What is: The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, MS

What was: Previously the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital where Bessie Smith died in 1937, it was transformed into a hotel by Mrs. Z. L. Ratliff in 1944. The Riverside Hotel opened for business in 1944. Mrs. Hill purchased the building in 1957 and it has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family to this day.

As one of the only African American hotels in Jim Crow Mississippi, it was listed in the Greenbook and played host to a Who’s Who of blues and R&B legends including Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sam Cooke whose legendary song, “A Change is Gonna Come” is believed to reference the nearby Sunflower River.” Others, including Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Robert Nighthawk, liked the place so much they moved in.

Ike Turner was living here in 1951 when he and fellow Clarksdalian Jackie Brenston wrote, rehearsed here (and then recorded at Sun Studio’s) what many consider the first rock ‘n roll song, “Rocket 88.”

It was a safe space for traveling musicians and became a community hub and the most blues-historic hotel in the world.

The Riverside Hotel is the only blues hotel that is still Black-owned in Clarksdale. But the building, which has not been operational since storm damage in April 2020, needs significant rehabilitation. The family is determined to continue to honor the legacy of their family and restore and reopen its doors.  In 2021 it was recognized as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

The Ratliff family is looking for donors and partnerships to ensure that this invaluable history is here for generations to come! Please donate to support its’ preservation. Source: http://www.riversideclarksdale.com/

What is: This is just around the corner from where Muddy Waters lived on the Stoval Plantation, Abandoned Sharecropping Home at the edge of the fields, Stovall Plantation, MS

What was: Typical sharecropper shack was usually located with the crop entirely surrounding the house. After the Civil War, former slaves sought jobs, and planters sought laborers. The absence of cash or an independent credit system led to the creation of sharecropping.

Sharecropping is a system where the landlord/planter allows a tenant to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop. This encouraged tenants to work to produce the biggest harvest that they could, and ensured they would remain tied to the land and unlikely to leave for other opportunities.

In the South, after the Civil War, many black families rented land from white owners and raised cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and rice. In many cases, the landlords or nearby merchants would lease equipment to the renters, and offer seed, fertilizer, food, and other items on credit until the harvest season. At that time, the tenant and landlord or merchant would settle up, figuring out who owed whom and how much.

High interest rates, unpredictable harvests, and unscrupulous landlords and merchants often kept tenant farm families severely indebted. Approximately two-thirds of all sharecroppers were white, and one third were black. Source: PBS’s Slavery By Another Name, https://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/sharecropping/

 

Highway 460, Waverly, Virginia.The abandoned and now destroyed Melody Motel/ Inn. Neighboring Adult Video Store

Its a short story…and in a year since this was taken…It’s gone.

Highway 460, Waverly, Virginia.

The abandoned (and now destroyed) Melody Motel/ Inn.

Neighboring Adult Video Store

What is: the signature orange roof but the weather vane is gone and the building os overgown by vines. Could be anywhere in the USA.  This one is at the interchange of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.

What was: The weather vanes on Howard Johnson orange roof helped patrons immediately identify the Howard Johnson’s restaurants and motels.

Howard Johnson’s was a pioneer of franchising and the nationwide roadside restaurant, replicating everything from its look to its menus. At its zenith, Howard Johnson’s operated more than 1,000 restaurants,

Howard Deering Johnson opened a drugstore and found the soda fountain was a money maker. He soon found a recipe for great ice cream and created his famous and popular 28 flavors of ice cream. That led to beach stands and ultimately to a restaurant serving clams.

The second restaurant was franchised making it one of America’s first franchising agreements. As America entered WW II there were 200 Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Due to the impact of the war, by 1944, there were only 12 Howard Johnson’s restaurants.

Johnson bid for and won exclusive rights to serve drivers at service station turn offs on the newly built turnpike systems in the 1940s and by 1954, there were 400 Howard Johnson’s restaurants in 32 states.

Howard Johnson’s went public in 1961. By 1975, Howard Johnson’s company had more than 1,000 restaurants in 42 states and Canada. By the late 1970s the decline began, partially because of the oil embargo of 1974,which resulted in reduced travel by car, as well as changing competitive marketplace.

What is: Often abandoned, standing taller than the local courthouse, grain elevators in small town across Texas and the United States.

What was: Whether they hold corn, milo, soybeans, or sunflower seeds, all grain elevators are basically big storage tanks. The number of operating grain elevators peaked around 1984 at around 1500 members in the Texas association. Today there are fewer than than 500 in Texas.

The small-town, family-owned elevators are going the way of the independent grocers. Kids aren’t interested in continuing the business, so they’re either selling out or shutting the doors. Many of the concrete cathedrals of the plains were built after World War II to store government-owned grain. Like the cotton gins of Mississippi, delivering product to the elevators was a social time, as all the local farmers got together to compare notes and share stories.

What is: Robinson Grain Co., Conway TX. The Handbook of Texas reports Conway had a population of 175 in 1969 but only 50 people in 1970. In 2016 the population was recorded as three

What was: Grain elevators were invented by Joseph Dart and Robert Dunbar in 1842 in Buffalo, New York. They created the grain elevators to help with the problem of unloading and storing grain that was being transported through the Erie Canal. Grain Elevators in Conway TX date back to about 1914 and these ones are beside the abandoned railway roadbed of the Chicago, RockIsland and Gulf Railway.

A grain elevator is a facility for agriculture designed to stockpile or store grain. Bucket elevators are used to lift grain to a and then it can fall through spouts and/or conveyors into one or more bins, silos, or tanks in a facility. It can then be emptied from bins, tanks, and silos, and conveyed, blended, and weighted into trucks, railroad cars, or barges for shipment. Concrete silos are better than wood or metal bins because the thick walls insulate the grain from extreme weather

In 1994, this facility was privately owned and was considered a small regional grain elevator. There were 6 locations in the area with a capacity of 4.5 million bushels of storage. It was part of the Texas Grain and Feed Association representing 900 grain, feed and processing firms at that time. Today that organization supports some 400 member companies ranging from sizable producers to medium and small-scale family-owned companies such as feed producers and grain marketing businesses. Ben Boerner, Texas Grain and Feed president noted, “The small-town, family-owned elevators are going the way of the independent grocers,” Boerner says. “The kids aren’t interested in continuing the business, so they’re either selling out or shutting the doors.” (Source: https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2008-02-08/589092/)

What is: the Kimo theatre was the first to fuse art deco with Native American architectural/decoration — it was called Pueblo Deco style.

What was: The Kimo theatre came to life a year after the birth of Route 66. It was an example of opulent film theatres that came to life in the 1920s. It was built for both stage productions and motion pictures. In 1961 a fire destroyed parts of it. By 1968 it had fallen into disrepair. It was restored and revitalized in the 1990s.

What is: Abandoned Buildings, MLK and Yazoo Avenue area, Clarksdale, MS

What was: The neighborhood was known as the New World from the beginning of the twentieth Century.  A breeding ground for ragtime, blues and jazz.

Clarksdale was a prosperous Cotton town.  African American slaves cultivated and processed cotton, worked as artisans, and cultivated and processed produce and livestock on the plantations. They built the wealth of “King Cotton” in the state. The 1860 U.S. Census data shows Coahoma County, where Clarksdale is located, had a population of 1,521 whites and 5,085 slaves.

By the beginning of the 20th Century, Clarksdale was known as the “Golden Buckle in the Cotton Belt”  — a home to a multi-cultural mixture of Lebanese, Italian, Chinese and Jewish immigrant merchants along with African-Americans farm laborers and white plantation owners. Brothels attracted black and white clientele. On Saturday’s the sharecroppers filled the streets shopping, socializing, drinking in the jukes and listening to blues.  On Sunday’s a sabbath calm prevailed with everyone filling local churches.

In 1944, the first commercial, machinery produced, cotton crop was produced near here on 28 acres owned by the Hopson Planting Company of Clarksdale. The machinery took over everything from planting to baling, changing the demand for labor and more.

What is: Abandoned House in the fields on the way to Nat Turner’s Cave. Southampton County, Virginia

What was: In 1831, a slave rebellion was led by Nat Turner.  The slaves went from farm to farm in Southampton County killing the white slave owners.  Scores of blacks were murdered in reprisals throughout the South.

The legacy of the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history still hangs over the sandy soil, blackwater cypress swamps and abandoned homes of the county. Kids grow up in rural Southampton County hearing that the mist creeping across the fields might be something unearthly. Old folks warn them not to sneak into abandoned houses, where rotting floors and walls are said to be stained with blood. This is a haunted landscape. (Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/the-haunted-houses-legacy-of-nat-turners-slave-rebellion-lingers-but-reminders-are-disappearing/2019/04/29/d267d814-5d68-11e9-842d-7d3ed7eb3957_story.html

Attacking farmhouses in the darkness and picking up supporters along the way, Turner and his rebels killed some 55 white men, women, and children over two days. They were eventually scattered by militia infantry, and some were rounded up and killed or put on trial. Turner escaped and hid out for two months mostly in a crude “cave” — a hole dug under a pile of wood — before surrendering on Oct. 30, 1831.

Lonnie Bunch, then director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, said, “The Nat Turner rebellion is probably the most significant uprising in American history.”

What is: a Texaco gas station with a white Pontiac out front, the ghost town of Glenrio, TX

What was: The Texaco station was built by Joseph (Joe) Brownlee in 1950 on Route 66 at a time when Glenrio, TX was often bumper to bumper with traffic. Interstate 40 opened in 1973 and by 1975, Glenrio was on its way to becoming a ghost town as everything closed up.

Roxann Bownlee, daughter of Joe, grew up helping her father at the gas station.  It was a family enterprise.  In 1970, Roxann married Larry Lee Travis.  With the decline of business in Glenrio, Larry rented the Standard Service Station near Adrian, Texas and each day drove the 25 miles to Adrian in his white Pontiac.

At the time, a group of gas, shop and service station owners had banded together as a vigilante force to patrol the streets of Vega and Adrian.  On March 7th a 23-year-old Texan called Lewis Steven Powell entered the Standard Service Station. No-one knows what happened in those few minutes, whether Larry – proud of his hard work – refused to hand over his takings, but Powell made him kneel down and shot him in the back of the head before robbing the till.

Larry never came home, but his Pontiac Catalina did, and it keeps silent sentinel in Glenrio. Roxann still lives in the house behind with family and dogs, one of the few remaining resident of Glenrio.

What is: the original signage at the Lorraine hotel before it became the motel. During the creation of the National Civil Rights Museum in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the original hotel building was renovated to include reminders of what the hotel looked like before being transformed into the the motor court in the 1950s/60s.

What was: The signage on the Mulberry Street-Huling Avenue side promises steaks, shrimp and fish. It still entices some visitors who don’t realize at first that it’s part of the museum, not a restaurant.

Walter and Loree Bailey bought what had been the Marquette Hotel in 1945. The Baileys renamed the hotel the Lorraine for Loree Bailey and the Nat King Cole song “Sweet Lorraine.”

In the era of racial segregation, an African-American traveling for any reason had few hotels to stay at and couldn’t go to just any restaurant in the immediate vicinity. So the Bailey’s added a restaurant. The kitchen is where Loree Bailey prepared food for the motel’s guests.

Figures like Cab Calloway and Count Basie, along with Stax Records musicians used the Lorraine as a creative oasis of sorts. The Lorraine hosted doctors, lawyers, salesmen, businessmen, families on vacation, and those traveling America after World War II who were determined to change the segregated society they returned to after fighting for their country.

Isaac Hayes reminisced, “We’d go down to the Lorraine Motel and we’d lay by the pool and Mr. Bailey would bring us fried chicken and we’d eat ice cream. . . . We’d just frolic until the sun goes down and [then] we’d go back to work.”

Two famous songs, “In the Midnight Hour” and “Knock on Wood,” were written at the motel.

More here