Tag Archives: Iowa

Sioux City Urban Farm

This was more of an urban farmhouse than a rural homestead. The surrounding area was a sprawling industrial landscape stretching outward the boundaries of Sioux City, Iowa and this little unsuspecting white farmhouse lingered quietly in the middle somewhere.

I made my father pull over and he waited in the car as I walked across the overgrown and noticeably lush front yard, careful not to trip over hidden objects or step into what I am assuming are gopher holes. The sky was above me was transforming fast and time was limited. Any moment it would begin to rain, the wind was already picking up.

I didn’t get inside the urban farmhouse, though I think I could have with some maneuvering on my behalf through a broken window and if my father wasn’t patiently waiting for me to return to the car.

Its funny how a parent’s presence can always alter the course of an event – no matter how old you are – regardless of their support and encouragement that they may give you. My father is very supportive of my need to photograph and document abandonment in Rural America, but sitting in a car while I do what I do isn’t exactly on his list of things to do. Though I must give him credit he showed patience when I am sure there were several other things that he needed to tend to.

Walking around the property I sensed that this is one of the last farms in the area to be torn down and transformed into something else. The air about it reminded me a little bit of West Manor Way – a rural road back home in New Jersey that was once filled with abandoned Victorian farmhouses, but now cleared for several rather ugly industrial buildings. This little urban farmhouse felt somewhat out of place and a bit lonely. About a half a mile in one direction existed storage like warehouses and small business strip malls with offices for truck parts or welding companies. In the other direction I could almost see the edge of the city as it began its transformation from urban center to outer industrial.

It was easy to see that this was at one point a well-kept homestead. The building itself was a classic white farmhouse with obvious additions built in the back. The grass, though overgrown, was not exactly an untamed jungle and to one side of the house along the edge of what would have been the driveway was a rather neat pile of short logs, possibly for firewood. Behind the house was a wooden fence dividing the property from a barn that was in poorer shape. The only real bit of chaotic mess, besides some small vandalism, were some random bits of wooden debris surrounding a car that was resting upside down.

I am guessing that the last occupants left the property within the last ten years at least and because the house felt so glum to me I don’t believe that it was a painless parting.


Manly Hotel

Interestingly, it was my quest of learning the identity of the owner of a another abandoned house in the area that led me to this little quiet town of Manly in Northern Iowa and thus to the Manly Hotel.  The hotel was an intriguing brick building that stood apart from the rest of the town both in character and architecture; immediately it captured my imagination. After speaking with a few local residents I learned a bit more about the building and was given the current owner’s contact information.

The hotel dates back to late 19th century. It was originally known as the Doebel Hotel and was built by a German Immigrant and prominent Manly citizen, Henry Doebel, in 1895. Mr Doebel, his wife and their eight children ran the hotel for many years. At some point the building’s ownership changed hands and it was renamed the Manly Hotel. Eventually the building evolved from a hotel into several apartments and then into the base for the local Head Start program. The old hotel was shut down about 15-20 years ago and has been unused ever since, It is currently for sale by the owner.

Locally the building is known as the hotel in which John Dilinger and his infamous gang had spent a night in 1934 before heading into Mason City, about 9 miles South, to rob the First Union Bank the following morning.

Bill Goeken, the current owner, was kind enough to meet with me and allow me the opportunity to photograph the interior of his hotel. I was a little nervous at first when contacting him and had fully expected him to say “No, its too dangerous”, but to my grateful surprise he said okay and trusted me enough hand over the key to let myself in.

I went early the next morning with the hopes of there being some interesting sunlight peaking through the clouds, but instead the sky was a solid bleak grey; which did not make for interesting exterior photographs. It did, however, make for fantastic lighting for the interior shots.

Snow and ice hadpartially blockied the entrance and had to be scooped away so that I could open the side door wide enough to squeeze through. With the door closing shut behind me, I felt like I had entered another world. Outside noises were muffled and the only din to be heard were the steps of my own feet.

Mr. Goeken had warned me to stay mostly on the right side of the building because there was a leak from the roof on the left or backside of the building. He had figured that the continual moisture had made the floorboards weak and unsteady and he was probably right.

Like many other buildings I have entered in the past, the hotel floors held  bits and chunks of wall and ceiling debris, though the first floor was relatively clean. Years of dust had settled on everything and cobwebs collected in dark corners.  Standing in one room you could easily see, through the gaping holes in the walls, into what would have been the next three rooms. The building had been purchased a couple of times with the hopes of renovation, and the materials from those hopes still remain in place. Shovels, piles of lumber and rusted nails could be found and almost tripped over. One room was the bathroom, possibly the original, and easily identified by the salmon colored tiles and old personal hygiene items piled on the floor.

The first floor was easy to walk around, it felt sturdy. I felt comfortable even when slowly inching further to the forbidden zone on the left side for a closer look at some remaining sheets of tin ceiling. I suspect that this might even be the original ceiling from when Mr. Doebel built his hotel. At least the popular use of the material and style would have been consistent during the building’s construction.  Not much of the tin ceiling exists. Only a small corner in the left barely remains attached to the ceiling. The metal is rusted and most of the paint has come off over years of neglect.

It was the top floor that made me want to rethink what I was doing. The floor was fine to walk on as long as I was careful and remained on the right side as Mr. Goeken suggested. The damage from the leak was a bit more obvious; icicles had formed long the ladder’s steps and other wooden edges. I could easily distinguish the light sound of water consistently dripping from the ceiling onto the ladder, down the icicle and then finally into a puddle on the floor.

Most of the floor was barely visible through the thick layer of building materials, garbage from previous workers, chunks of porcelain and wooden boards. The walls, with the exception of a room or two, were almost completely gutted.

A couple of old bathtubs lined what was once the hallway and one room remaining somewhat intact was still covered in lovely floral wallpaper. Evidence of remodeling could be seen along the top edge of remaining walls when a newer ceiling was applied. Perhaps more tin ceiling still remains above the more modern ceiling panels. I don’t know the age of the wallpaper, possibly it could date to the 1940’s and 1950’s, but at some point somebody decided to cover the walls with sheets of wood paneling. My guess is that would have been sometime around the 1970’s or 1980’s when the building was transformed from apartment building into the home base for the local Head Start program. No evidence of this, just a personal hunch.

I spent about an hour inside the Manly Hotel before relocking the door and dropping the key off at the corner gas station for Mr. Goeken to pick up.

To be plainly honest I was a little sad to leave. Part of me wanted to stay longer inside and become even better acquainted with the melancholy remains of what was once a lovely Victorian hotel. It really is a lovely old building and has so much potential to be something amazing again.

Frozen House


I found this frozen beauty a few years back when I was just beginning my quest for rural decay. It is or was located on a narrow farm road in Northern Iowa. Most of it at the time was still standing with the exception of the front room and part of the kitchen. The front room had fallen completely to the ground and somewhat blocked the one clear entrance inside. I debated heavily about climbing over its gelid roof and into the open living space. There was a deep basement below and no one knew where I was, so I regretfully decided to remain outside. Inside the house the floor was covered with bits of the ceiling and a inch or two of snow. A few tattered bits of furniture remained behind. I felt that this house was once a jovial space.

For the duration of my time spent there I was trying my hardest not to succumb to hypothermia. Several times I had to return to my car, which I left running on the side of the road so that it also would not freeze, to thaw my fingers out and warm up before venturing back out into the Artic. The wind chill was equal to what was experienced in Fargo in the dead of Winter. It felt like it was blowing through all the layers and straight into your bones. It was FREEZING!!

Most of the photos taken on this infamously chilly day were pretty bad both technically and compositionally. I had little clue at the time to what I was doing, on what direction I was wanting to take this budding passion of mine and what my new camera was capable of doing. Everything, at the time, felt new and it was exciting. A few of the images taken then were okay and they are posted here now, but I know that if I happen back that way I will happily return to this little farmhouse and retake those images. If I am lucky the house will still be standing and maybe I can learn more about it.




The Britt House


This isolated beauty immediately captured my imagination.. She was standing alone on a remote rural corner calling out to me as a drove by.. An hour later I was back and crawling all over the place. Inside were empty oil drums and large tractor tires mixed in with chunks of ceiling and wall plaster.. The Kitchen was mostly collapsed in the back and exposed to the weather elements. I never did go upstairs, the last thing I wanted was to fall through the second level floor.