Living in central Wisconsin means there is a lot of space and farms, but because of the way farming has been destroyed for individuals and families, there are a lot of abandoned farms and homesteads. It’s sad, but they make for some excellent photos.
Many photographers automatically go for a black and white image and I do, too, but sometimes it does’t fit the mood. Some of that comes from the light and weather conditions when I go out. As many other subjects, overcast or cloudy skies work pretty well and I often head out when it’s like this. I find the flat light lets my photos show the structure and surroundings of a ruined building a bit stronger than direct light. When I want to emphasize those two things I’ll often choose monochrome to help. The shot below is a good example. A one-story cabin with the roof caved in, but with still discernible windows and doors – black and white lets a viewer focus on those and not the riot of saplings that have taken over what must have been the yard.
Not all days are overcast though and when it’s bright and sunny out we have a bit more texture to show and also the contrast between the mood in the scene and the past lives that must have once centered on the abandoned house. It almost makes it cheery to look at until you realize that possibly someone’s hopes and dreams have died hard. This next cabin’s missing doors is a focal point and there is enough color to showcase it. Also the colors are so complementary that it makes for a really harmonious image. Overexposing a stop keeps the snow white, too, and so even though I experimented with black and white I decided color was the way to go.
To trespass or not to trespass?
I’m always tempted, but most of the time I don’t approach or enter any of the abandoned buildings I find. Mostly out of craven fear – I don’t want to get caught. Also out of respect. If there is a sign saying keep out (like the one at the end of my driveway) I take it seriously. Not only are there the property owner’s wishes to be respected, but there’s liability, too. I can imagine how damaged and dangerous these places are and I have no wish to wreck myself or cause the owner to have a big bill because of my stupidity.
It is tempting though and I will get closer when it makes sense. In the case of this barn, if it had been in the company of a ruined house and outbuildings, I’d have gone closer. But it was the only thing like this on an otherwise totally normal, and inhabited farm. Poo.
Because there are so many abandoned homes up this way I sometimes pass them all the time without taking any pictures. With this next one I’ve been promising myself that I would stop when the light was right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I just felt a little silly stopping right on the side of a road I travel once or twice a week. But then one day I was coming home with the whole rig in the car and the afternoon light was pretty perfect.
In terms of processing, I did tweak these a bit more than I normally do so I could set the right mood. I wanted something a touch brooding…mostly because of that awesomely scary tree. The clouds helped, but they weren’t quite dark enough so I brushed them a little in Lightroom to bring up the drama. I also tweaked the magenta slider down a bit toward green, keeping it even between the two shots which are different views of the same farm. To me it’s important to keep the processing the same with a series of images that you want to present together. Lightroom has some shortcuts that are handy for this, too, like letting you apply the exact same set of adjustments from one image to another. Just finish up or click on a previously processed image in the develop module, click directly to another image and then hit the Previous button in the lower left. It will apply the changes you made to the first image to the second one. From there you can keep it or do more to it, even undo something like a crop that doesn’t work. It makes things really easy to keep the same look and feel with multiple images.
Then there’s luck. I went back to photograph this barn on an overcast day. Even when I got there and climbed the snowbank the light was pretty flat. Then for a brief few moments the sun broke through the clouds a little bit. Just enough to bring up some texture and shadows. It was all I could do to keep from jumping up and down.
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!
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.
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?
When the industrial revolution came to New England it came in the form of mills. Water-powered turbines sprang up on every river big enough to drive one and even on what now appear to be placid little brooks. I’ve always loved the architecture of large mill buildings. Having basically grown up in New England’s largest mill town of Manchester, NH (at one time it was the largest textile mill complex in the world) I’ve seen many of them turned into offices, apartments and other businesses. The massive beams, the unidentifiable hardware up the walls and on the ceilings, the wide floor boards, the brick, the towers; it’s all really beautiful. The nearby railway line always adds to the romance of these places even when they no longer have much to do with the commerce done these days.
This is an apartment building originally constructed for the mill workers. I love they way they look.
The mighty Merrimack that drove it all –
Some, however, have not been taken up and re-purposed. I recently drove through Fitchburg, Massachusetts and took photographs of some abandoned mill structures. A few look to have recently gone into disuse, some have obviously been idle for decades. It makes me sad that we’ve lost basically all our manufacturing and all this infrastructure just molders away. Sometimes it’s just because there’s nothing else to be done with the buildings, sometimes it’s because industrial clean up is too expensive. The buildings fascinate me anyway –
There are miles of these old factories along the Nashua river in Fitchburg. Here’s one that was originally a furniture factory, but now lies empty.
These old buildings are easy to imagine in operation, but the ones in the woods are a bit harder. Recently I visited the once flourishing Springdale Woolen Mill site in Holden, MA. When the Wachusett reservoir was created, dozens of mills were bought and dismantled to preserve the quality of the drinking water. This one operated from 1864 to 1905 and it’s a shame the buildings have been razed; only part of the dam and the flume are recognizable. The flume is a channel that forces water from the mill pond (created by the dam) directly to the turbine house. I knew when I saw it that I’d have to find a way down in. It was crumbly, steep and slidey, but I like the perspective –
Upriver from the Springdale site is another ruined mill. I couldn’t find a name for this one, but the dam is still pretty impressive even if it no longer functions.
Not all mills are quite so massive. I’ve come across them in the woods from time to time and always wonder who built them and why.
Big or small, mills were important to New England’s prosperity and I’ll always photograph them when the opportunity presents itself. More mill images can be found here if you want to see them – tag = mill.