Tag Archives: postaweek2011

Cement factory

Recently, when passing through the Southern half of Idaho with a friend, we both noticed the remains of a crumbling cement building covered in several decades worth of colorful graffiti. We were driving North on Interstate 15 and fortunately for us the shoulder of the road was wide enough to safely park while we had our photo adventure!

Our adventure didn’t last long, a mere 10 minutes, and we never got to climb around the ruins. The owner of the property had seen us walk by and drove up to make sure that we didn’t trespass onto his property. The cement ruins were behind a typical wire fence used by ranch owners and this particular plot of land was used for cattle.

When I saw the landowner step out of his pickup truck I quickly walked over to introduce myself and ask him about the history and purpose of the building.

He explained in a gruff manner that the ruins were once an old cement factory that had closed in the 1930’s after a fire destroyed most of the building. The building was never repaired and sometime afterwards the government decided to build the Interstate through the original property. Supposedly the government was responsible for tearing the entire building down as a part of the agreement with locals, but only removed what was necessary for the interstate itself and thus leaving the Landowner with small section of unstable remains on his cattle ranch. He was not happy about this.

Apparently he has had a long battle with people, like my friend and I, stopping to take pictures and then trespassing onto his land to take better photos. It’s real nuisance for his cattle and an insurance liability for him. Because of these very real problems for him, the local police have decided to take up a no tolerance approach and will arrest and ticket anyone who pulls over nearby the property. At least that is what the Landowner told me. He did say I could take a few pictures if I wanted, but that I was not allowed to cross the fence onto his property.

We knew from his manner that there was no chance of changing his mind. So we took our few pictures and returned to the car to continue our trip North.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to walk around the building itself, which I found to be an interesting piece of local history definitely worth preserving, Just the same, I can completely understand the concerns and perspective of the Landowner. If I were in his place I would not be to keen to put myself at risk for a lawsuit either, nor would I want to risk the safety of the cattle.


The Perryton House

I came upon this Texan house at the end of a long quirky adventure involving two other abandoned houses in Oklahoma and picking up along the way an amiable migrating homeless man from Florida.

Located in the Texan Panhandle, just a few miles North of Perryton. This house was a simple no thrills white Ranch style building with red trim around the windows and an oversize front porch that could make any Southern grandmother with a pitcher of sweet tea envious. The most impressive feature, for me, were these colossal trees firmly planted at each corner and creating a surreal mellow oasis in the barren panhandle. I stood beneath one of the tees and was in awe that they had grown rather straight and large in an area well known for its consistent strong winds. Most of the trees in this region tend to look like they could use a V8 juice, but not these Perryton trees!

I found the front door left ajar, almost like the house was patiently waiting for me, and displaying an amusing little sticker warning that I may be carried out if I break in…  HA!

Inside I found the air to be almost too musty and stale to breathe. None of the floor was visible beneath the piles of damp moldy ceiling panels and what looked like dirt, but could also have been decomposing building materials. Walking across this room was like walking on living sponge. Each step would slowly spring back up as I moved forward.

Seconds after entering the house I turned to my left and beheld what was the most perfect photo opportunity! An ugly faded floral reclining chair juxtaposed against a damage mural of a classic Western landscape. I was not expecting to find such a great image. Immediately I leaped over the filth and crouched low to get some decent shoots. The whole scene looked like it was frozen in time, as if the owner had meant to step out for just a moment with intentions of returning to her seat for an evening of jeopardy.

This was the first interior mural that I have come across in my decay adventure. Usually I find odd paint colors or peeling layers of outdated wallpaper patterns. I imagined that someone related to the previous occupants had painted this. It felt intimate.

From the living space I eagerly walked down the hallway, trying not to trip on the ceiling panels, to see what goodies might exist in the bedrooms. Sadly there wasn’t much of anything else to see and a few doors were jammed shut.

From the window of one room I noticed a police officer had pulled over and was outside looking at my car. For a brief moment I froze and could feel my heart thumping wildly against my chest in hopes of escaping out the back while leaving me behind to be carted off to the local jail.

At first I didn’t know what to do. I have been in and out of countless abandoned houses and NEVER once been caught by the authorities. I knew I couldn’t hide inside the house and quickly decided that the best action to take was to be proactive.

I walked outside and without hesitation I put my hand out to the Officer, introduce myself and gave him a quick explanation of what I was doing before he could even speak. I figured that if I was blatantly honest and showed all my cards he would see that I was not a threat or causing any harm.

To my relief the Officer turned out to be really cool and even seemed interested in my photo series. He didn’t seem to mind that I was there but did give me a warning to be careful because the locals are not the type that would react kindly to intruders.

I asked if he knew anything about the house or who owned it, but sadly he couldn’t recall a time when there were people living here. Apparently the place has been in poor condition for many years because the owners chose to let the place fall apart rather than sell or rent.

I did not stay to  much longer after the Officer drove off, but based on his account and a Ghost Buster sticker that I had found on a  back window I am estimating that the house was abandoned at least 20-25 years ago.

About 6 months after my photo adventure, I passed by and saw that the Perryton house had been completely demolished. Nothing is left except a few of the trees along the edge of the property. Seeing this empty space was unfortunate, I had hoped to return to retake a few photos.


Zink Lane

In central Virgina among the Blue Ridge Mountains there exists an overlooked rural lane leading to a small country home on the verge of demolition.

Zink Lane is a short paved road that quickly fades into a wooded dirt path. It was a hunch of mine that taking this easily missed road would lead me to the modest two-story house that I saw next to the interstate.


What stood out to me about this house was its extremely close proximity to a major highway and the peculiar set of tiny windows.

The house felt despondent. The front porch was littered with papers, broken glass and garbage left behind by previous intruders. It also looked like the front exterior wall was covered in burnt feces. My first thought was that who ever lived here was not fully embraced by the rest of the community. I have never seen an abandoned house attacked with feces before; and personally for me the act of throwing dung bombs at a house resonates deeply hateful vibes.

While Looking inside through the broken front window I could see that the stairs leading to the second level were missing; they looked like they were violently torn out. The rooms on the first level were dark and uninviting with little light coming in through the small windows. It was not possible to enter the house through the front door, but I did find a way inside through the back door.

The property was not leveled. It had a slow declining slope toward the Interstate. I was hesitant at first about walking up the weak set of stairs in the back to enter what would have been a kitchen on the first level. I couldn’t find another way in and was nervous about the conditions of the floor after seeing a very deep basement space underneath the house. After some internal debating I decided to take careful steps and hope for the best. I knew if I didn’t enter the house I would kick myself later, best to avoid those moments.

Inside was pretty bare with the exceptions of a few items like a broken stereo dating back to the 1990’s, it looked very similar to one that I had owned, some empty shelves on the kitchen walls, dingy faded curtains, a squatter bed and random materials. Even though it was bright and sunny outside, inside I felt like I was in a cave. I could not imagine ever living here, nor would I want to imagine such a dreary thing.

While slowly making my way around the back end of the house I noticed a huge fluffy dog running by a window. At first I felt a moment panic and wasn’t sure what to do. Was this dog with someone or loose and on its own? Was it friendly? A few short moments later I see the owner and by then I was already outside in case it was someone coming to check who was on the property. It turned out to be a local man taking his dog for a walk in the woods. I inquired about the history of the house, but he was relatively new to the area and knew nothing, but suspected that the house will be demolished soon. Apparently there was once another house on Zink Lane that was also abandoned and recently torn down for the expansion of a truck stop.

Before leaving the property I stopped at the front porch again and decided to look through the piles of dirty old letters. I didn’t read all of them. They were out here for many years and in pretty gross conditions. Dirt, bugs and I don’t want to think what else I was touching.

The letters told more complete story about this house and its last occupants. All the letters were from a woman, I won’t share her name, who lived here in the late 1990’s and sent to her estranged husband in custody of Virginia State Correction.

Her letters were intense! She was a hardworking and struggling single mother who kept in contact with a man that she had mixed feelings for. She cared about him, that was obvious, but didn’t trust him. He had hurt her with his infidelities and criminal behavior. In her letters she would tell him about his kids and her daily life as well as call him out on his nonsense.

I could tell that she was not a very well educated woman, her grammar and spelling was painfully poor and sometimes difficult to understand. She constantly struggled with bills. A few times she was close to being evicted and on the verge of homelessness. Because all the letters were from her I am suspecting that they were returned to the house from the prison or him after she and her children had vacated the house.

Whether she left on her own accord or was forced out by the landlord I do not know.  The most recent letter that I saw was dated in February of 1999.

The letters confirmed my first impression of the house feeling despondent. There was no way a family could be full of happiness while living here. The interior walls oozed gloom and despair. The location of the house was uncomfortable and oppressive. There was no privacy despite the secludedness of the woods and dirt path.

After reading the letters I could only hope that the woman and her children moved on to a brighter and less depressing space.


The Dance Hall

I would have never known the existence of this old “Dance Hall” if it were not for a few acquaintances I made with some kind Texan folk when researching histories of other local abandoned buildings.

The “Dance Hall” is about 100 years old and according to the owners it has been relocated at least three times in the past century over the distance of several miles. It was originally built near  Rock Quarry by the railroad tracks and over the years it has been used as a place of residence, a Dance Hall for the local community and currently used to store hay and other farm related materials.

The original structure is simple in design and stubbornly holding together. When I asked if I could go inside I was told to be careful, not because of weak floorboards but of possible snakes. It wouldn’t be the first time I came across snakes while exploring rural decay and thankfully this time was not one of them. It was creepy inside with the wind blowing across the metal roof and through the gaps in the wall. My imagination was stirring as I stepped inside and saw the walls buckling out. I tried to envision rowdy dances, like the ones you see in old Western films, held inside; but it was a stretch. I am pretty sure by now any wild dancing would cause the floor to give out.


The Whimsical House of Avenue P

Avenue P is a narrow residential dirt road on the edge of Anson, a small central Texan town famous for being the inspiration for the Kevin Bacon film Foot Loose.

Not the place one would expect to find such playful and quirky architecture, but it was on this unsuspecting road where I found what felt to me to be the most whimsical rural house I have ever seen.

From the main road I could see the broken windows and bare wooden walls peeking through evergreens and winter trees. It beckoned to my curious nature and an immediate U-turn was performed.

From the front of the house you see a foundation for typical Texan house with a low roofline and a small porch entrance, similar to every other family home on the road; however, even from this vantage point you see elements of the creative spirit who once dwelled here. It was these creative visual elements along with the over growth of trees that set this house apart from the rest of the houses on the road and gives it its whimsical almost fairytale like quality.

The small porch reflected a Neo Classical inspiration with its squared columns and a simple pediment with arch opening over the doorway. The door was boarded up and windows were covered thoroughly with large sheets of corrugated metal. Looking closer you can notice more simple decorative details under the concealment of the wood and metal.

Walking around the house and passed the trees into the parking lot next door I was able to get a full view of the back. An addition was added to the original simple Texan home and it revealed even more whimsy than the elements added to the front. Most of the windows were still covered, but I could see and admire small Mondrian styled stain glass accent windows. I was pleased that these windows were not damaged like many other windows from the numerous other abandoned houses I have come across. My hope is that others didn’t have the heart to break a beautiful decorative element like these.  They are simple in pattern and color, but they offer a visual texture that completes the house.

Even more noticeable than the small stain glass windows, was the odd structure of what I assume is a semi enclosed balcony.  While standing directly behind the house and looking at the design of the balcony with the lines and form of the house you can see this odd plural marriage of Mondrian patterns, classical elements and modern architecture.

I never found a way inside because the house was well boarded up and there was a large colony of wasps swarming out of a crack where the original and newer addition meets.  When winter comes back, and the wasps are mellow, I hope to be able to find the current owner and gain access for interior photographs. I also hope to learn more about this Texan Gem. Why anyone would leave abandoned this creative oasis is a tragic mystery to me.


School Is Out

I came across this wonderful example of a prewar high school building several years ago; it wasn’t until recently that I managed to locate the owners and gain access inside. Several times I had tried to learn the identity of the owners through online searches and a visit to city hall, but had no luck. Finally I decided to stop and talk to the locals in town, and eventually one person lead me to another who lead me to another until I found someone who knew the answer to my quest. I was given all the information I needed and kindly informed that similar requests had been made before but not granted.

After leaving my business card with a member of the owner’s family and playing short game of phone tag with the owner, I found myself on the in. The owner liked the work he saw on my website and agreed to let me inside under the condition that I do not reveal the location of the building and kindly share with the owner some copies of the photos; as he is planning to renovate the building soon and would love to have a documentation of what it was like prior to renovation.

Conditions were fair enough for me. I would have given him copies anyway, as it is only a fair exchange for his generosity.

Plans were made to meet outside a week later and the owners gave me a lovely tour of the building prior to my photo shoot.

The high school was a large building constructed in 1922 and originally served only the local town population until eventually it served as the main high school for the entire county until it closed its doors in the mid 1970’s. At that time the high school students were relocated to the newer high school building, built to accommodate the growing population, and the original high school building was converted into a middle school for the next 15 years. The building has been empty since maybe 1989 and the gymnasium, built in the back in 1952, was used until the mid 1990’s.

In the school’s early years a small open room in the school’s basement served as the only space sanctioned in the surrounding Baptist County for social dances. It was hard to believe that this room was meant for social parties when it was so dingy and dark. There were no windows to this room, only a large door leading to the back. This same door was also one of my only two ways out of the building should I need to leave or escape.

When we first entered the building the owner wanted me to wait by the back door so he could check ahead for squatters. Apparently he and his girlfriend noticed a broken window the previous day and were not sure how long ago it had been broken. When they bought the school a year ago there was an issue of squatters and they wanted to check the area thoroughly before leaving me alone inside. I could appreciate that!

The first floor was where the science rooms existed. There were lecture rooms that reminded me of modern college stadium style classrooms, but much smaller in scale; pipes and electrical outlets that would have been connected to chemistry tables. There was also a dark room with attached art room. The art room still had an easel and one of the doors had old set of earphones hanging on the knob.


In the front and center area of the building existed the main stairway from the front entrance leading up to the second level. Walking up these stairs I could see the grind of thousands of previous footsteps on the edge of stone steps. The students were no longer around, but they left their mark.

It was on the second level I found the principal’s office, library and study hall room and, most excitingly, the lower access into the school theatre.  The theatre was my favorite room. I found myself walking back to it several times. There were a few rows of seats that dated back to the original 1922 seating and the rest were from the 1960’s. Some of the seats were missing, a couple of doors rested in the aisles and the light fixtures were damaged from previous destructive trespassers. A set of eerie gray curtains still hung as the stage backdrop and plenty of lovely light came in from the large windows. The theatre took up two floors, most of the back center of the building and was complete with loft seating from the third floor.

The third floor was filled with simple classrooms with some old school chairs and the access into the theatre loft seating. I found plenty of graffiti left on the chalkboards from previous students. I think the owners were going to find a way to preserve those. The chalkboards were in great shape and it was amusing to read some of the written comments from former students.

Surprisingly the damage found inside the school was minimal. There was some roof leakage in the front. The leak made the walls and floor weak, visible on both the third and second floor. In the back corner of the theatre room was another leak. Both the leaks were fixed by the current owner to prevent the damage from getting worse and areas affected will eventually be repaired. Beside the two small sections to be avoided for safety reasons I had no problems or limited access with the rest of the building.

I spent about 4-5 hours inside; taking my time and returning to several interesting spots as the natural lighting outside changed. There was one point during my day when I stopped everything and sat in the doorway of one brightly painted room just to gaze down the empty hall; taking some time to reflect in my sketchbook on where I was and what I was finding. With the exception of the pigeons and muffled sounds from the outside world, it was rather quiet inside. I felt alone in my own little world and wanted to enjoy that moment before it was time to leave. I like to think that buildings like these have their own souls and will connect with a person, such as myself, in the same way that I often feel connected with them.


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.


Sweetest Little Cottage in Kentucky

The setting was picturesque; a faded path leading toward a young forrest cozily enclosing itself around a quaint cottage slowly succumbing to abandonment and decay against a mountain slope while small bits of green emerge from slumber to celebrate the upcoming Spring.

The cottage looked like it could have been at one time the perfect getaway for a writer seeking bucolic inspiration for his or her latest novel, or an artist craving quietude after spending a length of time in the big city. Most likely it was a comfortable home for a small and modest family. Some of the details echo a Victorian influence. Perhaps it could be described as Folk Victorian?

The Cottage was in weak condition. The porch could not hold my weight without the wooden boards snapping, I wishfully tried. Only the three front rooms remain as the back end had collapsed a long while ago. I have a feeling that the Back room was built as a later addition, possibly to keep up with a growing family. Behind the house existed the remains of a storage room or root cellar of some type. It was made up of local stone and was partially encased in the upward slope of the ground. peeking inside through the front opening I could see that there was still some damaged shelving left against the back wall. Not to far away remained the outhouse, locked with what I imagined was the original hook lock.

I noticed some evidence that the house was eventually wired for electricity, though I do not think it was originally so, partially because of the root cellar and outhouse along with the simplicity of  what could be seen. There was black electrical box of some sort built into a narrow space between the front door and a window. From the outside, several wooden boards were removed to expose what I think was where the wiring would have existed. I am guessing that maybe someone came along and took the copper wiring. I didn’t see any outlets in the bedroom or the main living room, but I could have just missed them.

My favorite details of this wonderful little cottage was the brightly colored wallpaper inside. Looking through what I suppose was the bedroom window I saw a blueish painted wall with a missing piece revealing an wallpaper designed with flowering bouquets of vivid colors. I wish I could have gotten closer to it for a better image. It was a lively print. In the living room there was at least five layers of completely different wallpaper patterns. Some of them looked like they came from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, but I am not exactly sure. Still reading up on that subject.

Another impressive detail was the still vibrant shade of Haint Blue painted on the porch ceiling. It looked as though it was freshly painted not to long ago, when in fact the opposite was true. I once heard on an house detective type of television program that people long ago would paint the porch ceiling this particular color as a way to repel evil spirits away from the home. There wasn’t much information about Haint Blue or why this color is so common on porch ceilings and interior walls. I did find an NPR article that touched on the subject.

My guess is that the cottage was built prior to the 1920’s and has been abandoned for at least 30 years, maybe even longer. Thick vines had permanently attached itself to the outer walls of the bedroom and young trees thicker than the diameter of a quarter  grew from the small crawlspace under the house  outward. I stood at the window of the living room for a long time admiring the quaintness of this little space. The charming essence of cottage was undeniable. It would be obvious to anyone that this was once a cheerful home.


Please Support Rural Decay with a Vote

This week I submitted a portfolio of twenty images into a Photo competition in hopes of winning an Artist Grant to help with my pursuit of documenting Rural Decay. But, now I need friends, family and supporters to take a few short seconds to click on the link below and vote for me.

 

http://www.focusproject2011.com/photobook.php?artist=Palechickstudios

 

Thank you so very much for taking the time out of your day to support me and my work

 

Sincerly,

Amber


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.