Archive | November 2013

The stories she could tell

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Mack and Cornelia raised a large family in this modest home in rural North Florida. Their parents had been brought as slaves from the Carolinas before the Civil War and they were the first generation in their respective families who were born free. These two would marry in the early 1890’s as many changes were about to hit their quiet railroad town. Devastating freezes would practically cripple the citrus economy in the area and the entire industry moved south, taking jobs, agriculture, and the railroad with it. But as the wealthier farmers relocated, some stayed behind to continue to grow their roots in the community they had helped to build. The value of land decreased and made land ownership more feasible for the less affluent farmers in the area.

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[The view from the front porch probably hasn’t changed much]

Mack and Cornelia would buy this piece of property in 1896 and a larger tract which expanded their land in 1899. Their family was growing too and by the 1900 Census, they had 3 children. In such a small space, I can’t imagine how difficult it must’ve been to get by but their numbered continued to grow. Cornelia, who was born in this same town, would pass away here in 1929 and Mack would continue to live here with his children until he passed in 1952.

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Interestingly, this property has been in the same family since the first record of it being sold to them in 1896. According to the property appraiser, the building is listed as of ‘No Value’ but I am sure most of you here with agree with me that this isn’t true. For decades, this home sheltered a family, gave them a space to rest after a hards days work, a place to eat, a space to make memories, to celebrate, to mourn, and everything else in between. Its value may no longer lie in its ability to provide shelter but in its ability to remind us of a time long ago.

[Alachua County, FL c. late 1800’s]

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Pioneers of Providence

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The middle of the 19th century brought a lot of action and interest to inland Florida which thus far, had been largely unsettled by European descendants. Florida was now a U.S. territory and the federal government now had an interest in establishing stability in the state. The Armed Occupation Act of 1842 granted 160 acres of land to settlers who would stay for at least 5 years. This attracted many from Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia who packed up their families and headed south.

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As early as 1852, a small group of these early Florida settlers began to meet near this site to worship. Many of these pioneers came from different places, but shared a common faith and could endure their hardships and successes together in this new environment. In 1855, a small log cabin was built here and would serve as the meeting place for this congregation, led by Reverend Edward Lawrence King and in the adjacent cemetery, the oldest grave dates to this year.

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In the next 30 years, fighting with Natives, the Civil War and a boom of agricultural activity would greatly impact this small rural community. By 1884, this small congregation had grown and this structure was erected and dedicated. Their surrounding town now had a post office, 3 stores, 2 churches, a grist mill, 2 sawmills and a doctor. The railroads which ran nearby daily delivered the agricultural goods produced here and commercial farming bolstered this small town.

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But the next decade would deal a devastating blow to this area with back to back freezes which decimated most crops and marked the end of the agricultural industry here as farmers moved further south to replant. The stores began to close, the trains ran through town less frequently and the post office closed. By 1922, this church was listed as defunct and out of operation. Luckily, at some point, a congregation reformed here and still meets every Sunday. The adjacent cemetery has 587 internments, many of which are veterans dating back to the Civil War. The current congregation does a wonderful job of maintaining the property and honoring the memory of those who came before us.

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[Providence United Methodist Church- Alachua County, FL 1884]

Protecting the Past

…or why I don’t share specific location information…

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[This once beautiful home was cleared out overnight by scrappers who took every fixture, piece of woodwork and artifact they could salvage. Sumter County, FL c. late 1800’s]

At least twice a week, I am emailed from a friend I-have-not-yet-had-the-pleasure-to-meet about directions to a particular location or how to find forgotten locations in this area or that. Understandably, many are curious and want to see these places for themselves; I felt the same when I first saw images of abandoned places. I immediately wanted to see them for myself; I wanted to take their pictures, to feel their stories, and to see what had been left behind for myself.

But I quickly found, as most of you will if you start this kind of project, that many photographers and historians in this niche are very protective over locations and are often reluctant to share much location information. There are many reasons for this guarded sensibility, but I would like to take a moment to explain my thoughts behind it with those of you who are as compelled by these places as I am.

Over the past 3+ years working on this project, I have seen multiple properties vandalized, looted, and in some cases burned. It breaks my heart to think that someone might be callous enough to destroy a historic property for their own selfish reasons, but I must acknowledge that such unfortunate individuals exist. With nearly 6,000 followers on my main social media outlet (Far Enough Photo on Facebook), I know only a very small percentage of this audience personally and although I am certain that no one reading this now has bad intentions, I simply could not imagine being responsible for the demise of any of these properties by sharing specific location information carelessly. In order to provide necessary context to my stories, I will (almost) always include county and state information but I request that my contacts private message me for any further location specifics in order to protect the (remaining) integrity of these places.

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[Rural Florida School- Abandoned and then destroyed by vandals and squatters. Alachua County, Fl c. 1930’s]

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[One of numerous pieces of graffiti found inside an abandoned South Carolina asylum; construction on this building began before the Civil War]

On top of all of these concerns, I have to consider the privacy of the private property owners. Despite these structures being abandoned, all of the property I photograph is still (in one way or another) privately owned. I hope everyone can understand why a property owner might not want thousands of strangers knowing that their great-grandmothers historic home is abandoned and the address/GPS locations to it. Besides the concerns about theft and vandalism, these owners have to be concerned with liability, squatters ¬†and rural neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate the increased traffic.

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[Abandoned home now mostly destroyed and boarded after locals began loitering and vandalizing the interior. Bradford County, FL c. late 1800’s]

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[I guess I have a different idea of when it is appropriate to use foul language. Graffiti on a long forgotten Antebellum home in North Florida c. 1840’s]

Each of these sites were at some point important to the people that built them. These places represented their desire to establish roots in a new region; their need to build their connection with the land they lived on and their hopes for the future. It is my job to find them, to uncover their stories and to share them with you, but just as important is my job to keep these places protected from those who might not be able to appreciate the significance of them as you and I can.

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[Graffiti on the interior wall of an historic abandoned Methodist Church. Ben Hill County, GA c. 1870’s]

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[The interior* wall of the auditorium of this school. The roof was burned by vagrants and 90% of the remaining building is covered in graffiti. Duval County, FL c. early 1900’s]

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[On first visit to this home in 2010, all windows were in tact and the interior was in decent shape; today all windows have been shattered, the inside has been covered in spray paint, every fixture has been stolen and a small fire has jeopardized the rear of the structure. Alachua County, FL c. 1930’s]

Instead of providing GPS locations, addresses and satellite images, I would rather inspire each of you to get out and find these places for yourselves. I started this project without even ONE specific location and within a month I had found 10 within my county. Because I cannot be everywhere at once and there is so much to see, I hope to encourage each of you to get out to your respective areas and to explore the incredible history that you will find in your own backyards.

Please check back later in the week for my blog post on how to find forgotten spots in your own area!

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