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Archive for July, 2011

House Island, historic residence of Hodges Gardens founders A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges, hasn’t been regularly occupied since A.J.’s death in 1966.  While Nona Trigg passed away in 1959, A.J. continued to occupy the house, and also remarried.  After 66′, I understand that only temporary visits and occasions brought family back to the house.

Bordered by a stone retaining wall around the entire island perimeter, House Island is currently closed to the public.  No trespassin’, please.  The Island is eight (8) acres of sparsely wooded, sloping, grassy land within a 225 acre lake. (This lake is usually unnamed, but I have seen it referred to as ‘Forest Lake’).  Though neglected for years, the Hodges residence (completed in 1956) is largely in good shape, and only minimally disturbed by rodents and water damage.  Though the house must be at least 10,000 square feet in size, the well constructed building is not an obtrusive money mound on the landscape.  Rather, the two story structure was tastefully cited partially within the hillside, and is tucked amongst mature trees (many of which were planted in the 1950s).  Last Friday, July 22 Debbie and I arranged a visit to the island with both NCPTT and Hodges Gardens staff.  There are abundant opportunities for future research at Hodges Gardens, including that of mid-20th century architecture.  Some photos from our guided visit follow.

NCPTT group approaches A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges House (circa mid 1950s), House Island, Hodges Gardens.

Retaining wall, House Island. This stone retaining wall circles the entire perimeter of the 8 acre island.

Boat dock, House Island. The island was connected to the mainland via a ferry that ran on an underwater cable.

A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges residence (completed 1956). Looking NNW toward house wing that faces southeast. Photo credit: Jennifer Mui, NCPTT Architecture & Engineering intern.

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During the week of July 11-15 I continued field/office research, prepared a lunchtime lecture on my University of Arkansas senior capstone project, and attended the monthly Friends of Hodges Gardens Board Meeting.

Lunchtime Lecture. The National Center for Preservation Technology & Training is hosting a lunchtime lecture series this summer in which interns are invited to share past or current research. I spoke on my University of Arkansas senior capstone project, which included analysis and treatment recommendations on an historic vernacular landscape in eastern Oklahoma. Image credit: Sean Clifford, NCPTT.

I spoke on the Beck Mill Cultural Landscape in my lunchtime lecture hour.  A two semester senior capstone project, I summarized highlights of my research spanning initial site selection through final cultural landscape treatment recommendations and design proposals for an educational center/museum facility.  A multi-disciplinary project of archaeologists, historical architects, conservators, historic preservation consultants, and passionate locals, it was very exciting to contribute from a landscape architecture perspective.  To learn more about the historic Beck-Hildebrand Mill, visit www.thebeckmill.org.

On Friday, July 15 Debbie and I returned to the Garden for the Friends of Hodges Gardens monthly board meeting.  Much has been discovered since our meeting with them in mid-June, so it was exciting to share updates.  We shared the Hare & Hare landscape architecture discovery and also that of increasing interest in Hodges Gardens research, including our conversation with Carol Grove, Ph.D, University of Missouri.   We also mentioned some of the oral history interviews that have occurred.   Finally we discussed a thought on potentially engaging locals on the Gardens’ cultural significance research.  When Addy, Linda, and I recently met, Linda mentioned that many folks have chosen Hodges Gardens as the setting for their wedding engagement photography.  I shared Addy’s suggestion in encouraging photographed individuals/couples to submit a photo or two to a common place.  This was timely discussion as the Board planned to discuss their website design later in the meeting.  Perhaps a photo gallery on the web would be a great storage and display space.  Such an outreach project could help further build the supportive online Hodges Gardens community, as well as document/preserve a local significance aspect of the historical research.

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Hodges Gardens State Park is located roughly 5 hours SE of Dallas, 4 hours NE of Houston, and 5 hours NW of New Orleans.  The city of Alexandria, LA (AEX airport) is located 70 miles to the east.

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After our meeting with Ben D. Peterson, we drove north for a 3:30 appointment with Linda Curtis-Sparks, Director of the Sabine Parish Tourist Commission.  Involved in Sabine Parish area tourism for much of her life, we hoped to talk with Linda about the role of Hodges Gardens in the tourism of this area.  An account of this history may bring a better understanding of the rise and fall of different landscape elements and landscape emphases/goals throughout the life of the Garden.

Historical Hodges Gardens Motor Inn & Restaurant. Extant today as Emerald Hills Golf Resort, this facility's connection and proximity to Hodges Gardens created a complex (and would be considered a comprehensive cultural landscape today) that remains a excellent example of the auto-focused tourism that rose and created a culture of tourist courts, cottages, and motels during the middle part of the 20th Century. Historic postcard image courtesy Louisiana-Destinations.com.

From the Gardens’ opening to the public in 1956, Linda believes the Garden saw some its most popular, most visited years from the early 1970s to the early 1980s.  In 1963 Hodges Gardens Motor Inn & Restaurant opened across from the Garden entrance.   This facility brought Hodges Gardens guests easy access to lodging and other amenities.

Toledo Bend Reservoir, a recreation and hydroelectric power source, was completed in 1969.  Created from the damming of the Sabine River on the Louisiana/Texas border, the reservoir is located within close proximity to Hodges Gardens.  At 185,000 acres of surface area, Toledo Bend is the 5th largest reservoir or artificial lake.

While the Gardens and Toledo Bend were the most highly visited regional attractions for several years, Toledo Bend began to surpass Hodges Gardens in visitation.  Linda recalled a disappointing incident when part of the Hodges Gardens Motor Inn–including the original restaurant burned.  As resources and funding covered less ground on the expansive Hodges Gardens, the site saw some rough years and a decline in its visitation–despite the dedicated passion of many–up to the day of its adoption by the Louisiana Office of State Parks.

After hearing a bit on the early years and later years of Hodges Gardens, we asked Linda how she sees the Gardens playing a roll in the future of tourism in this area.  In general, she sees Hodges Gardens’ visitation and popularity continuing to grow.   While Toledo Bend provides great fishing and boating opportunities, Linda believes the Gardens will continue to offer a unique state park experience for garden and outdoor fans, as well as a positive, relaxing atmosphere for the entire family.

Hodges Gardens Motor Inn & Restaurant, looking southeast toward Hodges Gardens entrance. Notice Gardens entry sign and structure across U.S. Hwy 171. The caption in the lower right reads: Relax and have fun in Louisiana’s luxury resort. Breath-taking year ‘round scenic beauty in 4700 acre "Garden in the Forest." Fabulous hospitality at dissimilar Hodges Gardens Motor Inn. Wonderful cuisine. Top-flight service. Convention facilities. Interesting 9-hole golf course. Tennis courts. Swimming pools. Located leisurely distance from 182,000 acre Toledo Bend Lake, vast new recreation area. Heartland of historical Louisiana and Texas landmarks. Image credit: Hodges Gardens archive.

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The last couple weeks have been busy here at the office, and I’m happy to take time to catch up on blogging.  Research has continued at Hodges Gardens, we joined the Friends Group for their July Board Meeting, and I presented past research here at NCPTT as part of the summer Lunchtime Lecture series.  More on these items will follow.

Interview with Ben D. Peterson at Lookout Tower, Hodges Gardens State Park.

Intern colleague Addy Smith-Reiman and I arrived at Hodges Gardens at 9am on Thursday, July 7.  We met Ben D. Peterson at the Gift Shop, and from there strolled up the hill to Lookout Tower.  The wind was calm enough on one side of the structure that we were able to interview here in a comfortable spot with table and chairs.  Addy and I joined Ben D. around the table, which I hope created a more relaxed atmosphere for the discussion.

Ben D. began talking about the early years of the Hodges Gardens landscape.  Prior to Hodges’ purchasing the property, Ben D.’s father ran cattle on the hills surrounding the quarried landscape.  As Mr. Hodges purchased the future Hodges Gardens property in the 1940s, Ben D.’s father moved his cattle from the hills and quarry area over to the west side of U.S. Highway 171.

Ben D. shared a story of his father’s cattle getting into a neighbor’s corn crop one year.  A friend notified his father of the incident, and Mr. Peterson made plans to repay the individual for the lost corn crop.   Ben D. fondly remembers the corn farmer’s pleasant surprise at the amount of corn he received; the farmer acknowledged it was well more than he had actually grown and lost to the cattle.

Ben D. built fencelines, worked with the plumbing crew, and laid concrete and rock at the Garden, prior to his joining the Marine Corps in 1955.  He remembers pushing wheelbarrows of wet concrete to the ground stakes, which marked different plans for the groundwork.  According to Ben D. and John Byrd, all the concrete in the original construction years (early 1950s – 1956) was implemented via wheelbarrow.

As Ben D.’s mother was a Hodges Gardens custodian before and after his Marine Corps service, Ben D. returned for periodic visits to the Gardens for many years.  One of  a long line of horse riders in his family, Ben D. continues his equestrian adventures today on Hodges Gardens trails.

Our visit with Ben D. concluded with more conversation at his impressive home garden, as well as a gift of two freshly picked tomatoes for the road back to Natchitoches.

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