“A river [or a land] doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it.”
In my previous three posts, titled “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Parts I-III,” I examined several subjects relating to the Delta and its surrounding areas which have had such a powerful and enduring influence on my entire life.
Thinking I had exhausted my material on those subjects, I had planned to publish a different post at this time. However, since then I have received several additional “tidbits” which I feel compelled to share with you all, my readers.
As indicated by the title of this post, these “tidbits” relate to: An update on the Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation, Joe Dempsey’s fifteen Delta photos, and the upcoming publication of a book about a voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River.
The next post will be about the auction and sale of the McGehee Estate mansion and its furnishings and vehicles, the appearance of a young alligator in McGehee’s city park pond, the blooming of my wife’s brown cotton plant, and a marvelous video of five of Julia Sugarbaker’s most delightful and amusing rants from the popular television show of the past “Designing Women.”
These two new posts may be some of the longest I have published, but I wanted to do justice to these interesting, informative, intriguing, and inspiring updates and reminiscences. I hope you share my interest in them and my enthusiasm for them.
Taylor Prewitt’s Update on the Taylor House
at Hollywood Plantation
“Why would anyone with a big plantation and house in Kentucky
want to do all this amid the mosquitoes etc.?”
—Taylor Prewitt, describing the Southeast
Arkansas Hollywood Plantation
in an email to Jimmy Peacock on 9/27/14
Taylor Prewitt, a physician who now lives in Fort Smith but whose family has been engaged in large-scale farming in Southeast Arkansas for generations, sent me the following email account of his recent visit to the Taylor House on the Hollywood Plantation near Winchester, Arkansas, a site which I have featured several times on my blog.
I have presented Taylor’s message below just as he sent it with the photos of the house, bayou, cemetery, and fields that accompanied the email report.
“While on a run to look at the farm yesterday I ran by the old Taylor House on the Hollywood Plantation east of Winchester—built before 1846, up to 11,000 acres, had a basement/cellar (!). Literally under wraps. Bayou bed below house was dry! Don’t understand that. Must have been a tributary of Bayou Bartholomew, which had plenty of water in it as we crossed the bridge. [See my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews.”] They were burning the harvested fields nearby.
“Max Hill was operating the Hollywood Plantation at Winchester when I was a boy. Don’t know what’s happened to it in terms of ownership and management.
“The Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site says about the Taylor home on the plantation:
. . . the last known example in Arkansas’s lower Delta region of an intact two-story log dog-trot residence, its alterations notwithstanding. Its square-notched, cypress log construction is intact throughout and the open breezeway on the first floor remains open.
John Martin Taylor was born in Winchester, Kentucky on July 23, 1819. Apparently his family was fairly well-to-do, as by the time of his marriage in 1843 to Mary Elizabeth Robertson (the daughter of Martha Goodloe Robertson Arnold, a family relative by marriage) he was a practicing medical physician with large land holdings and a great number of slaves. He and his new bride began enlarging their agricultural land holdings in both his native Kentucky and Arkansas, and soon established homes in both places. He built a palatial mansion near the banks of the Kentucky River in Westport, Oldham County, Kentucky, that he named Mauvilla.
Henceforth the Taylor Log House served as the headquarters for a large plantation complex that raised cotton with the help of a large slave labor force until the onset of the Civil War. After the cessation of hostilities Dr. Taylor attempted to continue his farming operation with free labor until his death, though with mixed results and at great personal cost. After his death in 1884 his children continued to run the farm, even regaining a good deal of the land lost immediately after the war and expanding the Taylor farm to as much as 11,000 acres. The Taylor farm operated in various forms through the first half of the twentieth century.
Joe Dempsey’s Fifteen Photos of the Delta
“Driving through the Delta is like bank fishing on the river: you never know what you are going to catch (and or see).”
In his “Daily Grist for the Eyes and Mind” on October 5, my longtime friend and Ouachita Baptist College classmate Joe Dempsey published a post titled “A Delta Sampler.” In that post he featured fifteen recent photos of the Arkansas Delta.
These photos pictured huge trucks waiting at grain elevators, fields being burned off in preparation for a new planting season, flocks of white egrets in a recently harvested cornfield, two abandoned and rusted vintage vehicles from the 1930s and 50s, a cotton field (above) “white unto harvest,” a sample of Delta “buckshot” soil, a leaky water faucet, another abandoned Delta farmhouse, a cotton gin (below), as well as a derelict small-town cityscape from days gone by.
These two photos feature Joe’s own captions. To view the rest of the fifteen photos and Joe’s commentary on them, go to http://weeklygrist.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/a-delta-sampler/.
Believe me, the view of the “dying Delta” is worth it!
Announcement of Book on Mississippi River
Voyage by Gayle Harper
“ . . . an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.”
“Muddy Mississippi River water leaves a stain on the soul that is impossible to get out—assuming any fool would try!”
In an earlier blog post published on October 15, 2013 and titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” I included a section about a voyage down the Mississippi River made and recorded by Gayle Harper. (To read that post, click on the title.)
In an email announcement titled “Off to the Printers” dated 9/27/14, Gayle sent me the following announcement of the upcoming publication of her book about her voyage of discovery.
“Hello, my friends! HOORAY!
Roadtrip with a Raindrop:
90 Days Along the Mississippi River
has been sent to the printers!
“Thanks to an amazing team of talented folks, this baby has been kissed and bundled off! And…it will be beautiful! I revealed the cover in the last update, but in case you missed it, here it is.
“Every detail is the best possible quality and has been given the greatest possible care and attention. There is even a satin ribbon placeholder! Inside, are 55 short stories, each with its photographs that give you your own experience of this magical adventure. As we discover America’s greatest River and meet her colorful people, we keep pace with a raindrop called ‘Serendipity’ on its 90-day, 2,400 mile journey from the headwaters to the Gulf.
“I want to share something very special with you. Bob Krist is a world-renowned photographer who has been shooting for National Geographic Traveler for more than 25 years. He has been honored in many ways, including being named three times as ‘Travel Photographer of the Year.’ I have admired him and his work for many years.
“Some years ago, when I was fortunate to be in one of his workshops at the Maine Photographic Workshops, he encouraged me to find a personal project that touched my heart and to make time in my schedule for it. That is what opened me up to receive this Mississippi River project when it appeared. So, I have always known that I would ask him to write the Foreword for this book – and I was thrilled and honored when he agreed to do so. When I received it, I could only cry. Here it is.”
As literature and myth illustrate time and time again, a river journey can be a life-altering experience.
Whether it’s the young Buddha in Siddhartha, Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, or Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an epic river voyage teaches the traveler as much or more about himself than about the topography and geography of the waterway itself. It’s an exterior trip that prompts an interior journey.
Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper’s book, Roadtrip with a Raindrop, is both. While her encounters with the beauty of the Mississippi and the wide array of humanity who make their home along the river—barge captains, blues musicians, artists, hunters, historical reenactors and even a jolly nun—obviously move her in a profound way, she never fails to take us along to share her experience.
Like Vasudeva, the ferryman who helps Siddhartha find enlightenment in the rhythms of the mythic river, Harper acts as our ferryman, documenting the beauty of this mother of all North American rivers and its people in stunning photography and rich prose, while she herself undergoes the profound changes that occur when an artist meets her project of a lifetime.
The result is a beautiful, warm and intimate portrait, as stunning to look at as it is to read, that makes us appreciate all that the Mississippi River has meant and continues to mean to America. In these pages, we feel the river’s pulse, we come to know and appreciate its people, and in doing so, we learn more about ourselves.
A river doesn’t bestow enlightenment in and of itself—but it can provide clarity and insight for someone who was ready to observe and listen to it. Fortunately for us, Gayle Harper was prepared not only to learn and be moved herself, but she has the vision and the craft to make it as vivid an experience for us as it was for her.
“Thank you, my friends, for being an essential part of this adventure. I cannot wait to put Roadtrip With a Raindrop into your hands. I will be back in touch with details about exactly when and where they will be available, but I can tell you that we expect to have them by Thanksgiving!
“In the meantime, if we are not yet connected on Facebook, come on over to www.facebook.com/GayleHarper.MississippiRiver. There’s photos, fun, conversation and information. Or visit my blog at www.gayleharper.wordpress.com. I will be posting information about the publication of the book there as soon as it is available.
“See you soon!
The photos of the Hollywood Plantation were provided by Taylor Prewitt.
The link to my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews” were taken from: http://myokexilelit.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/bayou-bartholomew-two-book-reviews/
The quote about the Hollywood Plantation from the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program Web site was taken from:
The link to my previous post titled “A Few of My Favorite Things I: McGehee, Mississippi River, the Delta/Cotton” was taken from:
The links to Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” titled “A Delta Sampler” from October 5, 2014, were taken from:
Information from Gayle Harper’s voyage down the Mississippi River was taken from: