Tag Archives: nebraska

Road 16, Nebraska

Farmstead

The farmstead

The first time I discovered this remote farmstead, a rural oasis of decay in Western Nebraska, was in the early Spring of 2010. It was a fabulously gorgeous sun filled day with a cool zephyr. I was heading East with the intention of meeting up with my father in Iowa for our next work assignment and earlier in the day I had photographed two other equally exciting Nebraskan farmhouses near the Wyoming border. It was one of my most memorable and exhilarating days in rural exploration. It was a kind of day that one hopes to repeat.

Window

I remember the prickly jumpy sensation erupting across my skin when I caught my first glimpse of this lovely house quietly resting amongst overgrown trees and budding Spring grass. From the interstate I could easily see that the farmstead was sequestered from the living world by generously vast farm fields not yet prepared for the new growing season. I knew in my heart, my gut, my thrilled soul that something wonderful awaited for me here.

Missing woodstove

Missing woodstove

Within seconds I saw an exit and immediately turned off the interstate. I made my way toward an unusually wide dirt road, Road 16; and with my overflowing good luck the road led past the farmstead in question. Thanks to the unusual wideness of the Rd 16 I was able to park my car along edge without fearing that I would be blocking an unlikely passerby. There was no driveway or path that I could walk to farmstead leaving me with only one option, to run across the farmer’s field; it was still winter-hard and uneven from last season’s ploughing. Crossing the field was not difficult, but the rock hard furrows were not easy on the ankles.

underground storm shelter/root cellar

underground storm shelter/root cellar

To my incandescent delight the farmstead did hold many wonderful treasures for me to photograph! The house in itself was also pleasure to explore with the walls of each room displaying curiously colorful paint choices. I had expected the house to be an empty shell, but instead there were shoes, gloves, handmade furniture and a few antiquated items that I had eagerly hoped would still be there for future visits.

Rusted nails

Nails and hardware by the front door

My second visit was just a few short weeks ago, almost two and half years after the first. I had just completed a work assignment along the Western coast and was once again Eastward bound to meet up briefly with my father before taking a Midwestern detour to visit a dear friend.

To my pleasant surprise and gratefulness the house was still standing; lately it seems that many of my old haunts are quickly being demolished before I feel fully satisfied in knowing them, it’s a sad reality that comes with photographing and documenting Rural Decay. There never seems to be enough time to get what I want.

Inside is painted Haint blue

Inside is painted Haint blue

I was eager to see what had changed over the years and from the moment I stepped onto the property I could instantly see and feel the difference. There was once a pickup truck that looked to be from the late 1940’s or early 1950’s that was once parked on the edge of the property facing toward the house. I remember it being a dark forest green and rusted. All that is left from the pickup truck is a pile of broken windshield glass and four deep tire impressions in the ground. A pity, the day was a good day for a photograph.

Pickup truck

My only photo of the truck from before.

The tire impressions and broken glass

Where the pickup truck was once parked.

Inside the front living room there was previously an old black wood stove, possibly from the 1940’s. It was located beside the doorway leading into an adjacent room. Today, in the stove’s place was a pile of cream pinkish wall rubbish. I also noticed that the door was no longer hinged but removed and placed on the floor.

Woodstove

The missing woodstove

A third noticeable difference was a missing cast iron tub from the side porch. And though the tub is no longer there a faint outline of the tub along a wall faded from years of direct sunlight is the only proof that it had ever existed.

The outline of the missing tub

The outline of the missing tub

With the last few years bringing hardship to many across the country it is difficult to know for certain if the individuals who removed some of the key items for scrap metal or eBay were treasure hunters or the current property owners. When I first came the front door was closed and, respectfully, I closed it after I left. This time the front door was left open. I could be wrong, but this detail has me thinking that treasure hunters are the more likely case.

Laundry folding station and rotted stairs to second level

Laundry folding station and rotted stairs to second level

Despite the changes over the years the house still feels welcoming and new details, unnoticed last time, meet the eye. I realized during my second trip that the exterior was originally painted red, like a barn, before someone covered the thin wooden siding with a mint green and white shake siding. Some of the greenish square panels had broken off to reveal the original red color, now almost completely stripped, and were carelessly piled on the ground around the house.

The blue room

Blue room with gloves

I am curious to learn what will change in the next year or so before I return for my third visit. Will the house remain standing, will the few valueless items like a dusty ceramic cup or rotten pair of canvas shoes still exist or will it become a sanctuary for wild animals and passing squatters? Or, maybe nothing will change and I will discover another detail that had gone unnoticed.

Container

Item left in the pantry

Dusty cup

Cup left in pantry

Until then.

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The Little Sidney House

I almost missed this little Nebraskan house. It lay sequestered across a small bit of distance and some active RR tracks. If it wasn’t for a brief and lucky moment, of me glancing to my right when the road was slightly elevated, I would have continued South into Sidney, oblivious to any personal loss. Fortunate for me I often experience these lucky moments!

For a fleeting moment I had considered immediately pulling Simone, my beloved Escape, over onto the shoulder of the highway, parking, and sprinting across the tracks and grassy landscape toward what I have referred to ever since my visit as the “Little Sidney House”. Named for its close proximity to the nearby town of Sidney.

Instead of parking on the highway, I managed to spot a place to safely cross the RR tracks, Pacific Union I think, and gain access to a dirt frontage road that would lead me straight to my desired destination.

Pulling up onto a grassy path that was once the driveway, I immediately notice a discarded Christmas tree tangled with another tree and still decorated with its red ribbon. It was a depressing sight. It looked as though the holiday tree was ceremoniously tossed out the front door and forgotten about before the door had shut.

I interpreted the Christmas Tree as an indication that the house was probably recently abandoned by its previous occupants, since it was early Spring.

Inside, like so many other houses before, there existed a mess that gave me reason to suspect my earlier thoughts about when the house was abandoned may have been a bit off. There were chunks of the walls missing and scattered on the floor in pieces. Damage woodwork, and a destroyed bathroom and kitchen. In the kitchen the counter with sink was torn away from the wall and laying on its front side and the wall paper looked dated, possibly from the 1970’s. In the front of the house I saw evidence of a small fire that almost got out of control. I suspect the fire was from vandals visiting the house after the occupants abandoned it. There was no upstairs level, but there was a basement. I did not venture below because there was a dead animal at the foot of the stairs.

The house was small and the floor plan was similar to what was commonly built in the 1920’s, give or take a few years. I know the area South of the house had been settled in the late 19th century and to the North a town was established in 1913. Based in this and some basic knowledge of housing styles, I think my estimate is fairly accurate.

Out back I found a pile of rubbish with items that would make any collector of 80’s memorabila ecstactic, a Rambo thermos, a couple of those classic plastic lunch boxes that were so popular in the late 70’s and 80’s and an old plastic Polaroid camera.

Its been almost a year since I had ventured into the Little Sidney House, and I hope to one day soon make a second visit. Just to see what has changed. I am curious to know if the Christmas tree still lies entangled in the front yard, or if another visitor found the Polaroid camera and decided to make off with it.


The Gurley House

The Gurley House, once existing on the edge of a little town in Nebraska, was a two-story farmstead partially surrounded by a fence of tall, dark and thick evergreens. The somewhat isolated setting was similar to a rustic image imagined out of a book or admired in a quaint American Regionalist painting by Wyeth. The house was simple in architecture, but full of charm, and could easily wake the imagination within even the most characterless of individuals. Parked at the edge of the driveway, I took in the vision before me like it was perfect cup of tea meant to be savored by all the senses and not mindlessly gulped down like a sports drink. There was something special about this house.

From some simple research I estimate that the Gurley House was probably built between 1910 and the mid 1920’s. The town itself was founded along the railroad tracks in 1913 and the electrical outlets I found inside the house were common starting in 1923. Some of the architectural elements of the house, such as the wood trimmings and the efficient floor plan, also place it around this era. I don’t know much more than that.

I found the windows of the first floor to be completely smashed out, no surprise there, and doors were left wide open, thus making it easy for a curious traveling artist to enter and explore with her camera. Normally while exploring an abandoned place like this my first steps are timid and small until I gain sense of how sturdy my surroundings are. To my delightful surprise the floors were extremely sturdy and in fantastic condition. Even the stairs and upper level were safe to freely walk about. There was no visual evidence of wood rot that I could find. The place was a mess from crumbling plaster and previous visitors having their fun.  Walls were pitted with holes that varied in size and the wall paint peeled off in thick strips. I had never seen paint peel off the wall in a manner that imitated fabric or wallpaper. It was fascinating.

The downstairs was in possession of a few decrepit chairs, which happens to be one of my favorite subjects to photograph while exploring decaying residences, and plenty of colorful rooms.

The upstairs didn’t have much of anything to look at except for some colorful wall damage. There were a few rooms, but only one was open. The other doors were jammed shut and I could hear the sounds of panicking pigeons on the other side as I jiggled the handle. I decided to leave them be and return to the first level. At this point in my quest for Rural Decay I had never before ascended upstairs. Sometimes I would venture a few steps up to get a partial view, but mostly I would stay on the first level, as it seemed to be sturdier than the upper level. I guess I was feeling a bit brave that day, especially with the condition of the floors.

I didn’t take as many photos as I normally aim for, mostly because I was planning to return with my not quite yet possessed new Wide Angle Lens. Some of the rooms were acutely small and the use of an ultra wide-angle lens would have helped in capturing the full essence of the room.

Tragically this house no longer exists. I have passed by the little Gurley farmstead a few times since my visit last May and with each passing I quickly crane my neck in hopes of catching a glimpse of what is now an empty lot. As of yet I do not have the details of what happened. Interestingly the little stone garage and large barn are still standing which leads me to suspect an accidental burning. According to my logic, if the owner was going to tear down the main house then why not tear down the other equally dated and damaged buildings. It would save time, money and other resources to do everything at once. Just a thought.

This is the first house in my Rural Decay collection that no longer stands and a few others, I have recently learned, are to be demolished within the near future.  It is a heart breaking reality that I am sure will happen often in the future.