To Clarksdale and Back

I’ve been up to the Delta recently, all the way to Clarksdale. I love going to the Delta–any time of year, it’s always interesting and it seems to have a certain light that makes it all seem more lush. People outside of Mississippi don’t realize that the Delta is “up” in the northwestern part of the state. Before I moved here, many many moons ago, back before the World Wide Web, I assumed the Delta was around Natchez, since I figured “The Delta” was the delta of the Mississippi River. I was quickly disabused of that notion when I moved here–it is actually the delta formed by the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, the frequent flooding depositing rich soil many feet deep. While cotton has been King for a while (actually corn has supplanted it these last couple of years), pretty much anything can grow here, including soybeans, rice, and even catfish (yumm!).

I’ve often heard people say that the Delta is never-changing, that it’s a place that time forgot. In fact, I think it’s  changed the most of any section of the state in the last half century. If you look at old maps even as late as the 1950s, you see black dots all over the landscape, indicating houses lining every country road–those are almost all gone now, even the roads have changed alignment. The land is too valuable to leave empty buildings sitting there: I’ve seen areas that formerly held substantial brick school campuses now turned into farmland, no trace of the previous occupants. You’ll often drive past a cemetery in the middle of a field and realize that once a church building stood nearby along with probably a community of houses–all gone. Mechanization of agriculture has caused a mass exodus, leaving only a few hundred residents in some Delta counties.

I especially love Clarksdale–it’s rich with cultural complexity and it has a great downtown area that still seems very urban, unlike Greenville, which has suffered from demolitions over the years. When I first went to Clarksdale way back in the 1990s, the downtown was dead as a doornail. Today, even though it’s not back to its former self, it is definitely showing signs of re-birth, much of the new life having to do with the Delta Blues Museum and Ground Zero Blues Club. I didn’t take pictures of either of those two places–you can see them elsewhere I’m sure–but I did take pictures around town, even in the midst of rain showers. Why? For you, my readers, always for you!

Metropolitan Baptist Church

Metropolitan Baptist Church–while I’m thankful for the opportunity to take a good front view of this church, I realized later that the large grassy block in the foreground used to be covered with houses. There are a number of blocks in this African-American section of Clarksdale that have been completely cleared, including a couple in the commercial areas.

I think cornerstones are the greatest invention, but even better with the names of architect and builder.

I think cornerstones are the greatest invention, but even better with the names of architect and builder.

Two cornerstones even better--but still no architect and/or builder! :-(

Two cornerstones even better–but still no architect and/or builder! :-(

New Roxy Theater--this was the African American theater. I don't know when it was built--sometime in the late 1930s?

New Roxy Theater–this was the African American theater. I don’t know when it was built–sometime in the late 1930s?

First Methodist Church--built in 1917, I don't know the architect but maybe someone out there does?

First Methodist Church–built in 1917, I don’t know the architect but maybe someone out there does?

First Methodist Church interior--a really amazing space with beautiful light coming through the stained-glass windows.

First Methodist Church interior–a really amazing space with beautiful light coming through the stained-glass windows.

Temple Beth Israel--built 1929, designed by Delta architect Robert J. Moor. I think it must have been renovated at some point maybe in the 1960s? The blue tile posts are really interesting.

Temple Beth Israel–built 1929, designed by Delta architect Robert J. Moor. I think it must have been renovated at some point maybe in the 1960s? The blue tile posts are really interesting.

And now for something completely different . . .

Civic Auditorium--built as a WPA project in 1939 and designed by none other than Jackson architect E.L. Malvaney

Civic Auditorium–built as a WPA project in 1939 and designed by none other than Jackson architect E.L. Malvaney

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Categories: "To . . . and Back", African American History, Architectural Research, Blues Sites, Churches, Clarksdale, Cool Old Places, Museums, Urban/Rural Issues, Vernacular Architecture

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