Before and After: Mississippi River Basin Model

There’s a new blog on the block, and I think a good number of you might want to add it to your blog reader. Created by “Kodachromeguy” and based in Vicksburg (I think this is the third photo/history blog from over Vicksburg way I’ve heard of lately–must be something in the water), it’s called Urban Decay:

This blog documents what remains when man abandons his buildings, homes, schools, and factories. These decaying structures represent his impact on his world: where he lived, how he worked, and what he built. But after they have been deserted, they still tell us about his dreams, his work, and his hopes.

Kodachromeguy is also a Life After People fan, a tv show to which as you recall I am also strangely drawn. One of his first posts shows several “after” pictures of today’s subject, the Mississippi River Basin Model, located in southwest Jackson. One of my (many) great regrets is that I never saw this model in action. The Model was a replica in miniature of the Mississippi River and its tributaries that guided the Army Corps of Engineers in its flood-control planning and predictions for about 50 years. Today they do everything by computer. I personally am still a believer in having a real live backup for when your computers get, like, flooded or such. Unfortunately, the Army Corps doesn’t agree with me–they abandoned the site back in the 1990s, as I recall.

The Model was placed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered List in 2000:

The Mississippi River Basin Model is the largest small-scale working model in existence. The reason it is so large is simply because any scale model of the Mississippi River Valley will be large. Moreover, finding a suitable scale to properly model the various hydraulic events in the valley proved to be a challenge during the design stage of its construction. The resulting model covered several acres. A working scale model of the Chesapeake Bay is the only other similar model in the United States.

Started in 1943 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River Basin Model is designed to study floods, drought and other weather events. The early excavation was carried out by German prisoners of war, who were captured in North Africa when Rommel’s Afrika Korps was destroyed by Anglo-American forces. Later concrete work [is] by local Jackson contractors. The model was completed and ready for use in the early 1950’s. Interestingly, a day on the river can be simulated in just 5.4 minutes using the model.

According to the postcard below, the model was a tourist site too, where engineer types could bring their dates and impress them with all their hydro-engineering expertise: “Open daily to the public Monday through Friday, with free guided tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

Well, those were the good ol’ days. Unfortunately, while the site is now owned by the City of Jackson and there was talk a few years back about trying to do something with it, our friend Kodachromeguy found it wide open last month to anyone who wants to come on the property and the model itself becoming overgrown. I don’t know at what point it won’t even be a model anymore–presumably the concrete will take a while to deteriorate, but once trees and brush start taking good root, there won’t be a way back. It was designated as a Mississippi Landmark in 1993, but that doesn’t protect it from just sitting and rotting away,

Check out some of Urban Decay’s other posts, including some recent shots of Jackson’s Hawkins Field and the Naval Reserve Center, which, as far as I know, is still under threat of being shorn of large chunks of itself to become a records center for MDAH.

Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation

19 replies

  1. Those types still take their dates there! It’s a regular stop for our family outings!


  2. The Mississippi River Basin Model is one of the coolest things I have ever heard of. I have been to Mud Island’s river model, but the MRBM must have been truly impressive in its heyday.


  3. I know–this is one of those places that doesn’t fit into the standard “preservation” lexicon and suffers from not having an organized constituency, but I think if it were open as a tourist attraction, it would be so unique it would attract people. I don’t even know what would need to happen to re-open it though.


    • I was in the Corps of Engineers when the model ran.

      It was thought to be accurate to within 1′ and within 1 hour on where crests would be and how high they would go.


  4. I went out there about a month or so ago, its geniunly amazing


  5. I’ve never seen it in person–is it accessible without getting into trouble? Not that I’m opposed to getting into trouble . . . :-)


  6. The Naval Reserve Center will not be “shorn of large chunks” as you stated. The main building (which looks like the bridge of a ship) is being repaired and preserved as we write. The interior will have no further work done on it until additional funds are appropriated by the legislature. Of the three “temporary” wings that stuck out of the back of the front building, the outer two and the back half of the middle one were demolished and a new building is being built in their place. This building will serve as the new State Records Center where records of state agencies will be temporarily stored. The Marine Barracks, the two story building at the rear of the property, will be refurbished into office space for the records center staff and work rooms for state agencies requiring access to their temporarily stored records. But again, that work will have to wait for additional funds. While the work site looks a mess right now, the basic structure of the buildings will be much improved once everything is finished. The center will become part of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History campus, which includes the old GM&O Railroad Depot (now undergoing renovation and repair), the Charlotte Capers Archives Building, the Old State Capitol Museum, and the William Winter Archives Building, as well as the soon to be reconstructed Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, stretching from Pearl Street on the south to Mississippi Street on the north.


    • I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
      I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
      I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
      From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
      I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
      I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
      About binomial theorem I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,
      With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

      I’m very good at integral and differential calculus;
      I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
      In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
      I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

      I know our mythic history, King Arthur’s and Sir Caradoc’s;
      I answer hard acrostics, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,
      I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
      In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
      I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
      I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
      Then I can hum a fugue of which I’ve heard the music’s din afore,
      And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

      Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
      And tell you ev’ry detail of Caractacus’s uniform:
      In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
      I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

      In fact, when I know what is meant by “mamelon” and “ravelin”,
      When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin,
      When such affairs as sorties and surprises I’m more wary at,
      And when I know precisely what is meant by “commissariat”,
      When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
      When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery—
      In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy—
      You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

      For my military knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,
      Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
      But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
      I am the very model of a modern Major-General.


    • Simply defining three-fourths of the building as “temporary” does not make it so. The three wings, while more utilitarian in appearance, were built of the same relatively light materials as the front section. Regardless, the whole building, as originally built, was listed on the National Register, not just the front section, and for the state’s official preservation agency to be the one demolishing “large chunks” of a National Register-listed building is especially troubling, regardless of how it will enlarge and enhance their growing empire.

      This doesn’t even begin to address the ridiculousness of a records storage facility being built in a floodplain that has flooded in recent memory and will flood again. It would be one thing if this were New Orleans, but there are plenty of locations in downtown Jackson that don’t have that particular downside and would have involved a much smaller construction bill, or no construction bill–there are plenty of warehouses downtown and elsewhere that could have been rented.

      And then to find out now that on top of all this, there’s actually no money to occupy the buildings or to “restore” the front section as had been promised . . . . Stunning. I smell an enormous rat. Not sure if it’s Legislature-sized, Governor-sized, or just MDAH-sized, but it’s a big one.


      • Not to mention that it is recommended by professional organizations that an off-site records center be located well away from the main building housing an archives; this is scarcely a block away from the Winter building.

        As I understand it, the rat comes from outside this particular agency. I think it is a Mississippi Dept. of Finance and Administration rat and it seems to be one of a large pack; see recent stories about the proposed Dept. of Revenue building site on the corner of Ridgewood Rd. and Lakeland Dr.


  7. Back on the topic of the Mississippi River Basin Model. Here’s the online version of the April 1948 issue of Popular Science magazine which has an article about the Mississippi River basin model built in Clinton. I think this link takes you to page 115 where the article starts. If not, just scroll down to page 115.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The River Basin Model is the SECOND. The original, built by Romel’s men held at Camp Clinton POW camp is nearby on the forest. It is basically intact except for being surrounded by a forest. We often take our kids to see both models after soccer practice.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Round the Blogosphere 1-24-2011 | Preservation in Mississippi
  2. The Disappearing Mississippi River Basin Model | jackson obscura
  3. Mississippi River Basin Model | 100 Wonders | Atlas Obscura – DARE to EXPLORE, A DIV. of OMNI INNOTECH

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