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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.

IMG_1820

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

Abandoned Auditorium

[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]

phifer_vandals

[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!

Asylum Abandoned

In the capital of South Carolina stands a long-forgotten piece of architectural history. On what is still the headquarters for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health are a number of buildings proudly holding on to an old story. Construction began on the South Carolina Lunatic Asylum in 1822 and continued throughout the latter half of the 19th century, with punctuated interruptions from the Civil War. As only the second state in the nation to adopt a care system for the mentally ill, South Carolina legislators laid the groundwork for modern psychological healthcare in the United States. Today the property is marked by beautiful red-brick buildings which have fallen out of use. Each of the larger structures on the property were designed by prominent architects of the time specifically for mental treatment and are reflections of the ever-changing ideals about how treatment of psychoses should be conducted.

In the center of the compound is the Babcock Building, the reason I was so fascinated with the site in the first place. Construction on this particular building began in 1857 and was not completed until 1885. The Italian Renaissance Revival style building was designed by three different architects who were each individually responsible for 1 of 3 wings. Babcock was built due in part to an ever-increasing population and the focus on providing adequate care for patients in asylums. Following the prominent Kirkbride System of the day, Babcock’s design reflected contemporary medical thought which embraced a progressive style of treatment. This building housed patients until the 1980’s and has been sitting abandoned ever since.

As I walked through the buildings and wound up and down each floor I was struck by how much natural light there was. Huge paned windows looked out to a courtyard and over a lawn of swooping trees. I expected to see small windows covered in bars and instead was met with high ceilings and large doorways. The large Cupola in the center of the middle wing creates a sense of grandeur and importance. The stained glass in some of the hallways creates an eerie, but still very beautiful glow.

This beautiful piece of architecture has fallen into a sad state of disrepair that will surely lead to its demise in the very near future. Many attempts and proposals to restore the building have fallen through the cracks and understandably so. Much of the third floor has collapsed and the exposure to weather elements has undoubtedly compromised the stability of the floors throughout. Many of the windows are blown out and the bottom floor has been vandalized by taggers. Even being listed on the National Historic Register cannot save you from a narcissistic youth who wants to spray paint his name inside of a heart on your walls. Although within the past few years, there has been a push to secure the property and tighten surveillance to deter vandals and vagrants. The tight watch the local law enforcement has placed on this property has led to epic urban legends amongst locals. It was reported to me (by different individuals) that this place had once been a torture chamber, a brothel and the headquarters of a cult.

Standing proudly between old and new, the future for Babcock is unclear. It’s location in a prime part of downtown Columbia may jeopardize it’s staying power. In past battles between preservation societies and real estate developers, it’s historic significance won out but the buildings relevance would be amplified by restoration and functionality in modern Columbia.

For the full set on Flickr: Sanitorium

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