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.”
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.
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.
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.