Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 in New Jersey

Hurricane (super storm) Sandy caused immense damage to New York, New Jersey, and surrounding areas on October 29, 2012. The storm, which killed 230 people, cause up to $75 billion in losses, according to the National Hurricane Center (2012 estimate). This was not the first major storm to destroy property and beaches along the Jersey shore.

New Jersey has been struck with damaging hurricanes and northeasters many times. These black and white aerial photographs of Ventnor-Atlantic City, Brigantine, and Barnegat Lighthouse areas were taken on 15 September 1944, and 24 October 1944. They show damage to the boardwalk and to structures caused by the "Great Atlantic Hurricane" of 13-14 September, 1944. The storm first made landfall as a Category 3 near Cape Hatteras. It moved out to sea again and made a second landfall on eastern Long Island on September 14, after causing significant damage along the New Jersey shore. Of the 390 people who perished, 340 were lost on ships at sea (some of them servicemen on convoys). The storm was so powerful, it sank the US Navy destroyer USS Warrington (DD-383) about 700 km east of Vero Beach, FL, with a loss of 248 sailors (see The Dragon's Breath: Hurricane at Sea by Robert A. Dawes (Jr.), Naval Institute Press, Mar 1, 1996 - 222 pages).

The low death toll on land was due to well-executed warnings and evacuations, a result of the bitter lessons of  the great New England Hurricane of 1938. However, thousands of houses and businesses were destroyed and damaged along the Jersey shore. Pielke and Landsea (1998) calculated the total damage in 1995 Dollars to be $6.5 billion. (See: Pielke, R.A., Jr., and Landsea, C.W. 1998. Normalized hurricane damages in the United States:  1925-95. Weather and Forecasting, 13(3), 621–631).
This is the Heinz Pier at Atlantic City. Part of it was washed out, and the boardwalk behind was torn off. The Pier, formerly known as the Iron Pier, was so badly damaged that it was later demolished.
Here are three views of Ventnor, already a major urban area in 1944. Here too, the boardwalk has been damaged, and considerable sand overwashed onto the streets. But the houses look intact.
Here is an art deco apartment building with a handsome Tudor-style hotel facing the ocean. The art deco building is still standing, but the hotel is gone.
This is the famous Steel Pier with amusements and shows. Notice the bleachers facing the sea at the end of the pier. These were for air shows.
Two historical post cards of the Steel Pier. During the War, this was a popular destination for servicemen on leave. The Steel Pier still exists, but I am not sure if it occupies exactly the same footprint.
Here is a lower-elevation view of the north end of Atlantic City at Absecon Inlet.
An apartment building in Atlantic City lost one wall. Note how the hot water radiators remained upright despite the wall falling away. Also note how the interior walls were plaster lath - high-quality construction.
A damaged pier separated from the land. The surf lifted the boardwalk boards from their supports.
These two frames show Brigantine, New Jersey, with the last shot looking south towards Atlantic City. In 1944, Brigantine was still a new development, and many of the lots were still empty. Look at Google Maps to compare with the urban sprawl today.
Just look at the flat and low terrain. Do you think it is vulnerable to storms? Should we as a society collectively be responsible for their rebuilding costs? Do tax receipts and tourist revenues repay the cost of rebuilding after storms? Should we socialize the risk (which we have, of course)? These are serious questions to ponder, and we failed miserably and cowardly to address these issues after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

The source of original paper prints is the archive of the Beach Erosion Board (predecessor of the former Coastal Engineering Research Center), presently stored at the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi, USA. Original image condition: excellent, with full tonal range, printed on single-weight glossy paper. The printing date is unknown but believed to be 1944. The prints are in a BEB folder labeled 11-12, 11-13, 11-14, and 11-15. The photographic platform is unknown, but possibly a blimp. The BEB index book cites the U.S. Navy as source. Camera, focal length, film: unknown. The frames were not taken on a 9x9-inch aerial camera but on some other camera with a frame size approx. 6x7 inch. Total number of frames is 11. The filename includes a 4-digit number, which was written in pencil on the back of each frame.

For more information on historical hurricanes and construction of storm surge barriers in New England and New Jersey, see:

Morang, A. 2007. Hurricane Barriers in New England and New Jersey – History and Status After Four Decades, Technical Report ERDC/CHL TR-07-11, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, MS

Morang, A. 2016. Hurricane Barriers in New England and New Jersey: History and Status after Five Decades. Journal of Coastal Research: Volume 32, Issue 1: pp. 181 – 205.

For more information on the Beach Erosion Board archives, see:


Morang, A.  2003.  Regional coastal photographic archive of the Beach Erosion Board.  Shore & Beach, Vol 71, No. 4, pp. 17-21.

Update 2017: An article in Politico describes how the National Flood Insurance Program encourages people to build in flood-prone areas and rewards them to file claims after storm events. In effect, it is a giant subsidy to the building and development industry.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bridges of Redwood, Yazoo River, Mississippi

For decades, drivers on Highway 61 (the Blues Highway) had to cross the Yazoo River at Redwood, Mississippi, on a handsome 1950-vintage steel cantilever bridge. Unfortunately, I do not have a photograph of the old bridge when intact. The old bridge was elegant in a mid-20th century industrial style, but no longer suited contemporary transportation needs. The two lanes were narrower than current standards, the bridge required expensive painting, and clearance was too low for some tall trucks.  Therefore, Mississippi Department of Transport (MDOT) built a modern concrete 4-lane bridge over the Yazoo a short distance south of the old structure. Rather than disassemble the old bridge, it was dropped in place using explosives on July 1, 2009. According to WJTV television, "The bridge was blown up at 7:50 a.m. and the blast was fueled by packets of explosives placed at strategic points by contractor Key Constructors. Boats on the Yazoo were halted as crews cleared the waterway." I missed the demolition because it was not announced to the public beforehand, but I drove to the site a few days later.
This photograph shows the east approach with some of the structure still standing.
This is the center span lying in the river. It must have taken several days to remove the debris, during which barge traffic would have been blocked. The Yazoo is a Federal navigation project, but commercial tonnage is low and the channel is seldom dredged.
A short distance to the south, out of sight of the highway bridge, is this abandoned railroad swing bridge. It has been unused since at least the 1980s. A few years ago, I read that these types of bridges were slowly disappearing from the US landscape, but one is still here.
The tracks and ties were removed a long time ago from the west side of the bridge. This is an example of the immense engineering infrastructure built by the railroads in the early 20th century. For many years, the best and brightest engineering students went to work for railroads because they offered the most challenging careers.
Finally, a slightly off-topic photograph. This is the auditorium of the Radwood elementary school on May 7, 2011, when the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers were at record flood levels. The school built temporary levees to keep out the water, and books, furniture, and other materials were moved to the auditorium, which was a bit higher than the other rooms. Fortunately, the flood waters did not reach the building and no equipment was damaged.
As a final example of bridges and railroad engineering, here is a monumental lift bridge on the Cuyahoga River, in Cleveland, Ohio. I have never seen this bridge in use, and it is rusting and deteriorating. But look at its massive construction.  I hope it will preserved as a mechanical or civil engineering monument. Also, look to the lower left and you can see a swing bridge similar to the one at Redwood.

Most photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera. The two sepia frames are from a Sony DSC-W7 compact camera.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vicksburg Panorama 2004

This is an experiment, a panorama that I took from the roof of the two-floor brick building at the NW corner of Crawford and Monroe Streets. I am not sure if it will open up as a wide file in this blog software.
The view pans from the west to east and finally to southeast. The date was October 3, 2004. Little has changed from this viewpoint since I took this photograph. The YMCA is in the process of being repaired, including the tile roof.

Technical:  A friend loaned me a Canon PowerShot G6 digital camera.  I merged the frames with a Canadian panorama software, PanaVue ImageAssembler.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Amazing masonry: City Hall, Philadelphia

Philadelphia went through a rough time from the mid-1960s through the 1980s (I am not singling out Philadelphia; many American cities were pretty grim during that period). But today, downtown Philadelphia is reasonably clean, interesting, and fun to visit. It shows what can happen when a municipality does not allow urban decay to set in and take over.

The centerpiece of downtown is the monumental Empire-style City Hall, which occupies an entire block in the center of the city. According to Wikipedia, the building and was constructed from 1871 until 1901 at a cost of $24 million. It was designed by Scottish-born architect John McArthur, Jr. in the ornate Second Empire style. With almost 700 rooms, it is the largest municipal building in the United States and possibly one of the largest in the world.

This is a circa. 1899 photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. (online here).




Here is some of the architectural detail and statuary. The latter two photographs I took from my room in the Marriott Courtyard Philadelphia Downtown hotel. It would be hard to find a more convenient location.



The tower is quite an edifice, but unfortunately its impressive size is somewhat diminished by the tall office buildings nearby. The antenna spire is 548 ft up, and Wikipedia claims that from 1901 to 1908, this was the tallest habitable building in the world (the distinction is in contrast to religious buildings like cathedrals and monuments like the Eiffel tower). William Penn is on the top, and he is 11-m tall and faces northeast.

According to the Wikipedia article, in the 1950s, city fathers considered demolishing the city hall, but the cost would have been too high. I do not doubt this story; the 1950s may have been the low period in the American consciousness pertaining to historical preservation. Recall this was the era when the so-called "modern" interstates were slashed across cities, often chopping up historic ethnic neighborhoods. Suburbia and white flight reigned supreme during this period, and inner cities were left to deteriorate and fester. See Building Suburbia, Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 by Dolores Hayden for more details of the suburban flight and its consequences to American cities. Philadelphia's revived downtown shows that many people are finally returning to traditional cities, although the McMansion orgy of the 1990s-mid-2000s demonstrates a recent and gross extreme of the suburban flight trend.
Many other historical building around City Hall have been restored. Good for Philadelphia!
Even the streets have some interesting architectural elements.
This is the view east towards the Delaware River. The S.S. United States is moored at Pier 84 (the red funnels are barely visible in the photograph to the right).
This is the Capogiro Gelato & Sorbetto shop. It has some of the best gelato I have ever savored. Late evenings in summer, it is mobbed with students, businessmen, tourists, and local residents. I spoke to the owner one evening, and he said he toured dairy farms in Lancaster County to look for happy cows (in a similar way, that is why milk and butter is so good in France and Switzerland - the cows are happy).

Photographs taken with a Fujifilm F31fd digital compact camera.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Industrial archaeology: Redstone Quarry, North Conway, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is known as the "Granite State," and no wonder! There are granite outcrops throughout the state. Since the 1800s, quarries in New Hampshire and adjoining Vermont have provided hard, durable, and beautiful igneous rock for buildings, street paving blocks, monuments, and breakwaters throughout the east coast and even internationally.

Redstone Quarry, in North Conway, operated from 1887 until 1948. The remnants of machinery, derricks, and buildings constitute one of the more interesting industrial archaeological sites in New Hampshire. The most detailed description of the site is at the excellent WhiteMountainHistory.org web site. Some fascinating pre-1948 photographs are posted there.
The Redstone Quarry is at the base of Rattlesnake Mountain in Redstone, NH, (part of the town of Conway). The woods have grown so thickly, there is little to see from the highway, and you have to walk on dirt paths to see the remains.
One of the few standing buildings is the old latrine and bath house.
Further uphill, is the blacksmith's forge and tool conveyor belt. I am not sure of its function, but the little buckets are so sturdy, I assume they were designed to hold hot objects. Possibly tools went through a quenching bath after they had been sharpened or heated.
This is the remains of a boiler. I have not seen the engine house, which would have contained larger boilers, but the White Mountain History web site (link above) shows a photo of a collapsed roof.
Now we come to one of the most interesting sites, the machine building that housed the polishing rock lathe. The wood building is incomplete and is missing some of its roof. I am not sure where the boiler building was located that provided power for the lathes, but it must have been nearby.
This is the 5-ft Face Plate of the polishing lathe and the spindle to hold a rotating column of granite. Can you imagine polishing a column of rock over 5 ft in diameter? Astonishing what craftsmen could do a century ago with equipment that we today consider primitive.
Outside on the ground are remains of the rough turning lathe. You can see where belts (leather?) would have run across different-size pulleys to provide power.
Look at this heavy-duty universal joint, an example of precision machining from almost a century ago. This is how we built a nation: hard work, pride, and precision workmanship.
Not far away in the woods are mounts for wood booms, used to swing rock around the work site. I read that the spruce booms came from the Pacific Northwest on special railroad cars (at that time, timber of sufficient size no longer grew in the US Northeast).
Walk further uphill and you reach the pink quarry. The pit is filled with water, but some of the booms are still standing!
Much of the debris in the pink quarry has tumbled down and is highly unstable. The clean rock face gives you an idea of the quality of the granite from this source.
As you walk west back to town, you come across a dormitory building in surprisingly intact condition. But vandals have added artwork to the inside.
There are examples of the pink granite all around North Conway. This planter is made from pink slabs.
And you see granite fence-posts in town and in area farms. No danger of these posts ever rotting.
This is the Hale cemetery on West Side Road, near the town of Conway. Look at the size of these remarkable granite slabs used as a wall. These may be grey granite from another site, but it was difficult to tell in the waning evening light.
This is a 1920s photograph of a rock lathe from the web page quarriesandbeyond.org. Notice the stoneman is not wearing eye or head protection. Many of these stone workers died young from silicosis, a terrible disease.
On a more cheerful note, autumn in New England is spectacular. The changing leaves are a visual delight. If you have never seen them, you must make this a life goal. This is Pudding Pond, and the tracks once served the Redstone Quarry.

All photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with 14-45 mm Panasonic Lumix and 9-18mm and 40-150mm Olympus lenses, tripod-mounted. I thank my North Conway friends for showing me these unusual sites. I have some older medium-format film negatives of the quarry that I need to scan and post some day.