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River Views

May 2024
1min read

Cities of the Mississippi Nineteenth-Century Images of Urban Development

by John W. Reps, with modern photographs from the air by Alex MacLean, University of Missouri Press, 342 pages.

This book tours Mississippi river cities of the nineteenth century from New Orleans to St. Cloud, Minnesota, as captured in bird’s-eye views by traveling artists beginning in the 183Os. All of Hannibal, Missouri, lies packed onto its square plain in one early lithograph; in others the white stone riverfronts of Memphis and Vicksburg look perfectly Venetian. In this beautiful collection, prints, perspective maps, panoramas, town plans, and written observations accompany the aerial views to create a memorable impression of early life on the river. The text chapters work chronologically, even as the scores of pictures follow the river from town to town.

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine said in 1858 that “these towns come up in a night, and grow, like the prophet’s gourd, so fast that one can hardly keep pace with them.” Alex MacLean’s recent aerial photography, which appears beside bird’s-eye views of the same locations a century and more earlier, shows that the pace has considerably slowed and that most towns have kept remarkably faithful to their original plans. “Even such a disaster as the Mississippi River flood of 1993 will probably not change the basic patterns of land division in the many cities affected,” the author writes in his introduction. “It is likely, therefore, that most rebuilding and reconstruction will leave largely intact the preflood boundaries of lots, blocks, and streets.”

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