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Protecting the Past

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

doc_house5

[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.

islandgroveschool_ruin

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

babcock_graffitit

[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.

starke_1

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

phifer_graffiti

[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!

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Southern Shipyard

In a coastal South Carolina town sits an expansive abandoned Naval base and shipyard. Buildings that once operated as hospitals, administration and military housing now checker the 145 acre property which has yet to find its function in present day. Construction on the multi-use compound began in 1901 and the property was first used as a dry dock until the late 1920s when it was purchased by military contract. A power plant, military housing and the admiral’s mansion were built for Navy use. Numerous destroyers, amongst other ships, were constructed here for the U.S. Navy from 1930-1945 and at the height of the war, the base employed 25,000 people.

Over the next four decades, the base saw a steady stream of work from War World II German submarine conversions, to increased production in response to the Korean and Cold Wars, to construction of nuclear-capable subs. The base and shipyard were finally decommissioned in 1993 after the close of the Cold War.

(Naval memorandum dated August 18, 1967)

Unlike most sites I visit, this one was strangely void of any graffiti or extensive vandalism. I saw no signs of homeless activity and besides one room which had been paint-balled the only damage was from exposure to weather elements and asbestos. One exterior portion of the compound has found its future purpose and is being converted into modern-industrial style apartment lofts. The builder intends to incorporate as much of the original construction as possible in the new development.

For the full set, check out Naval Abandonment on Flickr.

Public School Number Four

Public School Number Four stands awkwardly in Downtown Jacksonville, oddly masked by the ramps and interstates which have been constructed around her, almost as if the building didn’t stand there. Built in 1917, the school was first known as Public School Number Four and then renamed Annie Lytle Elementary. Once a grand building with a large auditorium, beautiful columns and impressive staircases, the buildings location in Jacksonville eventually led to its closure by the School Board in the 1960s. Eventually, the building was used as office space and then condemned in 1971.

Sitting in disuse for more than 40 years, the building has fallen victim to vandals, vagrants, criminals and arsonists. In January 2012, part of the school caught fire (again) destroying what was left of the auditorium (see below).

The auditorium, pre-2012 fire

Numerous urban legends surround this school, with tales of murderous custodians, student deaths and cult activity. The only thing I saw evidence of was substance abuse in the form of Natural Light beer cans strewn everywhere. Unfortunately, the school has become a regular hotel for the homeless of Jacksonville.

It has sadly also become the canvas for every local artist* who wants to practice his or her pentograms and bubble lettering.

Public School Number Four was given a historic designation in 2000, in part to save it from being demolished to make way for new apartments. Since then, many other proposals to redevelopment the property have been offered, but none has stuck. In my visit, it was obvious that any attempts to restore this once fine structure would be difficult. With its unfortunate placement in an undesirable area and two large interstates blocking its grand facade, making a case for this crime trap might be impossible at this point.

 

My photos of Public School Number Four were featured on AbandonedFl’s website. Check it out!

Memo(ries)

A forgotten United States Navy Memo dating from 8/18/1967. I found this on a recent explore of an abandoned Naval Base.

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

Abandoned Six Flags

On a whim this past Summer, my brother and I took a roadtrip to New Orleans. We were excited to explore a new city together, to eat good food and to hear live music. But these were all added bonuses to the real reason we traveled 533 miles. Standing in the middle of the Crescent City is the graveyard of a theme park. Abandoned in all its glory. Upon first seeing a set of photos from this place, I knew I had to go.

Six Flags New Orleans (once called Jazzland) stood only a few miles from Lake Ponchartrain and suffered immense damage during Hurricane Katrina. The irreparable destruction came in the following days as 53 levee breaches devastated the city. Because of its proximity to Lake Pontchartrain, the park had little hope to survive the ensuing flood. Six Flags sat under 4-7 feet of water for more than a month before it could be fully drained. Most of the parks rides and structures still stand, bearing a moldy reminder of the water that once took over the park.

In 2006, the insurance company for the park declared it a ‘total loss.’ Since then, the park has been tied up in various pending deals with developers that have never quite panned out. So the park stands there, waiting to be built up, or torn down. All the safes have been looted, vandals have tagged 50% of the park and thieves have taken most of the signs that were left. But as we wandered through the park, I was struck by the amount of employee belongings that were left behind in offices and lockers. A bicycle in the security office, pairs of shoes, a thermos and a cooler in the employee break room. In an accounting office above a ride I found a dry erase board with a hotline for employees to call to find out when to return to work after the storm. I couldn’t help but think of the theme park employee who spelled out ‘Closed for Storm’ on the marquees and had no idea that those letters would still be there 5 years later.  These people all imagined that they would return within a few days to their jobs, and life as usual. The hurricane had other plans for this place.

 

To see more from Six Flags New Orleans, check out my flickr set: Amusements Abandoned.

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