Archive for the ‘Oral History & Interviews’ Category

Ogilvie Hardware Company, Inc. Original fencing purchase/order verification letter from Ogilvie to A.J. Hodges. Note the request for 396 rolls of 200' length mesh, non-climbable fencing. The 79,200 feet of fencing requested equals an even 15 miles. Nona remembers the shock and excitement that rose in the employees' eyes upon her granddad's initial request at the hardware store. Letter dated August 14, 1950. Credit: Hodges Foundation.

Nona Dailey–granddaughter of Hodges Gardens founders A.J. & Nona Trigg Hodges and daughter of John Joseph Dailey, Jr, & Laura Trigg Hodges–met us at the NCPTT office last Thursday.  Hodges Gardens manager Kim Kelly has been really helpful in connecting Debbie and me to a host of helpful folks and was responsible for initiating these meeting arrangements.  Debbie and I shared a brief slideshow that covered some research updates from our discoveries this summer.  We also highlighted some of our current questions..

(1) to what extent, if any, did Hare & Hare and Walker & Walker collaborate on Hodges Gardens projects?  (materials and craftsmanship is largely similar throughout both landscape and architectural elements);

(2) Extent of Hare & Hare influence on the landscape (we have found some unmarked construction drawings that look similar to, but slightly altered from, some original corresponding Hare & Hare credited masterplan phase drawings;

(3) Quarry connection/inspiration in Gardens design? (Where historic quarry paths incorporated into the 1950s Garden design)? – Research thus far hints at this, but I am curious on the extent of this.

An investment banker and triathlon competitor based in Shreveport, Nona has been very supportive and helpful through our correspondence with her thus far, so it was  a pleasure to finally meet.  She shared a few brief personal memories of Hodges Gardens:

(1) Nona remembers picnicking with her mother near Hodges Gardens construction areas on visits to her grandparents, A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges.

(2) The four similar bedroom suites on the top floor of the Hodges residence were designed for the families of each of A.J. and Nona Trigg Hodges’ four (4) children.

(3) Nona mentioned visiting a Shreveport hardware store to inquire about fencing for the Hodges Gardens property.  She remembers employees’ shock and pleasant surprise at her granddad’s request for 15+ miles of fencing.  An original correspondence letter between Ogilvie Hardware Company and A.J. Hodges begins this blog post.  Note the request for 396 rolls of 200′ length mesh, non-climbable fencing.  The 79,200 feet of fencing requested equals an even 15 miles.  Nona remembers the shock turn to excitement in employees’ eyes upon her granddad’s initial request for 15 miles of fencing.

Ogilvie’s closed in 1999, but an early 2011 news report notes that a Dallas realty company plans to renovate and convert the building into a 90 unit apartment building.  This 1926 downtown structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the apartments should give the building new life by January 2012 after remaining vacant since Ogilvie’s departure.  More information on Ogilvie’s Hardware Building is available through Shreveport’s Downtown Development Authority.  Beautiful photos of Ogilvie’s can be found online, including this one from a Flickr account by Brandon Brasseaux.

Elevation view of proposed fence design. Hatched area at bottom represents the earth and ground plane, while 6 feet of mesh and 2 feet of barbed wire fencing rise above. Original drawing circa 1950. Credit: Hodges Foundation.

(4) Establishing such an industrious fence in southern Sabine Parish was no doubt turning some heads in 1950.  As folks questioned what was happening behind the 15 miles of fence, Nona remembers rising rumors including suspicion of a nuclear weapons storage facility.  In other circles, rumors rose that perhaps Hodges was assisting in a gold hoarding operation with comparisons to the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.  Although Hodges was simply creating a private residence and garden to share with friends and family, he felt the need to disprove these rumors.  According to Nona, this is part of the reason A.J. Hodges decided to open the Gardens to the public.  By opening the gates, he could retain his private getaway on House Island while negating gold and missile rumors and sharing his love of landscape with others.

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As posted on July 18, I met with Ben D. Peterson to discuss the early years of Hodges Gardens.  Prior to joining the Marine Corps in 1955, Ben D. installed fence, worked on the plumbing crew, and poured concrete via wheelbarrow at Hodges Gardens.  The following clip is a brief, unedited fraction of our conversation, but I wanted to share something before the summer winds down.

In this video Ben. D. shares on the following:

– A.J. Hodges’ acquisition of the land where the Gardens would be established
– the Cole Family; according to Ben D., the Coles were the last family to sell their property to Hodges, and many of the family members were employed by Hodges Gardens for a number of years
– the character/personality of A.J. Hodges
–  Ben D.’s contribution to the Garden through fencing, plumbing, and concrete work

For more background information on this interview, visit the July 18 post at https://exploringhodgesgardens.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/a-day-with-ben-d-peterson/

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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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On Wednesday, July 6, I met with John Byrd, Assistant Professor of Biology here at Northwestern State University.  As mentioned in previous posts, John serves as president of the Friends of Hodges Gardens, and he is also a past director of Hodges Gardens.   John shared stories about scans of historic photos that were taken at the Gardens.  Some images in the collection were taken by John, while others were taken by early Hodges Gardens staff.  Here are a few examples.

Centenary College Choir members enjoying recreation time at the Group Lodge Dock. Circa early 1960s. The oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi, Centenary has a significant connection and history with Hodges Gardens. For more than 50 years, Centenary College Choir has led the Easter Sunrise Service at the Gardens, which continues today. The lodge in the background is no longer extant, and was intentionally demolished within the last two years. Such losses remind me of the importance of documentation.

House Island, during construction of Hodges residence. Circa early 1950s, looking south. This is an awesome aerial image capturing construction in progress. Notice that only the base level of the residence has been completed. Clearly the boat dock is in operation on the right side of the photo. All items used in construction on this island were carried over via ferry between this dock and another on the mainland.

Orchids in a Hodges Gardens greenhouse. 1960's photo. Hodges Gardens maintained state of the art greenhouses manufactured by Lord & Burnham. Managed as conservatories displaying unique species and botanical experiments, the greenhouses also contributed significantly to the sustainability of early Hodges Gardens: many of the plants cited in the landscape were products of the greenhouse complex. Currently neglected, the multiple structures greenhouse complex is a very significant part of the history and overall Hodges Gardens story.

In anticipation for Thursday’s interviews, I spent the last minutes of the day testing the equipment to be used in the field.  The podcast/audio recorder sounded crisp, and the video camera was good to go.  Batteries charged.

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I was out of the office Friday, July 1 through Monday, July 4 for the Independence Day holiday.  The following is a summary of my notes taken on Thursday, June 30 and Tuesday, July 5.

Thursday, June 30.  I heard from two helpful board members of the Friends of Hodges Gardens: Peggy Bianchi, via email, and Linda Curtis-Sparks, on the telephone.  Both recommended my connecting with Ben D. Peterson, a local who is familiar with the early construction years at Hodges Gardens (1950 –  1955).  Ben D. is one of several generations of his family to be involved in horseback riding, and he is known for his chuckwagon stew that he shares at regional events and gatherings.

A board member with the Friends of Hodges Gardens, Linda has been involved in conservation and tourism development for several years and is in the 6th generation of her family to live along the El Camino Real de los Tejas.
Jeff Guin, NCPTT Public Affairs & Marketing Manager, met with me to discuss some basic video editing suggestions.  I hope to pull together some of our landscape video clips to make a brief Hodges Gardens/summer research introduction video for the blog.

Tuesday, July 5.  Ben D. Peterson called.  I’m happy to report I will be meeting with him tomorrow morning (Thursday), and I’ve also set up an appointment to discuss Sabine Parish area tourism–including Hodges Gardens’ role in this industry–with Linda Curtis-Sparks in Many, LA tomorrow.

Just before the end of the day, I created an account on Flickr.  This will be used for embedding certain images; currently, I am working on updating the interactive Google Map at the top of this page.  I plan to include photos where possible with the (blue)-flagged landscape features.  Though still under the first days of construction, you can check the Flickr page at ExploringHodgesGardens.

I hope to be able to share some of the Hare & Hare landscape architectural drawings on here.  I am awaiting confirmation from the archive on permitted usage of these images.

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Landscape Literature. Photographing informative posts in the landscape (when available) is a quick way to capture information on specific elements or areas. I tend to do this on most of my trips now when my camera is with me.

Friday, June 17:  Jeff Guin (NCPTT’s Marketing & Public Affairs Manager), Debbie Smith, and I packed a video camera and a couple of digital cameras into the van, and headed to Hodges Garden State Park early Friday morning.

We started in the landscape while the morning was still relatively cool.  Not bad, actually: with a 9am temperature in the low 80’s, and mostly cloudy skies, this was some of the most pleasant daytime weather I had experienced here.  I’m a weather and weather data nerd/enthusiast (meteorology was my career path of choice in elementary school), so these conditions made the day great as soon as we hopped out of the van.  Jeff videoed some landscape elements and views while Debbie and I continued with landscape photography.  The videos were produced as .mts files, which most Windows programs I’m accessing don’t seem to want to manage.  I have been working on converting them to wmv’s, and I hope to share one or two soon here on the blog.

Jeff Guin, NCPTT Marketing & Public Affairs Manager, videoing a waterfall and hillside. Photo credit: Debbie Smith.

Winding path. Pedestrian path through the wood; at edge of hill northeast of the Gift Shop.

Approach to Lookout Tower.

Early morning, Main Gardens.

I worked with a wide angle lens, hoping to capture some more comprehensive shots of the landscape.   I was working with an good quality government camera, but as it was new to me, they turned out a little different than what I was seeing in the viewfinder.   A few are decent though.

After an hour or so in the field, we drove over to the group lodge where the board meeting was being held.  A recently constructed facility, the new lodge sits on the southern banks of the lake, near Flag Island.  Great views of the lake from the back porch.  We met John Byrd, and we were able to share the basics of this project with the group.  The Friends mentioned an individual or two who might be able to assist with the research, and they expressed interest in highlighting this project in the Gardens’ newsletter.

As we planned for the interview, we remembered the Lookout Tower was a pleasant spot on past visits.  We met Mr. Byrd at the Gift Shop and walked to the Tower from there.  Jeff was setting up the video camera and tripod, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the breeze was causing too much disturbance on our audio.  Mr. Byrd suggested a shady area beneath a large ginko tree below us, and this became home base for the next hour of our talk.  Mr. Byrd’s passion for the Garden shined through the entire interview as he shared a variety of topics on the development and cultural significance of the Gardens.  We asked him a few questions here and there, but John’s true love for the park carried the conversation.   I’d like to eventually share a few clips here, but the entire session will surely be an important piece of this garden’s archive material.

Interviewing John Byrd. Involved with Hodges Gardens since childhood, Byrd shared stories from the Gardens' years of development, and commented on the cultural significance of the Gardens. Byrd is a professor at Northwestern State University's Department of Biological Sciences, and he currently serves as president of the Friends of Hodges Gardens. Jeff Guin (NCPTT Marketing & Public Affairs Manager) is with the video camera. Photo credit: Debbie Smith.

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