Alabama - Murals and Magic in the Wiregrass

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Snapshots: Dothan, Alabama - Murals and Magic in the Wiregrass

Pulling into downtown Dothan, Alabama, I had no idea what to expect from it. I knew it was the seventh largest city in Alabama, and the “Hub of the Wiregrass” - a region which covers southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia and parts of the Florida panhandle. Other than that I was pretty much going in blind. What I found was a pleasant city with a compact downtown full of beautiful murals and statues. Dothan has an excellent art museum, a gorgeous opera house, and some wonderful cafes and restaurants all within just a few blocks of each other. It was a quiet and pleasurable place for a stroll, and I had a beautiful day to do just that. I spent several hours photographing this beautiful city, and you can see the results in this post. I really enjoyed my time in Dothan and I’m already looking forward to my next visit. If you’re ever in southeast Alabama, be sure you stop in and say ‘hello’ - you will definitely be surprised by what you find here.

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Snapshots: Down But Not Out in Alexandria

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Snapshots: Down But Not Out in Alexandria

Coming into Alexandria, Louisiana up Route 1 from the south was a difficult ride. Buildings were crumbling, houses were obviously lived in but shouldn’t have been and the road itself was terrible. And then, before I knew it, I was in the heart of downtown, and at first glance it was more of the same. Broken glass, graffiti and boarded up old buildings seemed to be everywhere. I seriously considered turning around and heading right back out of town. But I knew Alexandria had been around for over 200 years and sat right on the banks of the Red River; there must be beauty there to capture somewhere. So I parked and started walking and slowly, very slowly, the beauty of Alexandria started to emerge from the cracks. I started wiping away the years with my mind and my lens and found some extraordinary buildings and scenes to photograph. And then, as happens, I started talking to the people who live there and every one of them from the businessmen to the homeless people were unbelievably friendly. While I found all of these wonderful scenes as I wandered the city, I would still say Alexandria’s real beauty is in its people. The more I lingered and the more people I talked to, the more it grew on me. I went to see a play at the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center, took a stroll along the levy and stopped in for a beer or two at Finnegan’s Wake. By the time I was pulling out of town, I had an entirely different opinion of Alexandria. This was definitely a case of “don’t judge a book by its cover”, stick around a while and you might just like what you find there.

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Snapshots: Monroe, Louisiana - A Diamond in the Rough

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Snapshots: Monroe, Louisiana - A Diamond in the Rough

I had no expectations when I pulled into downtown Monroe, Louisiana last week. I had really never heard anything about it, good or bad. It was the biggest town in northeast Louisiana, but that was about the extent of my knowledge as I headed into town. Sometimes it is great when you go into a place blind, because you can see it completely unhindered by preconceived notions of what it should look like. I was impressed the moment I hit downtown by the beautiful classically industrial architecture and the lovely riverfront park and bridge. It helped that it was a gorgeous evening, but my camera and I were kept busy for hours as I wandered the streets, with amazing shots around every corner. I really had a great time taking these photos, even though it was really quiet as I wandered the streets. At one point, I was taking a photo on a street corner and a police car was stopped at the light. The officer rolled down his window and said something along the lines of “just taking photos of beautiful downtown Monroe?”. I replied “yes, I am” to which he just laughed and laughed. The light turned green, and I could still hear him laughing as he drove off into the evening. I wish I had called after him and given him my card so he could see these photos. Maybe it takes an outsider to see the real beauty in a place, and maybe that’s what makes me the right person to shoot these kinds of photos. I know he found it hilarious, but I loved my short stay in Monroe. It is truly a diamond in the rough of northeastern Louisiana.

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Snapshots: Ratchet City Blues

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Snapshots: Ratchet City Blues

When I arrived in Shreveport, my first impression was that I had found Biff Tannen’s alternate future from Back to the Future II. Massive casinos line both sides of the Red River and the Hustler Club is prominently placed nearby. The streets were empty and the rest of town appeared to be falling apart, except for the outet mall across the river which seemed to be the place to go.. As I looked closer though, I started to find Shreveport’s hidden gems. The Noble Savage Tavern on Texas Street, for example, where great local food, drinks and music are only made better by the excellent staff. Or at Strawn’s Eat Shop out on King’s Highway, where I got the best slice of pie I’ve ever had in my life (their strawberry ice box pie). Then I started spotting some of the lovely murals and public art projects around town and I started to come around on the place. Finally I went to two wonderful local festivals where I ate well, heard some great music and met many of the wonderful people that live there. Shreveport took a major hit when Standard Oil left town in the eighties, but seems to me on the upswing. There are some beautiful old buildings around town, though many are in desperate need of repair. There is much to love about the Ratchet City, but much like a great blues song you need to look a little deeper to see what makes it special. I hope you enjoy these photos from my visit to Shreveport.

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