Tag Archives: small town

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.


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.


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.

The Hotel is for sale and if you have  a genuine interest in purchasing it please contact Bill Goeken at Goeken.bill@gmail.com


Coleman Decay

In the past four years I have spent many uneventful days in this small Texan town, rarely ever taking the time to see it. It wasn’t until one late warm Summer day last year that I decided to explore the unknown streets and remote corners that lay hidden away from the eyes of Main St.

 

 

My little adventure on these desolated bucolic backstreets lead me to some interesting nooks and crannies along with some perfect examples of Rural Decay. I even learned to appreciate a little town that I had, up until this day, pretty much ignored for its possibilities.

 

Photography has taught me to be more observant of my surroundings and to break out of my own comfort zones to explore what is unseen and what has been easily forgotten. In the past I have stuck to the main roads, but with my camera I find myself sneaking down the side streets and often stepping off the road completely. Without it I would have seen and experience so little.