September 25, 2018

I found these old photos today at a local historic archive and thought I would post them. This landscape was one of what I term the exit ramps” of the pre-civil war interstate system. Think steam powered paddle-boats and barges, not autos. Early in the war (June 11, 1861) the union blockaded and sealed off the river at Apalachicola preventing the export of cotton.

At the northern reach of the navigable part of the river was Columbus-Phenix city where there was a Naval iron works. The union also effectively blocked any production from this facility to produce ships for the confederacy throughout the course of the war.

What is interesting to me is a how these waterways dictated the layout and location of town across the cotton belt of the south. What today seems disconnected, when looked at from the viewpoint of highway system actually conforms to the original transportation grid via water. I’m going to map these and build on what Jack Williams did in his book East 40 Degrees and Easy on Easy off.

The question that is bugging me since studying under Williams and reading his books are — is there (in addition to what he observed) a distinctly different in landscape that held slaves a captive workforce and organized around the production of cotton ? If so how does this express itself differently in the physical form of the communities in regions like the black belt? How are they linked? Is there like in ecology sharp environmental gradients, an architectural equivalent to an ecotone ?

There is also a very interesting historical argument to be had that during reconstruction did the black belt region lose an important way to export cotton by the blockade and then that continued with the subsequent rapid expansion of railroads by industrialists? I.e. Growers now lost a transportation network direct to ships docked at St. George island (cotton was unloaded at Apalachicola then put on barges that moved across Apalachicola bay to meet ships anchored at St. George island) that could deliver their products directly to mills in Europe, especially England’s textile mills. Point then is in areas that saw cotton dominate after 1870- introduction of fertilizer, was more reliant upon rail, as opposed to how the black belt region and lower Chattahoochee valley was tied to water. I would be interested if the urban form and settlement layouts are likewise differentiated in physical form. Are pre-war towns and communities organized along a transportation grid based on water and direct access to European markets denied with growers forced to use the U.S. banking system and feed cotton to northern textile mills different, if so how ?



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