“The view from the roof of the building is magnificent in every direction”

Last week I was looking through the Cooper Postcard Collection–the immensely helpful research tool that MDAH has published online–for an image or two of streetcars in Vicksburg to highlight the Vicksburg trolley post. While trolling through the 12 pages for Vicksburg, I noticed a distinctive image, apparently taken from atop a tall building looking out over the city. When I clicked on the thumbnail, sure enough, the postcard caption noted that it was taken “from First National Bank Building.”

From Looking north-east from First National Bank Building, Showing Warren County Court House on hill, Vicksburg, Miss. Sysid 90863. Scanned as tiff in 2008/11/07 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

As I looked further, I found that a number of images were these types of “aerial” views of the city, and all of them noted their vantage point. One even catches the parapet of the bank building in the foreground.

Vicksburgers were especially proud of their 8-story skyscraper–the tallest building in the state when it was finished in 1907–and these images prove that they wanted to share their urbanity and modernity with the outside world. It’s hard today to realize the novelty of the experience of riding an elevator for the first time ever or walking on a roof 8 stories above the ground when the tallest buildings previously had been only three or maybe four stories tall. Luckily for us, a reporter for the Vicksburg Post vividly captured this experience for us in his article of June 1, 1907, which I came across in my early-summer trip through the Post microfilm. Along the way, he takes us on a journey through the nuts and bolts of the building–read on!

THROUGH BANK BUILDING

Contractor McGraw Shows Party of Newspapermen from Basement to Roof–Over 200 Rooms–Architect to Inspect Edifice Today.

Architect W.W. Knowles, of the First National bank building, will arrive here today for the purpose of inspecting the handsome new edifice before it is turned over to the owners. Contractor F.J. McGraw has finished his labors. Some interior work not called for in the original plans, is now being done, though the building will soon be ready for occupancy.

Yesterday afternoon Contractor McGraw took a party of newspaper men through the handsome bank building, from basement to roof. It is a big trip, this, inspecting the building, and though the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors were not visited, being alike in design and construction to the seventh, about an hour was consumed in the trip, and though the elevator was used in going up and down floors, the inspection proved physically tiresome.

In The Basement

Mr. McGraw started the tour in the boiler room to the rear of the basement. There are two boilers, one to be held in reserve while the other is being used. Also in the rear of the basement is situated the kitchen of the Herman restaurant. The northern side of the basement is being converted into a restaurant for Mr. Dave Herman. A small bar will be situated near the rear. A partition will separate the restaurant into two compartments, one for gentlemen, the other for ladies. There is abundant light in the basement. Underneath the slope of the room on the south side of the building there is an ample underground compartment. The Cassell Drug Company, it is stated, will occupy this store.

The Electric Room

Contractor McGraw lead the party into a little room in the basement wherein is located the electric switches, transformer and dynamo for running the elevators. “Don’t touch a thing boys,” warned McGraw, “for if you do you will get 2,250 volts of electricity through your body. That is instant death. I feel quaky every time I come here, so be careful.” Mr. McGraw explained the purpose of the machines, and declared there were seven different safety stops to prevent the elevator from falling. An accident could not take place to the elevators caused by falling, for its was impossible that the cars fall over three feet. The elevators were capable of lifting a load of 2,000 pounds, said Mr. McGraw, and ran at the rate of 300 feet per minute.

Fire Safeguards

The contractor showed the newspapermen a belt contrivance to be used by window washers on the building. This harness affair would prevent a person falling from window ledges while at work thereon. Before leaving the basement, Contractor McGraw explained that there was a line of hose on every floor, and a hose reel that would reach any room on the floor. Usually water pressure was depended on, but should this pressure be off or diminished, it was possible to connect an engine to the pipes and furnish water on all floors.

The stairs are cast-iron from basement to roof. The banisters, along, are of wood, the tread being of slate.

The party was then assembled in the elevator and quickly carried to the eighth floor. Between the eighth floor and the roof there is an air space, which will prevent the upper floor becoming unduly hot or cold. It was explained by Mr. McGraw that in a large city this space would certainly be utilized for some purpose. The present intention in this building is not to use the space.

On the Roof

In getting to the roof it is necessary to climb a short iron ladder and clamber through a small aperture. The view from the roof of the building is magnificent in every direction. The Illinois memorial temple and the Minnesota shaft loom up plainly in the distance. Houston’s plant to the north, the canal and the Mississippi river and Delta, La. are brought within one’s vision, and many parts of the city are visible from an odd point of view.

Before descending Mr. McGraw explained that tile and concrete was laid between each floor. Gypsum blocks, which are made of an asbestos composition are used for the partitions and conduit system of wiring has been used over the whole building. This eliminates possibility of fires from the wearing off of insulation or such causes.

In all, there are about 200 rooms in the big building. Individual meter systems will be used, both as regards gas and electricity. Each occupant will pay for the exact amount of light consumed. The building is heated throughout by steam, and there is a radiator in every compartment.

Mail Chute

An interesting and convenient innovation is a mail chute from the eighth to the first floor. Letters may be dropped in at any floor. Mr. McGraw is author for the statement that even an egg might be dropped the full distance to the cushioned receptacle beneath without breaking.

Toilet rooms, neat and complete, are situated near the stairways, midway between each floor. The eighth floor is to be used by Capt. G.M. Hoffman and the U.S. engineers, and two large rooms on either side of the building take up much of the space.

The suite of rooms facing Washington street on the seventh floor have been secured by Smith, Hirsh & Landau. These quarters will be most elegant. There are numerous smaller rooms on this floor and the floors below. The rooms on the second floor are larger than those above, more roomy and light, and all the floors will contain first class office accommodations.

Through the building, quarter sawed and plain oak and San Domingo mahogany are used in the trimmings. In the vestibule entrance scaggoliga [scagliola] marble, which is most handsome, is used lavishly. A small apartment near the entrance has been leased by the Quin-Sharp drug company to be used as a cigar stand.

The Bank Quarters

Contractor McGraw next escorted the reporters through the banking quarters. The handsome fixtures are now being installed. The vault is of great proportions. The door and frame weigh no less than 14,000 pounds. A triple clock arrangement enables the vault to be locked, not to be opened until a stated time, for as long a period as 72 hours. The Mosler Safe Company are builders of the vault.

A mezzanine floor, over the bank, contains stationery rooms and convenient quarters for the bank clerks.

Vault in Old Mud Hole

A visit was then made to the vault in the basement. This is situated even lower than the floor of the remainder of the basement. The floor of the vault is absolutely dry, though McGraw explained that in putting the pules, making the excavations, and laying the concrete, this identical spot was a most troublesome mudhole. The tour of the building complete, Contractor McGraw asked the party to step in the elevator, when the trip from the bottom to the top of the building, a total distance of 375 feet, was completed in 55 seconds.

Great Task Well Done

The building of such a structure is an enormous task, and Contractor McGraw has every right to feel a pride in the elegant edifice that has been completed under his direction. The people of the city will be surprised when the building is thrown open to find what an elegant building has been erected here, without an unseemly blow of trumpets and without a single serious accident.

It is stated that C.L. Hennessey & Bros. will be the rental agents of the building.

From First National Bank Building, Vicksburg, Miss. Sysid 92322. Scanned as tiff in 2008/11/18 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History



Categories: Architectural Research, Vicksburg

11 replies

  1. Wow such a cool description of the building. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. WOW!!! What a beautiful building. Have been to Vicksburg many, many times…..is the building gone? I would have noticed something that beautiful.

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    • Should have mentioned that the building is still there, but has lost that crowning cornice, so isn’t really as striking as this postcard image. It’s at the southwest corner of Clay and Washington Streets.

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  3. In the second postcard, which is a view looking southeast, you can see the steeple of the old St. Paul’s church. The steeple is gone because the church was badly damaged in the 1953 tornado and had to be torn down. The brick building to the left of the National Bank Building (to the east on Clay Street) was razed in the 1970s during a misguided experiment in urban rehabilitation. An ugly concrete parking garage is in its place now. .

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  4. I have looked all over for an actual picture of the bank building and couldn’t find one. I finally used google maps and selected street view. The post card makes the building look much different–much prettier than the actual building. I don’t expect the google map photo to be a masterpiece, but it seems to show the building definitely looks different than depicted in the post card.

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  5. You’re right, there aren’t many good photos of the building out there. The MDAH database has a couple: https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=27534&x=1920&y=985&bg=white&view=photos&DateTaken=Aug%202007

    And Bing Maps has a decent aerial view: http://binged.it/td2scN

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  6. The windows have been replaced with unfortunate multi-pane sash and of course that cornice is gone. The brick is not as dark as the postcard image, and the terra cotta therefore isn’t as striking as in the postcard. I agree it’s kind of an awkward-looking building, even apart from the later alterations. Architects were still struggling with what to do with taller buildings, but this architect was from NYC, so you would expect he would have been able to handle an 8-story building with a little more finesse. I think maybe it’s the over-use of terra cotta? It makes it too busy perhaps.

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  7. I think the contrast with the darker brick was what made it look so unique. Do you know why they removed the cornice?

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  8. The building in currently undergoing an extensive renovation to the upper floors. The first floor and part of the second is home to the regional headquarters of Trustmark Bank. We are constructing 55 loft style apartments, to be ready for occupants in January 2014. The building will be topped by a rooftop bar and grill, 10South. The cornice fell in the tornado of 1953, and will be replaced as part of the current renovation. The “photo” you are looking at is an artist’s rendering of the building that was don’t prior to its construction. Thank you for your interest and love of this building. We look forward to putting it back into service for the community. Visit our website at http://www.loftsatfnv.com

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