This incredible image (top) from the 1950s or 60s depicts one of my favorite Old Southern towns, Rodney Mississippi. (Photographer Unknown)
The first building you see on the left is no longer standing and the brick building in the center of the image is being dismantled this week. The church at the far end of this picturesque scene still stands, and was surveyed this week by a structural engineer, but how much longer it will be there is anyones guess.
The ever-changing Mississippi River sits very close to this once-bustling town and its waters reek havoc on these old structures whenever flood levels are reached.
The incredible history of this town is kept alive by the efforts of a group who works to keep the buildings cleaned and through the tales of those who had the opportunity to live there. But sadly, Rodney is a special place with an uncertain future.
[Jefferson County, MS]
Deep in rural Alabama sits this incredible structure, like a dog-eared page reminding us of a very old book. Built in the decade just before the Civil War, this Presbyterian Church was probably built by slaves from a nearby plantation. Imagine how much the world around this place would change in just a few short years and how different life would be for its congregation.
Notice the four separate entryways, required for men, women, and slaves to enter separately. The small doorways to the sides of the main doors leading up to the slave gallery, still in tact today, but inhabited only by a large and less than friendly owl.
[View of the ‘Slave Gallery’ from the pulpit]
The Greek Revival style building is surrounded on both sides of this idyllic property by just over 30 graves, dating from 1843 to the most recent in 1955. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, it is now privately owned and being looked after as best as possible by its current owners who placed a new roof on the building in the past 5 years. The front doors have been stolen, along with some other wood, and fixtures, but the structure is largely void of vandalism or significant structural damage.
Standing in front of a place like this one, somewhere down a dirt road, and far from home, I still can muster up a connected feeling to the people who built it and lived their lives on this property. The woman who might’ve stood here in 1853 and myself, standing here 162 years later have very different lives, but it makes me smile to think that we both got to stand in awe of such an incredible structure.
[SW Alabama, c. 1853]
Yesterday, on a trip home down a familiar route, I looked forward to passing through some of my favorite Old Florida towns. Towns I have been speeding through for years, admiring their old charm from the comfort of my car as I made my way to the next dot on the map. Each time I made this trip, telling myself that I would have to come back and capture these places later as I raced to an obscure hunch in the middle of nowhere. There was just never enough time in the day.
Yesterday was the same kind of day. I was leaving Jacksonville and headed back to Gainesville with just a few hours to spare before I had to be clocked in. As I watched the multitude of old places along the route whiz past my window at 65mph, a familiar bend in the road gave way to one of the saddest sights to me; there stood a lonely chimney with no house left to warm and support.
It had once adorned a beautiful and quaint old Florida home dating to the late 1800’s. I had passed it at least 100 times, and each time I craned my neck to admire it and ponder how long it had been sitting there abandoned. But I was always on my way to somewhere else, or didn’t have my camera, or it was raining, or I had passengers who didn’t want to stop. There was always some excuse not to and since I passed here so frequently, there was always the next drive, I told myself. But yesterday, I think I needed to be reminded that there won’t always be a next time.
There are so many talented photographers who spend countless time and resources traveling around our planet, seeking out and capturing the last breaths of places that aren’t long for this world. Providing visions and experiences to many who wouldn’t have ever glanced upon them and creating a photographic record that I realized the importance of on my drive yesterday. Of course buildings can’t stand forever and I realize all of them will reach the same eventual fate. But while they are still here amongst us, I will be hunting them down in every obscure corner and well traveled route that I can get myself to.
And in honor of the beautiful old home that I never photographed, I thought I would share one of my most favorite old structures that I fear will meet the same fate very soon. Built in the early 1900’s, this old church is being bolstered by one lonely wooden beam that will surely give way before too long. At least I stopped to capture this one.
[Union County, FL c. 1912]
Old buildings like this one dot the rural Southern landscape like markers reminding those who pass by that things used to be different here. That there was a time when a local community gathered here to share their successes and sorrows with one another. But the congregation that used to find direction, meaning and solace within these walls has since dissipated and few are left who might be able to recall her stories.
The vines are creeping through the windows and floorboards, the chimney has started to pull away from the foundation, and critters have taken up residence in the sanctuary. The windows are boarded and the yard is littered with signs of congregations past but the electrical meter continues to tick away, much as the years have too.
[Putnam County, FL c. 1930’s]
As the Civil War came to a close, the longer more enduring struggles were just beginning as the citizens of our Nation worked to navigate their newly defined reality. As laws, norms, and roles shifted, the most intrepid of Americans worked to carve a place for themselves and a future for their families.
In 1866, just one year after the war had ended, a group of ex-slaves from the Broadfield Plantation in Georgia started a small Baptist congregation where they could worship freely for the first time, and over the next 10 years, they built this church. Updated in 1885 and moved to its current site, it is one of the best preserved and oldest examples of African American Vernacular architecture in Georgia. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Sitting just beside it is this one room school house, built in 1907 which offered the only option to the community for elementary education until desegregation in the 1960’s.
Imagine for a minute how it must have felt to have been able to openly observe their faith for the first time. And how proud they must have felt as the preacher gave his first sermon within these four walls. This church and school represent so much in regards to southern history and how fortunate for us that it still stands to remind us.
[Needwood Baptist Church- Glynn County, GA c. 1870’s]
Born in 1844, George Washington Thomas arrived just 8 months before Florida gained statehood. The frontier to which he was born had seen two Florida-Indian wars, English ownership, Spanish ownership, and invasion by U.S. troops in its last 50 years, but the second half of the 19th century would bring more changes than anyone could’ve ever imagined.
On May 21, 1864, George enlisted in Florida’s 1st Infantry, Company I at Lake Butler for the Confederate States of America. At the close of the war, he would return safely to his home in Union County, but his father in law, Thomas Gaskins, was not as fortunate. He succumbed to wounds received in battle in nearby Baker County in 1864.
As the war ended, I think about how much different life was before and after. All of the changes and shifting in the post-war period must have been challenging to say the least. But people like George kept moving, kept building, kept farming and kept growing their families. He was active in and nurtured the surrounding community and left a long line of descendants to carry his memory. And luckily for all of us, he left us this place as well.
In August of 1907 at 63 years old, he deeded this piece of land for a community church, schoolhouse, and cemetery. Although building began shortly after, George would pass away in November of that year, never having seen the finished product. As the story goes, the community thought he should have one service in the place he cared so much about, so his casket was laid cross-wise along the exposed floor beams of the half-finished church. His was the first burial at the cemetery.
Born in the middle of a very tumultuous time, this man was able not only to adapt, but to grow himself, his family, and his community. An honorable legacy to be sure.
[Union County, FL- Midway Church of Christ]
It was a quick jaunt off of our planned route and as we neared I almost couldn’t explain why I hadn’t been sooner to visit this place that had been on my list for longer than I could remember. The first photo I saw a few years ago of it grasped me in such a way that I have never been able to completely shake it from my mind. The grandness of the columns, the hollowness where a sanctuary once stood, the beautiful gaping spaces where windows were, and the remarkable shadows cast by trees painted a scene that almost didn’t seem real.
The 260 mile drive had kept me away from this place for far too long and the day had finally come. A winding back road, sweeping trees, and a looming Spring storm welcomed us to this hallowed site in typical Low Country fashion. As I got out of the car and as I neared the site, I couldn’t tell if the air was actually heavy or if it was just the energy on such historic grounds. I stopped. I stared. I wondered how I could ever capture this place well enough to do it justice.
Who had stood in this very spot?
What events had transpired here over time?
How many were baptized and married here?
And how many have found their final resting spot here?
My time spent there that day was solemn but beautiful; awe-inspiring and humbling; intriguing and peculiar all at once. The history I found was even more incredible.
In August of 1669, a fleet of three ships set sail from England filled with passengers to establish a new colony in Carolina. One of these ships was the Carolina, which left from Downs carrying about 100 souls, two of which were Lord Ashley, Proprietor of Carolina, and Stephen Bull, an attorney from Sheldon. The fleet was tormented by storms in Barbados and Bermuda, leaving the Carolina as the only ship to make it to shore, landing near present-day Beaufort, SC in March of 1670.
[Lord Ashley– Proprietor of Carolina to King Charles II]
(photo courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)
Stephen ‘The Immigrant’ Bull would become Lord Ashley’s Deputy to South Carolina and with his education and experience as a counselor, he quickly began establishing a legacy that his family would carry on for generations. Stephen established Ashley Hall Plantation in 1671 and in 1676, he was given a 400 acre land grant in the new city center which he had helped to designate and build, called Charles Town, after King Charles II. He would become Surveyor General, Justice of the Peace and Native emissary, being the first to make peace with the Indians of the Carolina coast on behalf of England.
Stephen would have four children at Ashley Hall in Charles Town, of whom the eldest was William Bull, born 1683, said to be the first white person born in the Carolinas. By 1707, William had enlarged his fathers land tract significantly and had established Newberry Plantation, west of the city in Prince William Parish.
William served as Lieutenant Governor and special advisor to James Oglethorpe as the province of Georgia was being laid out; he was a primary contributor to the design of Savannah.
Stephen’s children would settle the area known as Prince William Parish and the following generations of Bull’s would yield Governors, Representatives, and the founding fathers of the United States during the American Revolution.
William had 5 children with his wife Mary in Prince William Parish, SC but sometime after her death in 1748, his passion turned to building a church for the parish, which began shortly after, in 1745.
By 1757 the grand church, called Prince William Parish Church, was completed and an Anglican service was delivered. Sadly,William, it’s builder and champion, died in 1755, two years before his building was completed, thought to be the first Greek Revival in the U.S.
In English tradition, he was buried in the floor of the church in front of the altar where his headstone still sits today.
Its founder was gone, but its place in history was not. As revolution stirred in the New World, rural churches like this one were not only religious centers, but political and cultural ones as well, serving local communities where militia sometimes gathered. Local lore says that American patriots were storing gunpowder in the church in preparation of invasion from the British. In 1779, General Augustine invaded the low country and burned Prince William Parish Church to just a few walls.
By 1782, the war was over and the Bull’s had to rebuild like everyone else. But the aftermath must’ve been tumultuous for the family as records show some of the Bull relatives returned to England as Loyalists after the Revolution while most stayed behind to build a country where there hadn’t been one before.
William Bull’s church would stand in ruin until 1826 when it was restored and renamed Sheldon Church, after Bull’s ancestral home in England. For nearly 40 years, the church would serve the local community until war struck yet again. This time, North and South battled over the direction of a new and fragile nation and Sheldon Church once again found itself at a historic crossroads. In January of 1865, General Tecumsah Sherman’s Union troops passed through here, looting and burning the Sheldon Church and leaving what you see today. It has stood in disrepair ever since.
As I moved about trying to position myself for photos, I had to wonder if William ever thought that this place would still be standing all these years later. I would guess that he never would’ve imagined that Easter service would still be held yearly. Or that some woman he has no relation to would be taking digital images of his building to share online with thousands of strangers.
259 years later.
When I think about this, I have to ask myself what he intended his legacy to be and how I could ever convey the gravitas of his life and imprint on our country.
The more I considered it, the more I realized that the legacy he left behind wasn’t this hollow, shell of a sanctuary, but something indelible that can’t be hidden or denied by time. That perhaps the legacy of the Stephen, William and the Bull Family is not in the brick walls that they built and rebuilt, but in the Nation that they helped foster, lead, and grow.
[Beaufort County, SC c. 1755]
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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.
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.
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.
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.
[Providence United Methodist Church- Alachua County, FL 1884]
…or why I don’t share specific location information…
[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.
[Rural Florida School- Abandoned and then destroyed by vandals and squatters. Alachua County, Fl c. 1930’s]
[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.
[Abandoned home now mostly destroyed and boarded after locals began loitering and vandalizing the interior. Bradford County, FL c. late 1800’s]
[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.
[Graffiti on the interior wall of an historic abandoned Methodist Church. Ben Hill County, GA c. 1870’s]
[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]
[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!
Joseph Pottle Barco was born in Camden County, Georgia in 1826 but by August of 1848, had made his way to Columbia County, Florida where he married his wife, Caroline. Just 4 years later, they would relocate a bit south to the newly formed Marion County where Joseph would work to establish a new community based around his plantation and Methodist church.
Although a small congregation of early settlers had gathered in the area for worship since 1844, the first frame church was built here in 1860 by Joseph and his cousin William with local lumber that was cut and processed at the James Agnew Saw Mill and then brought by ox cart to the site. The town was named Cotton Plant as cotton was Barco’s main agricultural crop, and a community began to grow around it with the church at its center. The building worked as a school, worship, and community center.
Its location in the very center of Florida brought much turmoil to the area around Cotton Plant in the days of early settlers skirmishes with Natives. But nothing would seal the fate of this small village like the oncoming years of war between North and South. Joseph would enlist in Company K of the 9th Florida Volunteers and fought for the Confederate States as a lieutenant. In the Summer of 1864, he was badly wounded in battle and taken as prisoner to Fort Delaware where he died on July 29th.
After his passing, the people of Cotton Plant tried to redefine themselves in the new social landscape of America after the end of the Civil War. They undoubtedly faced many struggles in this new framework and without Joseph, but the community must have tied together, at least for a time, to continue to grow a congregation. By 1892, they had expanded their original building in to the current structure that still stands today.
161 years later, people still meet to worship here every Sunday. Of the 620 internments in the cemetery (dating to the 1860’s), many are veterans of domestic and foreign wars. The community surrounding the church has long since disappeared but the congregation that meets here maintains the property immaculately. If Joseph were here today, I think he would be proud of the community he worked to pioneer that still (somewhat) exists today.
[Marion County, FL]