Fields of grass

I love these two pictures of a well-cared-for antebellum mansion in 1939 Alabama with a tall grass lawn — early no-mow or at least seldom-mow.

Above and below is the W.P. Welch Mansion in Selma, Alabama. It was built in 1858.

Years ago, we had neighbors who tore down their house and built another on the same spot, in the style of a Victorian farmhouse. While the contractors were finishing the interior, the small bare front yard was covered with straw. Tall grass soon grew up through it, and the effect was something like the above. It was beautiful — remnants of beige straw, wavy green grass, and one old peegee hydrangea limbed up into a small tree.

Of course, as soon as they could, they tilled it up and put down sod and foundation shrubs. I always thought it was too bad. Before, it had actually evoked some real ideas and emotion about real farms.

Long Lane Farm (above), St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

A lot of the houses I’ve looked at in the Carnegie Survey of the South collection are decrepit or abandoned. They have “lawns” of tall grass, weeds, and a some remaining flowers. But they are beautiful resting in their wavy, ragged negative space. Their foundations aren’t obscured by shrubs; their porches float.

Beauregard House (above), Chalmette, Louisiana.

Cabin (above), St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana.

(above) Moccasin, Louisiana.

Uncle Sam Plantation (above), St. James Parish, Louisiana.

Prospect Hill (above), Airlie, North Carolina.

Driscoll Farm (above), St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Greenway, aka Marlee (above), Charles City County, Virginia.

(above) New Roads, Louisiana.

Elizabeth Hill (above), St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

Woodlawn Plantation (above), Napoleonville, Louisiana.

All photos by Frances Benjamin Johnston, taken in the late 1930s for the Carnegie Survey of the South, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Nostalgia for New Orleans

931-933 St. Philip Street.

I’ve been thinking a lot about New Orleans and its special style since we were finally able to watch season one of the HBO series, Treme, in December and January.  We lived in an Uptown neighborhood briefly many years ago, and I think the Crescent City is like Paris or Rome: any time passed there stays with you deeply.

It was that way for Walt Whitman, who was editor of the New Orleans newspaper The Crescent for few months in 1846.

Once I pass’d through a populous city, imprinting my brain, for future use, with its shows, architecture, customs, and traditions. . .
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I tracked down a column by Dave Walker of The Times-Picayune on its website, nola.com, called Treme Explained,” which explicates all the local references in each episode.  I’m trying not to read ahead, because we’ll eventually get season two here.

More recently, I found these beautiful photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnston of courtyards and gardens in New Orleans in the late 1930s.

Broussard’s patio, 815 Conti Street. All photos on this post are of New Orleans, La., in the late 1930’s, via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Gaillard Cottage, 915-917 St. Ann Street. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

They are all from the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South of the Library of Congress.

Spanish Customs House, 1300 Moss Street.

From 1933 to 1940, Johnston photographed buildings and gardens in nine southern states, funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation.  She was one of the first to photograph and record southern vernacular architecture.

Her entire collection is fascinating. It contains 7,100 images of 1,700 structures and sites.

818 Bourbon Street.
Beauregard House, 1113 Chartres Street.
Plantation House, 3939 Chartres Street.
837 Gov. Nicholls Street.
806 Royal Street.
Olivier Plantation, 4111 Chartres Street.

There are more Johnston photos of New Orleans in the gallery after ‘Continue reading’ below. Click on any thumbnail to scroll through all the pictures in full size.

In 1945, Johnston moved to New Orleans, where she enjoyed the lively bohemian atmosphere. She lived in her house on Bourbon Street until her death in 1952 at the age of 88. These two photos are from the Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection of the LoC.

Johnston’s cats, Hermin and Vermin, seated on the brick railing of her New Orleans house.
Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952), ca. 1950, in New Orleans.

You can buy prints of Johnston’s photos at Shorpy.com here.

If you’re thinking of visiting the Big Easy, you can read “36 Hours in New Orleans” in The New York Times travel section.

About.com has a list of New Orleans blogs here.

Tulane University’s Southeastern Architectural Archive maintains the Garden Library, a collection of over 1,000 titles, including published materials associated with women’s garden culture. Currently, the Archive is showing an online exhibit of vintage Reuter’s Seed Company catalog covers (here).
Continue reading “Nostalgia for New Orleans”