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Posts Tagged ‘Hodges Gardens State Park’

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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Yesterday afternoon John Byrd brought a flash drive of Hodges Gardens images.  Several are of early construction years when his father C.B. Byrd consulted and managed park operations.  In anticipation of John’s arrival at the upcoming morning meeting, I transferred the files onto my computer here at the office.  John offered to sit down and chat about the history captured in the photos, so I look forward to our meeting again in a week or so.

After reviewing my knowledge on Hare & Hare, I was ready to meet with folks over the landscape architectural drawings.  It was a casual meeting, and our main goal was to facilitate everyone’s interest in viewing the scanned drawings.  Several of us gathered in the conference room here at NCPTT:

–          Raymond Berthelot, Chief of Interpretive Services, Office of State Parks (Louisiana) [ In Natchitoches today for a meeting as well, Ray brought the scanned drawings from his office in Baton Rouge ].
–          Kim Kelly, Manager of Hodges Gardens State Park
–          John Byrd, President of the Friends  of Hodges Gardens
–          Kirk Cordell, Executive Director, NCPTT
–          Kevin Ammons, Administrative Officer, NCPTT
–          Debbie Smith, Chief of Historic Landscapes Program, NCPTT
–          Addy Smith-Reiman, Intern at NCPTT
–          Derek Linn, Intern at NCPTT

After brief introductions, we gave a quick introduction to the summer research.  I shared a bit about Hare & Hare, as I believe this discovery of their involvement brings even more significance to this special place called Hodges Gardens.

Established in 1910, Hare & Hare are considered one of the pioneering firms that helped establish and bring to light the profession of landscape architecture in the United States (Birnbaum & Karson).  I was glancing at the Hare & Hare entry in Birnbaum & Karson’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design, and found this:  “Hare & Hare’s designs emphasized winding roads contoured to natural topography, the preservation of trees and valleys, and scenic vistas.”  As Kim Kelly and John Byrd suggested previously, the landscape design was sensitive to, and benefitted from, the natural and quarry-influence topography. This really rings true to much of what one sees at Hodges Gardens today.

Opening the first file from the My Computer menu was like unwrapping a birthday present 10 years ago.  The 20+ scanned drawings were both interesting and beautiful.  Notably, several of the drawings communicated elements and designs that are not present today.  Though our investigation will continue, it appears that many of these such examples were preliminary drawings—a couple offering two or three design alternatives.

The drawings were in plan, section, and perspective views; a few sheets focus on construction details. Some focused on the Old Fashioned Rose Garden, the present-day Willow Point Fountain area, and the triangular gift shop approach up the hill.

The first page that we viewed was a Hare & Hare planting list for the Old Fashioned Rose Garden.  The following note is included: ‘plant names in this list are in accordance with “Standardized Plant Names” Second Edition, 1942 – American Joint Committee on Horticultural Nomenclature.

Special thanks to Raymond Berthelot for stopping by and sharing the images.

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With the scans priced at $25 per drawing, it was worth some time to try to locate who might have purchased these previously.

David Boutros at the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center–Kansas City was really helpful, and we learned that a Raymond Berthelot purchased and received the scanned drawings in 2007.  Ray Berthelot.  Debbie and I immediately recognized this name.  Berthelot was listed on our initial contacts page as Louisiana State Parks’ Chief of Interpretive Services.

Although we initially received Berthelot’s name from Hodges Gardens State Park, we were in the understanding that the only drawings that existed were architectural ones focused on the buildings, and that even these were not purchased due to the expense.   To our pleasant surprise, the drawings were landscape architectural, and were purchased (though still quite pricey).

A quick sketch from my notebook below visually summarizes the following process of discovery:

  1. Receive list of associated persons’ contact information from Hodges Gardens State Park (individuals who might be able to assist with our research).
  2. Search archives and quiz a few of the contact persons (with the exception of Ray Berthelot and two others) on the location of original landscape design drawings or of the landscape architect on record;
  3. Discover Hare & Hare Landscape Architects are credited through a newspaper clipping in the Park archives; contact Carol Grove, person we know currently doing Hare & Hare research.
  4. Carol checks her Hare & Hare database and connects us with a Kansas City research center that appears to house Hodges Gardens landscape drawings.
  5. David Boutros (State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center–Kansas City) informs us that Raymond Berthelot (who happens to be a state park official on our contacts list) purchased and received the scanned drawings in 2007.
  6. Ray Berthelot finds and offers to share the drawings with us.
  7. The drawings are ultimately shared (at an upcoming meeting Tuesday June 28) with Hodges Gardens State Park and us; our research continues, with further direction.

Process sketch. See numbered list above for written account.

Lesson learned through this landscape documentation research episode:  Call ALL persons on initial contact list before diving into research or attempting to chase surface or detailed information.  Although we contacted several folks who shared clues, Raymond Berthelot had the masterplan drawings in his office downriver in Baton Rouge.

Either way, this is very exciting.  These drawings will help immensely as we gain a better understanding of the original designed landscape, and as we form conclusions about the evolution of the recent history of the land.  Ray Berthelot, Kim Kelly, John Byrd, Debbie Smith, perhaps others at NCPTT, and I plan to meet over these scanned drawings Tuesday morning here at NCPTT.

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Hear, hear:  Hare and Hare!

Debbie and I spent Wednesday afternoon in the park archives.  After an exciting morning, we were enthusiastic to find some more clues.  Again, if we could find a name or firm associated with the landscape design on the site, we could define our historic drawings search, and see if any original landscape masterplans existed.  After about an hour and a half of scanning through scrapbooks, Debbie found one of our most exciting Hodges Gardens discoveries: a landscape architecture firm credited with the garden’s design.  Even more significant, the name was Donald Bush, landscape architect (FASLA) with Hare & Hare in Kansas City!

Practicing with a group under the name Ochsner Hare & Hare today, the original firm was a father and son team, established in 1910.  Notable Hare & Hare projects include the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.  Realizing the firm’s connection with Hodges Gardens brings much excitement to the project.

We found this Hare & Hare listing in the middle of a scrapbook, within a clipping from the Shreveport Labor Leader, Winter 1964.  Donald Bush, along with Ralph Reinhart (check that link!), were important partners in the firm during the early and mid 20th century.

Debbie remembered that a colleague of ours from the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation is researching Hare & Hare.  Small world?  Mhmm.

Carol Grove, Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Missouri—Columbia, was excited to hear of our research.  She checked a comprehensive database of Hare & Hare projects, which indicated that the landscape firm was indeed involved, and that up to 20 or more project files might be available at a Kansas City research center.

After Carol initiated contact with David Boutros at the State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center (Kansas City), we continued conversation.  A phone call revealed that some 25 large drawings and another job file folder was available at the archive—and that a party had requested scans of the drawings back in 2007.  Who was this party, and where are these drawings?!

Newspaper clippings. Skimming for information at the Park's archive.

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When Debbie and I arrived at Hodges Gardens State Park it was raining heavily.  So nice.  This marked the 2nd day consecutive day of significant rainfall  for the Sabine/Natchitoches Parish area, which brought the first measurable precipitation to most of the area in more than a month.  Triple digit midday temps were traded for upper 70s.  We met at 10am, and the rain continued heavily for the next hour and a half.  I caught glimpses out the window from time to time, and the rain appeared to fall in tender pieces and sheets across the large open field in my view.

The historic aerials were awesome.  With coverage of most of Sabine Parish, we spent a little time matching up adjacent shots.  For our purposes, I am thankful that our site is centered around a 225 acre lake.  This water body made finding our area of interest within the greater coverage area much easier.

1959 U.S. Forest Service aerial images. Lining up adjacent photos.

With low vegetation and a flyover date of March 1959, these were excellent images.  As we finished lining up images (2’ x 2’ each), I set up the scanner and laptop.  Although I had set up the scanner’s software on my desktop computer back at the office, I failed to install it onto the laptop that we found in the office earlier that morning.  So, (Laptop + scanner) – scanner software = no scanning.   Lesson learned here: check and double check equipment/technology (especially any units being used for the first time) before heading to the field.

Thankfully we were able to capture some decent images of the aerials with our camera.  Although we plan to meet up with the images owner later to resume scanning, it was important that we captured copies in some form while we had the images present.

Hope you enjoy the aerials below.  These were saved from the dumpster several years ago when a young man was cleaning out a storage unit his father owned.  After the U.S. Forest Service ended an office unit lease from the image owner’s father, these were left in a pile on the floor.

1959 U.S. Forest Service aerial; near Hornbeck, LA. We photographed every 2' x 2' image of interest without a flash. In case logistics delay scanning these originals in the future, these camera images will be quite helpful in our understanding the early layout of Hodges Gardens.

1959 U.S. Forest Service aerial image. Note the main lake and airstrip at Hodges Gardens in the top right. The three northwest to southeast running lines in the left half of the image, in increasing distance from the lake, are: a utility line, U.S. 171, and a railroad track.

1959 U.S. Forest Service aerial; detail of lake and main gardens area, just two (2) years after its' opening to the public. Note triangular entrance area at top left, bridge to Flag Island (named Nandina Island at this time) at bottom middle (circular island), and the Hodges' private residence on House Island at middle right. The smaller structure at water's edge on House Island is a boat dock. Designed for accessibility, a ferry was set up to transport family or guests from the mainland to the island dock. An underground tunnel and elevator system was available to bring any persons from the dock into the house (perhaps into a basement room, as the island's elevation slopes upward in the middle).

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Monday and Tuesday were exciting days.  I caught up on phone calls with a few more helpful folks.  As mentioned earlier, Debbie and I have been looking for historic aerial images of the Hodges Gardens area.  Since we have yet to find any historic/original maps or construction/design plans for the site, a good quality aerial photo could be a great tool for understanding the original design and layout of the Gardens.  Internet searches and phone calls finally provided some help.

Hodges Gardens Manager Kim Kelly mentioned a name a little more than a week ago—a local individual who (or whose dad may have) has some historic photos of Hodges Gardens taken from an airplane.  I was not sure who captured these photos–perhaps they were taken by these individuals or by friends who spent time flying for leisure or work.  Whatever the instance, a phone call was definitely worth my time on a lead like this.

Given the man’s phone number, I left a voicemail outlining my request, and he returned my call later Tuesday morning.   I mentioned Kim’s name, and he said that he and Kelly went to high school together.  I told him we were interested in images taken sometime between the 1940s and late 1960s.

As the Gardens were originally developed 1950-1957, photos from the late 40s’ would show us pre-development character while 60s’ images would obviously provide some details on the character after establishment (as most all the trees present today were planted during the 1950s, the pines would still be low enough to see some ground level detail through the 1960s, if any such quality images existed).

Much to my excitement, I learned over the phone that the aerial images were captured by the U.S. Forest Service in 1959:  perfect!  As Kim was previously interested in the images, we agreed to all meet at her office at Hodges Wednesday morning.

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