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Snapshots: Maui

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Snapshots: Maui

I got to visit Maui twice during my month in Hawaii, and what a beautiful island it is. It seems like each time you turn the corner the view is somehow more stunning than the last. The beaches are beautiful and inviting, the locals are friendly and quick to offer advice, and the landscape is amazingly diverse for such a tiny island. This post will start with the amazing journey down the Road to Hana, one of America’s greatest road trips. Although short in miles, it’s long on beautiful views and sites to see. Then I’ll take you to the summit of Haleakala in the National Park of the same name, to gaze out over this amazing volcano, high above the clouds. Finally, we’ll go on a sunset stroll around the beautiful town of Lahaina, where whalers, missionaries and Hawaiian royalty once mingled. Even though these photos only scratch the surface of what Maui has to offer, I’m sure you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

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Snapshots: Gadsden, Alabama's City of Champions

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Snapshots: Gadsden, Alabama's City of Champions

Gadsden rests quietly on the banks of the Coosa River in Northwest Alabama. Founded in 1825 and originally called Double Springs, the town was renamed in honor of American diplomat James Gadsden. James Gadsden was most famous for negotiating the Gadsden Purchase, which included parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico, the acquisition of which allowed for the building of a transcontinental railroad. The town of Gadsden was once a major riverboat port and would become a center of industry during the industrial revolution. That industry would allow Gadsden to thrive for much of the next century, but as companies left town in the seventies and eighties, the city fell on hard times. Gadsden has worked hard to redevelop its downtown area and while it’s definitely a sleepy town, it has a lot of charm. I really enjoyed my visit to Gadsden. I hadn’t been there in many years and was happy to see so many storefronts occupied and to find downtown bustling. If you ever find yourself in the area, set aside some time for a stroll downtown, a visit to the art gallery and some seafood at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. You’ll be glad you did. Enjoy these photos from downtown Gadsden, Alabama’s City of Champions.

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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: Florence - Street Art and Sunsets in Northwest Alabama

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Snapshots: Florence - Street Art and Sunsets in Northwest Alabama

Florence, Alabama is a really neat little city in the far northwest corner of the state. It is part of a region referred to collectively as The Shoals, which includes the towns of Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield. Florence sits right on the Tennessee River, and was named for the city in Italy by the Italian surveyor who helped lay out the original plan. Florence is the hometown of both W.C. Handy and Sam Phillips, so musical traditions run deep in the area. In fact, it seemed like the arts were well represented in general there as is displayed by the beautiful street art you’ll see in this post. During my visit I also caught a wonderful performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the beautiful Shoals Theater, right in the heart of town. I really enjoyed wandering the streets of Florence and spending some time in the riverfront McFarland Park. While I spent my days touring nearby FAME Recording Studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the birthplace of Helen Keller, I kept finding myself drawn back across the river in the evening to experience all this town had to offer, from nice restaurants to some cool live music venues. While there is so much to see and do in this part of Alabama, be sure to save some time for a stroll around downtown Florence, “Alabama’s Renaissance City”. You’ll be glad you did.

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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: Demopolis - The Heart of the Canebrake

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Snapshots: Demopolis - The Heart of the Canebrake

Demopolis is a beautiful town in the heart of the Canebreak region of Western Alabama. This part of the state was once covered with thick stands of a native bamboo-like species called Arundinaria. While much of this cane was destroyed to make room for cotton plantations, the area is still called the Canebreak, and Demopolis is the region’s biggest town. Demopolis was founded by a group of French expats in 1817 and given its name from the Greek for The People’s City. It would become a major transportation hub, sitting at the confluence of the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers, a status which would only grow when the railroad arrived. Today, Demopolis is a quaint and quiet town of around 7,000. I really loved it there and kept thinking it’s what a Norman Rockwell painting would look like if it aged a few decades. The old brick buildings have stood up well to the tests of time and the town has a lot of charm to it. While I wish I had had a little better weather to take these photos in, I still think they show the beauty of Demopolis, a small town which is the heart of the Canebreak.

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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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Rickwood Field: America's Oldest Baseball Stadium

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Rickwood Field: America's Oldest Baseball Stadium

Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama was built by industrialist Rick Woodward, and opened its doors for Opening Day on August 18th, 1910, making it the oldest professional baseball park still standing in the United States. In its heyday, RIckwood saw the likes of Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron pass through its gates. In addition to being home of the Birmingham Barons, Rickwood Field was also home to the Negro League’s Black Barons. Local legend Willie Mays got his start with the Black Barons at Rickwood when he was just 16. The great pitcher Satchel Paige also spent several years with the Black Barons in the 1920’s. During the sixties, there was a minor league affiliate of the Kansas City (later Oakland) A’s playing at Rickwood, which included on their roster Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. When the A’s left town, a new Barons team was brought in several years later, and played at the old stadium until 1987. Today, the Barons play one game a year at their historic stadium, called the Rickwood Classic. The field is still used regularly though, hosting local high school games, adult recreation leagues and even the odd corporate softball game or wedding. Since 1992, the stadium has been in the care of the Friends of Rickwood who not only maintain the stadium, but have attempted to restore it a little at a time to it’s 1948 appearance. The stadium has been used in several films including Cobb, Soul of the Game, and, most recently, 42. It is a wonderful place to visit and is full of history and nostalgia. I spent time just sitting in the bleachers and enjoying the quiet view. Next time you’re in Birmingham, go check out Rickwood Field. If you like baseball or just cool old buildings, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

You can find Gip’s place using your GPS these days. It’s probably on there, but at some point you’re just going to have to trust it and keep going. And you’re just going to have to trust me that it will be worth it. Gip’s is a special place, one of the last authentic Southern Juke Joints, and the very last in the whole state of Alabama. It’s only about a half-hour from downtown Birmingham, but it’s a world away. Henry “Gip” Gipson has been hosting people in his backyard since 1952, slowly adding this and that along the way until he had created a real music venue with a stage and lights and a sound system. He was a grave digger by day, so he needed an outlet in his down time and he found that outlet in the blues. Today, Mr. Gip is almost a hundred years old, but he still enjoys welcoming people into his Juke Joint, sipping a beer and listening to great music. Since he never had a business license, local authorities shut him down several years ago. He said he might not be able to run a business without a license, but nobody was going to stop him from throwing a party in his backyard every Saturday night. And that’s exactly what it is. Bring your own drinks and make a contribution for the band and the bills and then pull up a seat and enjoy. Feel free to get out and dance too. While Mr. Gip is in a wheelchair these days, I remember when he would dance the night away with any- and everyone that walked in the door. And everyone is welcome at Gip’s Place. If you don’t believe there is a place where young and old, black and white, American and international people can get along anymore, you’ve clearly never been to Gip’s on a Saturday night. When I was there this last weekend I even saw Elvis and Marilyn there. There were people in shorts and T-shirts, and others in business suits and ties. Out front in the parking lot, there were cars and trucks of all makes and models, and even a limousine. You really have to go, and go now, because Mr. Gip isn’t going to be around forever and once he goes, it’s unlikely that the community will allow this place to continue. Even if they do, it won’t be the same without the man himself holding court on the dance floor. This place is as iconically Southern as it gets. Be sure you see it before it’s gone.

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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: Burnt Corn

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Snapshots: Burnt Corn

Burnt Corn, Alabama is a quiet community of about 300 people in the southeast of the state. It is actually a town that pre-dates the formation of the state of Alabama and traces its roots back to the early 1800’s when it was a stop on the old Federal Road connecting Washington D.C. to New Orleans. A post office opened in town in 1817 and operated there all the way until 2002. It’s a beautiful little town which I enjoyed stopping in to take these photos. To read the full history of the town and find out more about the different interpretations of how Burnt Corn got its name, check out THIS fact-filled website about the town. If you’re ever passing through the area, take a few minutes to detour to beautiful Burnt Corn, Alabama.

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