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Posts Tagged ‘John Byrd’

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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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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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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I reviewed archive material on Friday June 10, and Monday June 13 through Wednesday June 15 allowed an opportunity for me to continue work with this blog—organizing and summarizing elements of the research through posts, photos, and pages.

Later that week I connected with an important contact we discovered through Hodges Gardens Manager Kim Kelly.  John Byrd (Friends of Hodges Gardens President and Northwestern State University Assistant Professor of Biology) currently teaches at the Natchitoches campus and has been involved with Hodges Gardens since his childhood.  Kim told us his father was also involved in the early development of the Gardens.

Debbie and I had already learned that the Friends of Hodges Gardens were having their monthly board meeting that Friday, June 17.  We hoped to be able to visit, and maybe share a summary of this project with the board members.   Perhaps this would be a good time to connect with Mr. Byrd as well.

Although Byrd said he was available to meet at the NSU campus that week, we wanted to save our initial meeting with him for that Friday if possible—this would hopefully allow us to capture more of the unscripted feel of a first visit.  If Byrd approved, we wanted to capture some of the conversation on video, as well.  I talked to him on the phone early Thursday, and he was more than happy to meet for a Friday interview.  An early departure that morning would allow for some video highlights of the landscape as well.

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