Tag Archives: Rural America

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.


The Little Green House That Waits…

Two years ago I was out and about in a small Central Texan town researching and interviewing locals regarding the history of a few other abandoned houses that I would frequently visit, when I came to learn the tragic background of this small and unassuming little green house near Highway 84. For several years I had driven by and always noticed this little green house, but never took the opportunity to actually check it out in person; that was until I had learned of its story and felt compelled to connect with it.

The house sits on unevenly stacked piles of cement blocks and is located in the corner of a large plot of dry grassy land that I originally assumed was completely fenced off for cattle grazing – though I can not recall ever actually seeing cattle graze there. When I first saw the house I wasn’t positive if it was in fact legitimately abandoned, though it did look rather sad. It was obvious that the little green house didn’t belong on those cement blocks and there were many unfinished elements that were visible from the main highway, I simply assumed that it belonged to someone local and that they had uncertain plans for it so I never checked it out.

Then I met a couple nearby who had graciously welcomed me into their home and while they were eagerly making a map of nearby houses and buildings of interest that I should consider for my series they told me the story of the little green house.

About twenty some years ago an older out-of-town couple, on the verge of retiring, decided that they had wanted to relocate and spend their golden years together in Central Texas. They had bought this little green house, a common squared shaped building with a pyramidal roof – not much different from many other mid-century rural homes seen all over Texas and beyond, from an undisclosed location and had it transported to the plot of land where it currently sits. Unfinished.

While the little green house was in the process of becoming a finished home, the couple tragically met their untimely death. They were crossing the train tracks not too far from their new hopeful home when an unnoticed train had slammed into their vehicle.

Presently the little green house quietly sits where it was originally left as a silent homage to the couple’s dream. No one had since bothered to finish, sell, or tear it down.


Bavaria Highschool 1925

Sometime in February of 2010 I came across a small unincorporated town in central Kansas with a highschool building dating back to 1925.

I remember it being a bone chilly day when I came into town.The sky was bleak and uninteresting; and not a single person but myself seemed to be outside or maybe even in town itself. I had knocked on the doors of a few houses with the hopes of learning something about the history of this school, but no one answered. I sort of suspect that a few had ignored me and watched me from behind the curtains.

The architecture of the school was the standard for this era of American high schools and my guess is that this little village was probably the largest of little unincorporated villages within several miles and therefore became the logical choice for a more central school that could educate a growing population. My other guess is that eventually, like many other rural communities across the country, the school most likely was closed sometime between the 1960’s and 1970’s for consolidation with an even larger school in a larger nearby town. As modes of public transportation improved and the American population both swelled and shifted from rural isolation toward more city centered locations – due in part to economic and cultural changes – it became financially necessary for midsize rural towns to once again combine their resources with an even larger and more modern school buildings in larger towns that had the ability to serve to a wider territory.

I wanted to and it was possible, though unsafe, but I didn’t climb into the school at this time; nor have I had the chance or luck of returning to reshoot and explore the area further.

Peering into the interior through a broken window I could see inside was loaded with what appeared to be several decades worth of unwanted and broken property from possibly the entire town. Dusty tables, broken lamps, rusty bicycles, deflated basketballs and much more were all in view. There was barely any space to comfortably stand let alone walk around and I suspect that my presence in the little village was seen as intrusive; I don’t know if this was an accurate vibe or just my imagination. From what I could see, beyond the junk, was a large open space that was very likely a gymnasium and/or multipurpose room serving also as the cafeteria and assembly hall. I remember my old elementary school, that was also once a the high school with separate entrances labeled for boys and girls, having a similar layout and the room functioning as several rooms throughout the day.

I am still devising a plan to return and take better photographs of this high school – please don’t judge me on these two – and of several other nearby buildings on my list; and spending more time in the region talking with locals, hopefully a less chilly atmosphere. I currently have a couple of regional contacts and hopefully more will come.


Rt 66: The Fading Mother Road

For years it has been a dream of mine to explore the iconic RT 66 from start to finish, photographing the current state of decay of the many memorable landmarks in juxtaposition with the overlooked communities that still remain attached to the Mother Road.

This is not that trip, not yet at least, but I take the opportunity, whenever it is possible, to explore bits of the old highway during my travels and scout for potential locations to photograph in the future. This image was taken during one of my short excursions into San Fidel, NM.

Today San Fidel is a ghost town, but once upon a time it was thriving community along RT 66 where Mid Century American families would stop for cool refreshments, fuel and perhaps make a purchase of local pottery made by the Acoma tribe.  Now all that remain are a handful of families and a few ghostly reminders of a former life along the fading Mother Road.


Bunny Acres Ranch

Texas is loaded with hidden gems for those who are adventurous enough to turn off the main highways and explore the endless number of county dirt roads beckoning for your attention. These largely ignored roads are bumpy, narrow, twisting, dust kicking scenic joys for the wanderlust at heart. You will find yourself thrown into the heart of real Texan life, unknown communities peacefully hidden behind the subtle changes in the landscape and scrub brush. It can, at times, feel like wonderland.

I came across Bunny Acres on one such county road adventure sometime in February of 2011; thanks to a wonderful couple who were kind enough to point me in the direction of some interesting buildings they knew of. I met them through a local historian in Coleman, TX who knew that they could answer some questions I had in regards to another house in the area that I had my eyes on. The couple was more than helpful and through them I have gained an even greater appreciation and love for the homes that I found.

The little ranch house of Bunny Acres was not completely abandoned; both the property and the house were still actively in use by a local rancher as a place for storage. The house was filled with bales of hay and around the property were some loose bits of equipment, a tractor and evidence of recent tire tracks. There was no easy way into the house without causing damage, and the doors and windows were locked. Because the house was still in use I wouldn’t want to mess around inside in case the rancher should come by.

The house looked like it could be a hundred years old; perhaps a little less, but not by much. It is definitely prewar. The small size of the house combined with the oversized and oddly attached porch roof gives the home a strange whimsical wonderland like vibe, though I don’t think that was the intention of the original builder. The entire house was gently resting on several stacks of cinderblocks, a common sight found in parts of the South. I assumed at first that maybe the current homeowners had the building relocated from another location – something that I have already encountered a few times within the area. See: Dance Hall. But recently I had also learned that, due to issues with the clay soil, many people in the area would choose to rest their homes on cinderblocks as a simple solution to avoid the expensive problems that the shifting soil would have on a foundation. Because of the soil, you will rarely find older houses in the area built with a basement.

 

I didn’t spend too much time at the Bunny Acres, but the little ranch did leave its mark on my imagination. I almost would have passed by it if I were not so lucky to be looking in another direction.

Lucky me and Lucky you!


Unknown, Texas

It was a beautiful early Spring day when I found this muted little house. I was originally en route toward another abandoned home known as The Green Roof House located a short distance away; when I noticed the Unknown House quietly existing amongst its naked shrubs and dry golden grass.  The setting was like any other rural Texan home left abandoned for reasons unknown; it was isolated from its neighbors, simple in structure and – despite its close proximity to the highway –  it was barely noticeable by most who would drive by.

What I remember most about the Unknown House was the masculine vibe that seemed to silently ooze through the broken boards and missing windows. When poking my head through one of the glass less window frames for a better view of the interior, I could almost faintly detect the rustic scent of cologne mixed with sweat and dirt. It is not very often that a house comes across to me as being so decidedly masculine. Normally it is the feminine presence that I would sense in these old homes. It is usually the stentorian remains of  someone’s “feminine touch” such as the revealing layers of decorative wallpapers that would linger behind long enough for me to find and photograph.

I have wondered a few times if this building might have been used to house the unmarried men who may have worked the ranch belonging to the earlier mentioned  The Green Roof House; though nothing inside or on the property was found that could prove my theory right or wrong.

I don’t remember why at the time I chose not enter the house.  I can’t recall a feeling of unwelcome as I walked around the building and I cannot see anything in the photos that showed any real danger in entering. There was no basement to fall into nor any wasp swarms to avoid.

I left the house, undisturbed, and continued to the Green Roof House.

NOTE: The Green Roof House’s story has not been publish as of yet. 


My First Abandoned House

It was sometime during the Winter of 2007-08 when I came across my first abandoned house in rural America. It was this particular house that sparked my growing obsession for photographing abandoned rural buildings. I had seen plenty of empty discarded houses before on the road, in passing, but this was the first time that I was able to walk up to one and see it up close.

This classic farmhouse was located on a dirt road behind a thin barrier of trees and shrubs. The yard was littered with bits of rusting farm equipment, some of which was hidden under the grassy overgrowth and made walking across the yard a bit of a safety challenge.

When I walked onto the property I felt like I crossed into another dimension. The air grew stale, sounds were muffled and time seemed to slow. The front door was wide open and almost beckoned me to come closer; but, mostly because of my over-active imagination, there was no way that I was going to walk inside and explore the interior.

Every horror movie I have ever seen was flashing before my eyes. They all seemed to start with an innocent looking home, like this one, and carefree characters, such as myself, going about their day like it was any other day with nothing to fear. That is, of course, until IT happens. I knew that by going inside I would become THAT girl who should be running away at the first sign that something was even remotely wrong, but instead naively walks upstairs alone to become the next victim of a serial killing blood thirsty werewolf zombie who freshly escaped from an intergalactic mental institution with an ax and a vendetta against Jersey girls. No, I could not and will not be THAT girl. Not this time at least.

I tried to push the thought of being gruesomely slaughtered in North Dakota out of my head – I knew at that point that I was really just a victim of my own saturated imagination – with the hopes of maybe building up some courage to take a peek through the window. That too was not going to happen. I was pretty sure the house was alive and would eat me – see, that crazy imagination strikes again.

What I did do was sit and stare with wonderment at why this place was left to rot away. Looking at it anyone could see that  it was really once a decent farmhouse. From the outside the structure appeared to be sound and functional. The design was the modest no frills practical architecture that is popular among many  American farming communities. There was plenty of used equipment to be found along with a barn and several sheds; all painted red in typical fashion. It was obvious that this was once a bustling farmstead but something had happened to make the last occupants leave.

It was the mystery behind the house that stirred my curiosity and desire to see more similar places. I wanted to discover the stories behind these empty places and document what clues were left behind. I was fascinated by the isolation and melancholic beauty of their deterioration. Like any new obsession, I wanted more.

When I left the North Dakota farmhouse I felt regretful that I did not muster up the courage to walk inside with my camera in tow, but ever since that day I have enjoyed the thrill of getting closer and braver with each newly discovered abandoned building; and preserving the existence of each one through photography. Now I find myself walking freely upstairs – when there is an existing upstairs safe enough to walk around in – and feeling confident, most of the time, that I can handle a werewolf zombie hiding behind the door because I am a kick-ass Jersey girl.


Elmira Schoolhouse

When I first spotted this beautiful old wooden schoolhouse around the bend, I almost drove off the road.

 

It was a sizable century old building situated relatively close to a narrow two-lane road in Elmira, Illinois; and, despite its physical fragility, it had a powerful presence that demanded your attention as you passed it by.

It was impossible at the time for me to stop, due to work, but for the next several hours all I could think about was returning to this building for a closer inspection. I had become so obsessed with the thought of returning that I literally drove three plus hours out of my way to retrieve my foolishly forgotten camera from a hotel room in Iowa, just for last twenty minutes of available daylight. I was worried that if I didn’t make it back before the sun had completely set then I might not have another opportunity in the future.

The schoolhouse was in very poor condition and looked like it was barely holding together when I was walking around the premises. A large section of the Western facing wall is missing along with most of the back wall and portions of the floor. The wood was splintering and coming down plank by plank. The school had many long windows but the glass panes, along with the doors and steps leading up to the front entrance, no longer existed.

Information about the town of Elmira and its abandoned school was practically nonexistent. What I did manage to find was that the town is unincorporated, as are most towns in the surrounding area, and a statement dating the schoolhouse to 1903. The date seemed about right and was pretty close to my first guess, mid 1890’s. I knew it had to have been before 1910 because most public schools built afterwards were standard two-story brick building.

I am going to assume that this building was used not only as a schoolhouse, but also as a meetinghouse and place of worship for the local community. Multiple usage of a focal building in a small rural community was common. This Schoolhouse had two large rooms plus a basement. Considering the size of the town and number of surrounding farms it is hard to imagine that there was enough students to fill each of the rooms during the school week a hundred years ago let alone today. The bell in the steeple could easily have been used to call students to the classroom along with the congregation to a Sunday sermon.

I suspect that the Elmira Schoolhouse has been abandoned for several decades, possibly sometime in the mid 20th century. The students would most likely have transferred to a larger school nearby, as a part of the school consolidation trend.  In addition to the students leaving, a church with modern amenities was built nearby for the congregation thus ending the need for the now decaying schoolhouse.

If anyone knows the history of this schoolhouse please contact me. I would greatly appreciate knowing more about it.


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.