When I lived in NH, I photographed old cemeteries lot. They’re some of my favorite places and you could hardly go a mile without passing one, complete with stone walls, some gorgeous gates and mausoleums. Alas, Wisconsin only became a state in 1848 and so consequently not many are old enough to have the same artistry, charm and character. What is a photographer to do?
We have tons of it here, especially in the northern part of the state where barns, homes, cabins and other structures are just left to molder on their own. Jackpot. So I’ve decided to put together a series of what I hope will prove to be interesting photos and posts. Mostly it’s old houses and barns, but I did find an abandoned church not far from here as well, a welcome surprise.
Right now, with snow on the ground it’s a lot harder to get up close to these lonely buildings and in some cases it’s probably ill-advised. I’ve never been one of those photographers who ignores no trespassing signs or walks into rickety and possibly dangerous structures, but I will when it make sense.
Also the nature of having to stay off property kind of limits my angles, perspectives, composition and framing so I will be experimenting with processing techniques to add some flair and distinction to what could become a pretty dull set of repetitive images.
Any interesting stuff that happened while shooting, I’ll also tell you about. Like with that sepia house up there, a nice fellow Subaru driver stopped to make sure that my hazard lights didn’t mean I was stuck or in trouble. When I told him what I was doing, he advised a monochrome approach and he was right.
Locations are going to be harder. Many towns up this way are unincorporated and it’s hard to tell where one begins and another ends. Boondocks, man, boondocks. I may have to confine things to roads and counties since those are easier to ID.
With no leaves on the trees, old buildings stand out more, but not always. They still hide. I passed this old log cabin a few times after the leaves fell without seeing it at all. Then the snow on the roof – a dead give away! I didn’t have gaiters on to go in and explore, but I definitely will when the snow melts. Now I know where it is, its summer camo won’t keep me away.
Winter is a great time for showing us things we might ordinarily not see at all. I have no idea how many times I’ve passed this house, but I’m sure it’s dozens. Finally the other day I noticed it. I had to laugh though because it’s about 50 feet from the edge of a pretty busy road. I’ve even gone past it in winter and not seen it. Funny.
Even though the light was less than ideal, I just had to stop. It’s a funny mix of things, this little house. It looks as if it were originally built as one big room and had some additions tacked on. The windows have different latches and there is a mix of shake and clapboard siding.
Next door there is an occupied house whose resident had snow-blown a path over to this ramshackle pile and I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I felt watched the whole time I shot. I fully expected someone to come talk to me (like when I shot the abandoned Texaco station in 2009) and question what I was doing (duh…can’t you see I’m baking pies???), but no one did.
I am always respectful though. I don’t attempt to get inside unless it’s very easy to do so and with this little cabin, it wasn’t. Just above this doorknob is a padlock. Severely rusted and probably no longer really useful, but I respected its intent. Too bad it was in a patch of sunlight and too harshly lit to make for a good image. Same with the interior, which had some lovely plaster work and moldings. In softer light it would have worked, but as it was I didn’t get any usable images. I do like this shot of the underpinnings though.
It looks like the heat source was one stove originally, expanding to two of them with the addition to the left. Also it looks like it was never wired for electricity. Sometime recently, but not very recently, it was used as a storage shed for someone who did a lot of crafts (buckets of pine cones, starting to disintegrate) and maybe had a roadside nursery (lots of plastic plant pots – hundreds of them, stacked inside and a garden hose).
I wish places like this could talk. For example, I’d love to know what was leaning against the far right wall by the chimney. It looked like the frame of a wagon or sleigh, but without the chassis it was hard to tell. Ah, life’s little mysteries.
It’s been a “rough” four days. Rough only in a strict first world sort of way. I was without the internet at home for four days.
Yeah, we had a wicked noreaster come through and dump a foot or two of snow on us. Some got more, some got less, but a few million of us lost electricity and cable. If it happened a month later it wouldn’t have been so bad because more leaves would have dropped. Since so may were still on trees (especially oaks) we had tons of tree and branch damage to power lines. Lots of impassable roads and spoiled nature preserves. Bummer, but no injuries and no deaths except a few by carbon monoxide build up in homes from generator use. The people I heard about were using them correctly (outdoors, away from the house), but didn’t realize a window in the basement was open. That stuff is so deadly.
Anyway…I do have a generator wired to the house so I got to watch plenty of movies (all 3 Lord of the Rings which was a treat, I tell you), run the microwave, take hot showers and keep my toes toasty. Better than most I know, but the no internet thing was killing me at first. Then I got into a new routine and it wasn’t so bad. Still, I did miss it.
So here I am with a belated Halloween post for you. When we left Woodford Reserve in Versailles KY (the pronounce it Ver-sales, btw…oh my the French would be so appalled…it is SO American to do stuff like this…embarrassing, but that’s off topic). Anyway, when we left the distillery we took some back roads. We LOVE back roads. This is why –
I tell you I couldn’t stop and get out of the car fast enough. A train!!! Stuff like this just doesn’t exist in New England outside of barricaded train yards. OMG. I went right past the notices telling me I had to have a railway agent accompany me to the train and not to approach it at all. Bah. Who could keep away? Certainly not the locals who were wicked creative and put a haunted train together.
Not all the cars were dressed up this way, but a few were and we saw lights strung up and even a fog machine. Oh how I’d have liked to seen it at night.
Oh it was fun. And yeah, I had to get up into a couple of the cars. Obviously others had done so before me and didn’t die…or did they?
I was in Kentucky and Tennessee this past weekend. My husband had a seminar in Nashville on Monday and since he had to go down on Sunday anyway, we decided to go a day early and see what we could see. Having never been to either state before it was a new experience for both of us and one we’re likely to repeat. One reason is Kentucky bourbon. We’re both fans and so some bourbon tasting was definitely on the agenda. A friend of his suggested we take the back road to Woodford Reserve so we could see some distillery ruins. Oh how could I refuse? Unfortunately (or fortunately since they seemed really decrepit and dangerous) we couldn’t get into one and didn’t have time to trespass in the other. Here’s the one we couldn’t go into –
Old Crow Distillery –
To get all of these shots I had to put the camera on top of the chain link fence between strands of barbed wire. It was well over my head and I was very thankful for my flip and swivel LCD so I could see to compose.
Bourbon making evolved out of whiskey making pretty soon after it got started in Kentucky. Every current bourbon producer has its own story as to how bourbon was created but a few things are consistent. At first whiskey was a clear liquid made simply from corn mash. It was drunk all through the colonies and also used as a bartering product in Appalachia (leading right to the Whiskey Rebellion under the contentious administration of Jefferson and Hamilton). I didn’t get a sense of Kentucky’s participation in it, but here is where true American whiskey was born. Someone, somehow put whiskey in a barrel that had been burned. Exactly how it was burned is lost to us, but it was probably an accident. Shipping whiskey down to New Orleans took a long time; 5-6 months on average and by the time it arrived it had taken on the character, color and flavor of the charring inside the barrel. After a while people began to prefer it, asking for that whiskey from Bourbon county Kentucky, eventually shortening it to bourbon.
Just down the road from the ruins of Old Crow are the ruins of the Old Taylor distillery. In between are barrel houses upon barrel houses, many of which are used today by the Jim Beam company. When we got to Old Taylor we could hear voices from people trespassing by the barrel house and further up the sound of some power equipment; like a saw. There was a new, red pick up truck parked just inside the now open gates. Eventually someone came out and asked what we were doing there. He warned us that if we were caught inside the complex or even had our car parked near it, we could be ticketed or towed or both. Playing the tourist angle and introducing ourselves got us an invitation into what turned out to be a woodworking shop, ironically housed in the old cooperage. Deputy Sheriff Sandy was working on some plaques for the various law enforcement departments he does work for. He invited us to sit a spell and talk. We did.
He told us all about the Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries and how the Old Taylor brand is being revived by the good people at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. It was closed down in the 1970s and left to sit. Barrel tracks, loading bays, mash cookers – all left behind. Even the timecards of the last shift workers were left in the clock house by the gates. Sandy went on to explain that Kentucky bourbon must first be made in the state, contain no less than 51% corn mash, distilled to 160 proof and no higher, be barreled for at least 24 months in new, charred, white oak barrels. Charring those barrels is a highly individual thing and ranges from just a few seconds to almost half a minute. Most bourbon spends far longer in those barrels; averaging 7-9 years.
Well, as much as it pained me to go (since I wanted to tour the ruins legitimately) we had to. Before we did though, Sandy told us about a soldier who is buried in the cemetery across the street from the distillery gates. I would have stopped there to shoot anyway (you know me and cemeteries), but knowing about this really old dude made it all the more special. Here’s his death notice in the Louisville and Nashville Christian Advocate 1853 –
JOSHUA McQUEEN born Baltimore. Co., Md., Oct. 15, 1746; died Franklin Co., Ky., April 17, 1853 in his 107th year; s/o Thomas and Jane McQueen; firstborn of five children; enlisted in American army and served 7 years during the Revolutionary War; among battles he was in: Germantown, Monmouth, Brandywine. “At Valley Forge, he was one of the sufferers in that memorable winter, when the fidelity of the soldier was thoroughly tested” during which time he was servant to Gen. /Nathanael/Green(e); md Margaret Baxter; had 11 children; about 1790 moved to Madison Co., Ky.; joined MEC 1792/93; wife died and he md Jemima Cornelison d/o John and Elizabeth Cornelison of Ky. who was a Baptist; moved to Franklin Co., Ky. 1832; to three miles below Frankfort, Ky. in 1842 where he died.
Wow. Just wow. Sandy himself bought and erected the modern stone you see here. No one knows exactly where Joshua is buried, but just knowing he’s been commemorated is a good thing.
Oh and before I go, here’s a working distillery – Woodford Reserve –
We got an excellent tour here. That building houses all their active production; shipping & receiving, bottling, yeast cooker, mash fermenters and 3 copper distillers themselves. Amazing and very labor intensive. Small batches is putting it mildly. The tour guide mentioned a nearby cemetery, so of course I had to go there, too. It’s directly across the road from the visitor center and had its own fascination –
In the back corner there is a stylized representation of what I think is a corn maiden. Corn being the biggest cash crop around Kentucky and a mandatory ingredient for bourbon, it’s not too surprising that images of corn appear everywhere; signs, gateposts and fences just to name a few.
Anyway, that’s it for now. Coming up – a Kentucky ghost train just in time for Halloween!
This was the first place we visited on our way down from Reno. We planned to go there during the trip, but not so soon. However, we found ourselves very near to it so decided to switch up the schedule.
I knew going into it that it would be kind of a zoo, tourist-wise (worse even than Rhyolite), and I only lost my patience once or twice. After that we moved out of the normal flow of people and ran sort of counter to them. It made things easier on me. I hate to be crowded, edged, pushed or otherwise dogged through my travels. Even if it’s not deliberate on the part of other people it bothers me.
Given ideal circumstances, this place would be a delight to visit. It’s supposedly been preserved exactly the way people left it, but I’m not really buying that. Some of the houses are set up like aliens came and took everyone. Things are a bit too artfully arranged if you know what I mean. Even so, it was a fascinating look into a mining town during the boom years.
I won’t go into the whole history of Bodie here since there are many other good websites for that. I’ll talk about the challenges of photographing it instead. I was very disappointed by the available light. I’d been hoping to access the park close to or during civil twilight, but it’s not open anywhere near those times. So I had to deal with harsh, high altitude desert light. Hm. My first mistake was not bringing my tripod for the interior shots. I should have gone to get it, but I was disappointed and cranky and it made things worse than they needed to be. That’s seriously a problem for me, but that’s for another post.
I tried stepping outside of the traditional though and I think I did an ok job. Here’s a shot of a house on the mill side of Main street. It was fenced off as a lot of the area is on that side of town and I couldn’t approach it. So I decided to focus on its isolation.
Post-processing wise I started with a LR preset (I forget which one) that altered the white balance and color hues just a bit. I also used the adjustment brush here and there to focus attention on the house and give the hill some contour. The sky I left as scornful as it looks. For me it helps me envision how difficult life probably was in Bodie. Those patches of white on the hills in the shot below are snow. The town lies at 8300 feet and so it takes a long time for snow to melt. Plus this was a banner accumulation year. Most of the buildings were buried completely, with only the church and similarly tall buildings visible above the snow.
I imaging that if you came upon it from a distance, on another nearby hill looking down at it, you might think it was an oaisis. A refuge of sorts from the unforgiving desert. I think you’d be wrong though. Even with a church, I don’t think it had much of haven about it. California mining towns rarely did.
I spent a little time on Main Street where the farrier, machine shop, hotel and store stand along with the fire station. Later in its life, Bodie had a small gas station as well. You can see it reflected here in the hotel door.
This is my favorite image of Bodie. I was surprised that the lens focused to infinity on the glass; it too fooled by the image presented there, and the door frame was rendered out of focus even though it’s less than an inch from the glass.
I really wish I could have gone into the hotel. Great stuff in there including a pool table and stuffed animal heads over the bar. Mostly though I just waited for people to get out of the shot. If they’d been less garishly dressed, I could have left them in, but as it was they didn’t add anything to the shots, only detracted so I waited.
As you can see the light is really contrasty. Shadows everywhere and I was less and less inspired as I walked through the town. Plus my husband was starving and lunch was in the car.
I did want to visit the cemetery though so we ate quickly and I went up there. By that time though, he was anxious to go and giving me the silent treatment so I rushed through and didn’t really explore it at all. One of the only touchy times for us on this trip. As I said, I have to balance relaxation for him and photography for me. Time to time they don’t coincide exactly and I have to back off. I’d have liked to explore more of the town, but it was near to park closing hour and we didn’t want to get caught in a parade, so we left early. It wasn’t too great a disappointment though.
Here are a few more images that I did manage to produce.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably noted my love of abandoned things and the woods. Well lately I’ve been able to combine them in a really excellent way – mill ruins!
I went walking in some nature trails in Hampstead the other day and found three old mill sites in as many (or even fewer) miles. Granted, it was one of the reasons I chose these trails in the first place, but I had no idea they’d be so cool.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information about the mills on this brook, or even the name of the brook (it’s probably something lame like Mill Brook or Mill Creek). Most likely I’d have to hit up the local historical society to find out any info specific to these mills, but I’m lazy so continued to google.
I did find out that most mills built in New England between 1630 and the mid-1800s were done by individuals, sometimes millwrights proper, sometimes just by a guy with some know-how. Usually the fees commanded by a millwright were pretty steep – up to 1/4 of whatever the product was. Mostly that was flour or lumber because people needed those most and they were the most labor intensive to produce so people paid up. Because the grinding was relatively slow, many mills were built to serve a very local community. They were so important that mills were often the first thing built – before churches and schools even.
Mostly they were undershot wheel mills or tub mills because both types could operate in shallow streams and rivers. They produced mostly around 4-5 horsepower, but could go higher, especially during spring run off. One of the mill sites I visited seemed to also have a spillway made by splitting off part of the stream to power the wheel and leaving another part to regulate the flow – water could be diverted to manage the power to the wheel, probably mostly used during spring run off. The earthworks looked man-made and very deliberate to me –
While I spend time photographing these ruins, I often find myself wondering who built them and what they made. I recently heard about one in another town that was a potato starch mill. I’d never have thought of that in a million years.
Photographing these is challenging. Mostly it’s the terrain which can be steep, rocky, unstable and wet. For this last one I had to wedge myself in the fork of a tree and lean out to get that long diagonal line. Definitely not a tripod friendly position and so the fast(ish) shutter speed. I think it emphasizes the speed of the water though. The middle one was a more relaxed shoot – I just stood on the opposite wall with the tripod and camera pointed downward. It’s my favorite of the bunch I took because I love the perspective and the trees growing in and near the far wall. The first shot was taken from a bridge where the millpond ends; I balanced the camera on the railing and with a little Lightroom magic, I think the photo works pretty well despite the lighting conditions. Most of these sites don’t allow for much clean up or beautification and so they look really messy and disorganized, but that’s how it is when humans give up and nature takes over.
I’ve always been intrigued by broken-down buildings on the side of the road. In New England they are everywhere. Little shacks. Barns. Garages. Unidentifiable buildings that make you wonder what they used to be and why they were hammered together in the first place. Mostly they’re wooden, but occasionally metal and almost always difficult to reach for any close work. Sometimes the available light isn’t so great either and it makes the shots almost unrecognizable to someone who doesn’t know what she’s looking at.
This is one I’ve passed by probably a hundred times. I’m told it might have been a chicken barn since before electric fans they needed a lot of natural ventilation.
Unless you’d driven by it in winter, you probably wouldn’t notice it at all during other seasons. The leaves obscure it almost completely. They also made it a challenge to find a decent composition, but the light was so yummy that I decided to risk parking on the curve with barely any shoulder and walk up and down while other drivers looked at me like I was crazy.
I’m pretty used to that by now though. This cemetery is one of my mom’s favorites and she’s been asking me to photograph it in winter. So I went out the other day to try, figuring it would be easy. Silly me forgot about the snow. Since this cemetery is right on the side of the road, there was a 6-foot snowbank between me and it. So up I went. People driving past almost crashed craning their necks to look at the lunatic with a camera on the snowbank.
It makes me laugh thinking about it because it was funny. I couldn’t move forwards or backwards because the snow was too soft. I could only move from side to side and even then I sank up to my thigh a couple of times. What else can you do but laugh?
So the next time you see something that jerks your head around on the side of the road, stop and take a chance. You might end up with a gem and a good laugh.
This time an old quarry up in the White Mountains in North Conway. It was collectively known as the Redstone Quarry and had several faces and cutting operations. The area is huge and I needed many more hours to shoot there to get all of it. Up until the late 1940s it was an active business with hundreds of skilled workers and its own boarding house not far away. Now both the quarry and the boarding house are abandoned and falling to pieces.
Here are some of the rough columns it produced along with one of my photographer buddies –
The stones were turned on enormous steam-powered lathes like this one –
Here’s a detail of one that was outside of the falling-down house (I LOVE the snow) –
And the rock face itself all frozen over –
In the upper left you can see some of the guide wires that made up the derrick used to hoist the blocks off the face. It was powered by a huge steam-engine in a building next to the quarry. Here’s the top of the building – now collapsed –
The sunset was pretty good from the top of an enormous slag pile –
If you’ve been reading this blog or following my flickr or Smugmug feeds you’ll have noticed my penchant for abandoned places (and my love for heavy metal – spot the references if you can). Especially between seasons if you know what I mean. Sure, you can shoot derelict stuff anytime, but after the leaves fall and before the snow flies seems an especially good time. Not just because everything is in a profound state of ugly, but because those bare trees can really add to the mood of a place.
One of the reasons I shoot abandoned locations is to document what was there before they become something else. Here in the eastern part of the country, space is at a premium compared to say, Montana. In the west old structures are often left to molder away on their own because there is no real need to tear them down. It’s one of the reasons I love the west so much. Here in the east we often bulldoze perfectly benign things because we need the real estate.
A case in point is this old (well now it’s old) miniature golf park / driving range –
I can’t claim any nostalgia over the place other than in general. I only went there once in high school even though it existed all through my childhood and only became defunct a few years ago (I think the year on the day planner in the office was 2006). Even though I wasn’t a customer, I was used to seeing the place if you know what I mean. It was the kind of thing you’d use to give someone directions – go through the light at the mini-golf place.
As you can see, vandals have gotten a head start on the destruction. I seem to recall this trap was a little New England scene with a barn or a water wheel mill or something. Cutesy, but typical of the old-style mini-golf set up. For some reason we also had a tribute to Gilligan’s Island –
No one bothered me while I shot although I’m sure folks in the passing cars wondered what the hell I was doing out in the wind and cold. Eventually I made my way over to the former office. Had to wait until some hunters played through though. After I heard a couple of very close rifle shots, I looked over my shoulder a few minutes later and noticed a hunter standing in the walkway between the driving range and the office. It was a little weird, but he didn’t say anything and I didn’t see him again. The destruction inside the office was near total. Only more sturdy structures like walls, the counter and the ice cream treat freezer remain intact. It made for some interesting still lifes –
I like these two photos because the objects in them were found as they are, but not where they are. I moved them to better locations and shot. The light was pretty damn great for both and having the camera on a tripod helped. All of these were shot with a tripod, something I don’t do often enough, but felt that I should since it wasn’t like I would be walking miles. The additional range of options it gave me really helped. I wasn’t cornered into using a high ISO or wide open apertures. You can find the rest of the set here on flickr.
Although the light isn’t the best in the outdoor shots, I like enough of what I got to feel satisfied with the shoot and what I was able to document. The site is due for a date with the bulldozer in the spring. Like the world needs another supermarket, right? But that’s what’s going in there. It makes me a little sad. People complain that families and friends don’t do anything together anymore. That we’ve become a society of passive watchers only instead of active doers. As long as we keep tearing down miniature golf parks to put up supermarkets is there any wonder why?
Outdoors photographers are at the mercy of the sun and clouds. We can’t make our own perfect light and so when it comes along we have to recognize it and get out there. My favorite kind of light is hazy clouds with breaks of blue sky. Not quite overcast, but not quite full sun either. It usually happens ahead of a storm – way ahead. I love it when I find it as I did with the Abandoned House shoot and on this one I decided to do when I saw what kind of day it was shaping up to be. Well, day would be stretching it. I probably had an hour or two of this perfect, soft, lovely light that still had shadows in it. So it being stick season I went to shoot more mills. I’ve kind of got an obsession going with them.
Just look at that light though. Look what it does to the clouds. The trees. The buildings. It’s wonderful. There’s definition there without overpowering or being too contrasty. There’s softness there, but without being flat. It reminds me of ‘the golden hour’ light, but a bit cooler in temperature. Even in shade and in monochrome it works.
While I shot these first few from that walkway up there, someone in a nearby building was wailing on a guitar. It sounded great and I was disappointed when it stopped. I don’t think he could hear my applause.
Not all of the mills or factories in the Nashua millyard are occupied, though many are. Some are abandoned and I bravely trespassed. Well, there wasn’t a sign saying I couldn’t be there, but I always half expect someone to confront me even though it’s never happened. The light was starting to go, but it was still pretty damn good.
Old, abandoned factories make me so sad. Once we had thriving manufacturing. We did stuff. We built stuff. Now we just want it cheap, but we still pay. When I walk between the buildings I think of the hive of activity it must have been. Trains. Trucks. Pallets of finished merchandise or raw materials. People coming and going. Time clocks. Whistles. Shift changes. All gone now. But that light…it lures me out to document what’s left.