Monthly Archives: January 2011

Manalapan House

Thanks to my Mother’s keen eye, I came to learn of an abandoned house existing in Manalapan, New Jersey.

I was so excited about this house that twice I explored it within a few short days to photograph it under different lighting.

For the first visit I parked at a gas station across the street, sprinted across the four lane highway and staggered up a filthy snow bank onto the front yard. Despite the rush of traffic behind me, I could feel the heavy silence in front of me from this once majestic house.

I advanced through snow and the young trees that had sprouted everywhere in hopes of filling up the open space in order to view this rather sophisticated two story farm house from various angles.

The roof of a decaying and formerly grand wraparound porch is now, with the exception of a small section, resting on the ground, exposing a band of pumpkin colored brick sandwiched between layers of stale, aging white wooden panels. In the back were a few smaller brick buildings, also in a state of deterioration. One building was definitely a garage, but now looks to be a seasonal home for a transient individual, while the others look more like storage buildings typically seen and used on a farm.

In the back of the house I found a couple of open doorways and gingerly stepped inside to find dated furniture along with wallpaper from the 1970′s. It looked as though the original occupants took what they valued and left everything that they didn’t want before boarding the windows up. Parts of toys, some old dishes, food jars and clothing were left scattered about. It was obvious that local kids and squatters have been here over tha years, but it was also obvious that they didn’t bring in all the rubbish that I was seeing.

The floor was mostly hidden beneath the rubble and garbage. In the back of the house, with the windows and door spaces left open and exposed to years of harsh weather, were wooden floorboards rapidly rotting away. When looking in and down from one of those window spaces I could see items, such as articles of clothing and colorless plastic objects that I could not identify, from upstairs now lying on the basement floor. At the base of the stairway rested the plastic head of a dismembered doll within a handful of inches from one of these rotted holes, its dress positioned casually over the edge.

In the front the floor was stronger and capable of holding my weight. Carefully, I walked across the first room, possibly a kitchen, and into the next. It wasn’t until my second visit that I had built up enough courage to walked even further inside the rooms, carefully avoiding the back rooms and positioning myself in the door frames to take my photographs. I figured that since door frames were considered safe places during earthquakes then the same logic would apply to a house that may decided to collapse from beneath me.

It was a very nice house at one point and, knowing how NJ has been dividing and transforming what was once beautiful and vast farmland into overpriced and homogenous housing developments and stripmalls for the past 25 years, I am betting that the owners probably sold their property and retired elsewhere. Sadly it is a common story here in NJ. Many of the old farms in Central NJ are now gone and several of the ones that still exist are preserved only through state funding. I plan to do some research on the area and see if I can pull together a more solid story of what really happened, but I think my guess is pretty close to the truth.

Judging from the state of deterioration, I’m guessing that the property was regrettably abandoned sometime in the last 10-15 years. This was obviously grand home that once belong to a secure and probably affluent family. The architectural details both inside and out are a bit more sophisticated than other farm houses I have entered. I wouldn’t describe it as flashy or expensive in design, but solid in form with some lovely decorative elements in the trimmings.

January 2012 Update: I’m sad to inform that this beautiful house has been demolished, most likely for new development. I came back with the hopes of taking some exterior shots without the snow and maybe try to retake some of the interior shots from different angles, but there was nothing left of the property except for the trunks of a few trees. I not completely shocked that the house was gone – the floors were dangerous to walk on – but I was still hoping for more time with this one. 


You’re Not Breaking the Law, You’re preserving history

My Mother is a funny person and just when I think I have her figured out she always manages to surprise me.

My family is and has always been very supportive of my passion to document rural decay in America and my own saintly mother has even taken it onto herself to scout for abandoned houses for me in the great state of New Jersey. I recently teased my Mom, who has very clear ideas of what is right and wrong, that she was encouraging her daughter to break several trespassing laws.

Her quick and blunt response: “you’re not breaking the law, you’re preserving history“.

Gotta love and fully appreciate how the Mom thinks! I am strongly inclined to agree with her. Some day these houses, these wonderful relics of the past will no longer exist, but my photos will and hopefully with them so will a bit of history.

This will be my third consecutive year that I have spent hunting for and exploring abandoned rural houses with my camera. I can still clearly remember the first house I came across in rural North Dakota, just a few short miles South of the Canadian border, and the rush of fear I felt about entering it. In fact I didn’t enter that first house because the house displayed a menacing vibe that got the better of my often overactive imagination…

Ever since that day I have kept a keen eye out for similar houses and worked hard in improving my photography skills in order to capture the essence and power of these forgotten structures. I enter them with little fear and plenty of determination to see what clues remains inside from the building’s previous life. Sometimes returning several times to see everything in a different light or season.

One day I hope to create a book on the subject, displaying my images and sharing my stories and research, but for now I seek, document and write.


I’m Posting every week in 2011!

I’ve decided I want to be a more productive artist this year and therefore will be posting on this blog once a week for all of 2011 as a motivational tool to push myself artistically.

It won’t be easy, but it will be fun and inspiring. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Peace,

Amber


Table Rock Revisited

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Table Rock has been in my thoughts for several months now.

The last time I visited I had only a mere 20 minutes to walk through the empty village and photograph the first images that caught my attention! I had promised myself, like always, that I would return to this little forgotten community of rural decay to further explore it with my camera.

So here I am, again.

I parked Simone, my trusty ford,  at an abandoned nearby gas station about 1/2 mile away. There were signs all over the place stating “No Trespassing” and I really don’t know if the company still sends people to check on the area or not. Plus there wasn’t anything to provide proper cover for Simone. The entire development is easily viewed from the Interstate and I was aiming to be a little more stealthy than I have been in the past.

The plan was to focus more on details that I had missed during my previous visit and to venture inside a couple of the houses. I didn’t enter any of them last time due to the time restraints.

Once inside the development I made the decision to again NOT go inside. With more time on my hands to really take in the details of my surroundings I can see all the evidence of squatters.  First I look into the ground floor windows of the “big house”  at the entrance of the housing development and saw several sleeping bags and other personal objects laying about. Later, in other houses, I found unbroken windows with blankets hung up to keep light out, and more personal objects suggesting that there were a group of people possibly still squatting.

Out of respect for their privacy and personal space, I decided to remain outside. My thoughts were that these people don’t know me or what my intentions  are and I don’t wish to put them into a situation where they may feel that they have to react defensively. Interestingly the last time I was here I recalled having an intense feeling that I was being watched by a few of the houses. Perhaps I actually was… I never did see anyone while I was there, only their belongings.

Later on I learned that there has been a large problem not just with squatters in the village but also people illegally using the space for Meth Labs. The isolation and desert landscape makes this empty community of houses a target for some illicit activity. Knowing this makes me feel grateful that I had followed my instincts and remained outside, despite my curiosity.


From what I had seen through the windows it looked rather cozy inside. The carpet was still plush looking and some rooms still had their walls fully intact. Several of the houses looked as though they had been thoroughly gutted and terribly abused. While other houses appeared  to have been spared some of the same cruel treatment. Perhaps because these houses were the houses people choose to dwell inside?

I took my time walking around the neighborhood, poking my head behind houses and over fences. Looking for clues of what life was like before everyone left. Keeping an eye out for any sort of security, there was a brief moment when I thought for sure someone was driving toward the village to find me but it was a blessed false alarm. my guess is that the residents left maybe around ten years ago and it looks like there was at one point several other houses that no longer exist. There were a few cement foundations left in the center along with open lots and small fences.

The solitude and stillness of Table Rock Road was intense! Near the end of my visit I found myself stopping and sitting in the middle of the road itself listening to the din of the birds and sharp buzz of a few insects.  The sun was warming and a gentle breeze was calming. I could have spend hours there relaxing and meditating at the spot.

And now, after looking through my photos and writing about my experience, I look forward to visiting it again with different lighting and mindset