Margaret

It’s not odd at all to have a connection with an old house. A place where bits of life happened for you. But what about a house that you have no personal connection to other than noticing it’s distressed beauty peering out from amongst a thick blanket of trees? I cannot even begin to explain the flood of excitement and admiration that washed over me the first time I spotted the subject of this post. Like with most places I find, I was out on a random drive. While speeding down Route 2 in Mason County, West Virginia toward Point Pleasant, a road I’ve been down countless times, something in the distance caught my eye that I had never noticed. I quickly turned around and headed off the main road. The trees parted as I began to slowly ascend up a one lane back road and I simply could not believe what laid upon my gaze. How could something so beautiful and majestic just be sitting here all alone? Needless to say I immediately fell in love with this antebellum gem. Dozens of questions flooded my curious mind as I made my way up the muddy and narrow driveway. 

That was in December of 2015. I was going through a horrible breakup at the time and a large part of my grieving process apparently is to aimlessly drive around the tri-state area with a sad-bastard soundtrack on blast. Most of that period of my life is a blur really. I slept an average of 2-4 hours a day, I barely ate, and I put more miles on my car than ever before or since. Every day was spent in a hazy hellish dreamlike state. The only reason I mention this is because stumbling upon this house was something I very much needed at the time. A plus side to this horrid period was that I always had my camera with me and I found quite a few interesting locations during my random travels.  

Over the following year I periodically made the 45 minute or so drive to shoot photos of this house I named Margaret. No matter what my mood it always made me feel better. It's still a mystery to me why I immediately felt such a strong connection with a home that I’ve never lived in. Perhaps she knew I would be coming along one day and admire her how someone once had. Perhaps at that time she needed me as much as I needed her. I know that sounds moronic and lame but at the time it was a glimpse of hope for the future. I sure as hell can’t fathom why someone would ever leave this house behind. 

While on a visit in February 2017, at that same first glimpse of it as the trees parted that made me fall in love, this time made my heart fall to the pit of my stomach. At first I thought maybe someone was demolishing the old home. As I drove closer I realized that it was far worse. Margaret had been torched. How!? Why?! I had just visited a few weeks prior and judging by what little is left she burned for a while. Who the hell would do something like this? 

I discovered it was constructed in 1825 according to what history I could gather. Eighteen fucking twenty five; before the railroad, before the silver bridge in Point Pleasant, and before the very road I drove to get there. It was originally built as the home of the family of General Peter Higgins Steenbergen who served in the French and Indian War. The original tract of land consisted of around 1,600 acres and to this day still has a cemetery that includes the graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. The Lewis Farm, aka, Poplar Grove as it was originally known was sold at auction in 2008. According to a Point Pleasant news article about the fire, a couple lived in the home as caretakers until a fallen tree cut the electrical service before it sat vacant for several years until some asshole came along and torched it. 

This is partially why it matters so much to me to photograph these locations I come across. Here one day and gone the next just like us. Every time I was there it was like the earth stopped spinning. On each visit I wanted desperately to take a look at the interior but I’m not about breaking into places. If a door is open then I’ll gladly go in but I’ll be damned if I’m going to damage someone’s property for the sake of me taking photos. I will forever miss you Margaret. 

Morris Memorial Hospital

 In 1928 a Milton, West Virginia farmer named Walter T. Morris had his first contact with a crippled child. His nephew was the victim of infantile paralysis due to osteomyelitis (inflammation of bone marrow) and for a while his condition seemed hopeless. After receiving treatment from Dr. Arthur Shade Jones (founding director, Huntington Orthopedic Hospital) his condition improved and he could soon walk again. Mr. Morris was so impressed and thankful for his nephew’s recovery that in 1930 he deeded his entire 200 acre farm to the Huntington Orthopedic Hospital for the care and treatment of crippled children. The hospital then formed a corporation under the name Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children in honor of Mr. Morris.

For a few years the Morris home was used to house patients and in August of 1935 it was deeded to the town of Milton. Almost a year later in July of 1936 the Works Progress Administration began construction on a modern hospital building. The surrounding working farm made the Morris Hospital mostly self-sustaining. A large dairy barn housed up to 30 cows while a large garden included a variety of vegetables in addition to a 25-acre orchard with apple, cherry, and pear trees. The remaining farmland that wasn’t used for livestock pasture was used for food production that provided income for the hospital through the sale of surplus.

Since at the time water therapy was a recommended treatment to help polio victims, the hospital maintained three (two large, one small) salt water pools that were fed from a well on the grounds. Additional features of the modern building included weight rooms, whirlpools, a blood bank with lab, operating rooms, eight iron lungs, and an x-ray department. An on-site school was located in the rear section of the building to help continue children’s education. Only two classes were held in the school wing, one for grades 1-3, and the other for grades 4-8. High school courses began at Morris Memorial in 1950 and diplomas could be received through nearby Milton High School.

In 1955 a polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk came into use after successful field tests and Morris Memorial started to treat less patients. From it’s open in 1935 until it’s close in 1960, the hospital treated thousands of children, most of which being affected by polio. A year after closing it was leased and used as an elderly nursing home until 2009 when the doors closed for good. In May 2013 Morris Memorial was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

For a while the future of the old Morris Hospital seemed dim. Long abandoned and sadly often vandalized there were talks of demolition. Luckily in the fall of 2017 it’s fate received a much needed boost. Local businessman Jeff Hoops announced a plan to renovate the 81 year old building into a 100 room hotel. The proposed site will include indoor/outdoor pools, a conference center, wedding chapel, medical clinic, sports facilities, and a nine-hole golf course. Hoops is the founder and president of Revelation Energy LLC, a mining company based in Milton. 

The following photos were taken between Fall 2015 and Summer 2017.  

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Oceana High School (Opened 1927-Closed 1949)

Rewinding back to the fall of 1999, I was a high school sophomore in a small town in the middle of nowhere called Oceana. On one golden October afternoon some friends made the suggestion of going to the old abandoned high school. You see, in small town southern West Virginia there wasn’t much for a teenager (especially one from a large city) to do so we fought an everyday battle with boredom. A hundred feet or so from the front of the old school was a small white house where an elderly gentleman lived who instantly notified the local police of anyone trespassing the second he caught wind of it. Occasionally I would see him during the summer mowing the grass on the property and I often wondered what his relationship with the school was. Did he purchase the land from the county? Was he employed by the school board as a caretaker? Whatever the situation may have been, he despised anyone being near the building. On this particular day we waited until he wasn’t home and made our way toward the school.

Back in those days I didn’t have the passion for photography that I now possess. During high school I didn’t have the money for (and probably was in no way responsible enough) for a decent 35mm camera, and back then digital cameras were only around 1 megapixel and carried the price tag of a decent used car. Needless to say I went through my fair share of film disposables during my teenage years. The old Oceana High School was one of the first abandoned buildings I had ever been in and it planted a fascination within me that I hope will never fade.

When my friends brought up the idea of exploring the school I was instantly filled with a frenzied joy thinking about the endless possibilities that waited for us inside. As with most vacant buildings sometimes the easiest way in is the least you would expect; the front door. Immediately upon entering my eyes could not fix on one particular spot as they were constantly searching the room as my heart began to race from excitement. As soon as you entered there was a small office/administration area with papers scattered on the floor. Report cards, memos, and student records, some handwritten and some typed. It was like looking at the advancement of technology over the years. On the left side of the lobby right before the rear exit was the staircase that lead to the basement and second floor. On both sides of the building were small classrooms and a large room sat behind the office that I assumed was the cafeteria but was filled with so much debris from the upper floor that had collapsed that it was barely recognizable.

After I wandered around the first floor taking a few photos we made our way to the staircase. Upon first glance at the basement stairs a chill quickly crept up my spine as I peered into the dark abyss below. The upper floor of the school had pretty much the same layout as the lower floor with small classrooms on both sides but included the gymnasium. The gym was by far a sight that will forever be burned into my memory. Basketball goals still hung from the steel beams in the ceiling with a faded crumbling scoreboard attached to the wall. The once bright polished floor was now a dull shade of grey, covered with dust, and for the most part had collapsed to the room below. Sitting on the floor as you entered the room was an antique traffic signal that straight away sparked my interest as to the origin. The small town of Oceana had but only one main road that ran through it and only two intersections. My entire childhood of summer vacations spent there I never recall a single traffic light, where it came from still baffles me to this day.

We were on our way out when we heard the old man’s car coming up the driveway he shared with the school. After parking at his house he took a few paces toward the school and looked suspiciously around for a minute and then began to shout in his thick southern West Virginian accent “I know you’re in there.. I’ve done called the law”. Who knows how he knew we were inside. We were sure to keep the noise to a minimum and left no evidence that anyone had entered. We waited a moment for him to go in his house to make our exit. He apparently was waiting for that exact moment because he then came back outside to shout some more at us. The string of words spewing from his mouth quickly became inaudible as we ran further and further from sight. 

I returned the following weekend with a friend that didn’t get the chance to go when our group went the first time. We were in there long enough for a quick look when we noticed the wind had blown open the front door just wide enough to see the front of a cop car pulling up. Quickly and silently we made our way toward the back door hoping that it too was unlocked as it was our only option of escape. At that moment our attention was diverted and we froze in silence as we could hear the officer approaching the front entrance. His police radio, jingling keys, and heavy steps immediately giving away his location. After enough jolts the rear door finally opened wide enough for both of us to pass through just as the officer walked in the front. We ran as fast as we could into the surrounding woods and up the mountain side until we noticed that the cop didn’t even bother to chase us. After coming to a rest we both immediately broke into laughter. It was far from the first time and would be far from the last that we ran from those small town cops.

The main reason behind this post is, I lost every photo I took that day (along with most of everything else I owned) when a flash flood consumed the majority of Oceana in the summer of 2001. A few feet of murky water made it’s way through my house destroying everything in it’s path. I left that small town as soon as I graduated the following year and I don’t visit family there nearly as much as I should. Years later when I became more interested in photography and finally had a decent camera, I made my way back to the old school. I was filled with sadness and regret when I discovered that it was now just an empty lot because some asshole decided to set the building on fire. This solitary building was responsible for what would later grow into the fascination with abandoned buildings that I have today. These aren’t just vacant forgotten structures to me, they’re a glimpse into history unlike any you can get from a textbook. Every one of them has a story of life to itself all the way from the people who originally sketched them out on a piece of paper, to the ones who constructed and occupied, to the those who abandoned them because of various circumstances. It is then that people like myself come through and give purpose and a glimpse of life once again with our interest in exploring and preserving history. It’s a way to travel back in time and I don’t know a single person that wouldn’t want to do that.

The photo below was taken in 2015, now just an empty lot on top of a small hill. On the right hand side you can see the roof of the home where the elderly gentleman lived.

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"You only care about getting a photo"

Someone once said that to me in response to myself showing a bit of frustration from reading an article about a location in Kentucky I wanted to explore being renovated. That was a year or so ago, hearing those words bothered me then and still do obviously or else I wouldn’t be writing this. Sure, I’ll be the first to admit it’s a minor annoyance when I don’t get the chance to check out a location that I wanted, but I’m not spiteful or anything to anyone who renovates a property. I would much rather someone fix a place up and generate revenue for an area (raising surrounding property value, county tax revenue, etc.) than me getting to stumble around and snap some photos before returning home to stagger through writing a shitty article about it.

Why do I take photos at all? Simply because I adore the process. I’m not happy with my work a lot of the time, and it’s partially the drive to be better that keeps me going. I think when it comes to any art form the person creating it is always going to be the worst possible critic. Whether it be snapping photos, making music, painting, anything really. When you go through the process of creating something that you plan to present to the masses you tend to notice every flaw possible. It can drive you insane. Perhaps the reason you pay such close attention to detail to even notice the flaws is because you care about what it is you’re making. You are passionate about it. I can barely tell you how a camera works, I (sadly) sure as shit have no clue how to develop film, but I can tell you that the process of capturing an image has always fascinated me since I was a kid carrying around a cheap plastic Vivitar 110mm camera. That constant battle of trying to capture how I view the world around me is still going to this day and I love it. 

The fact that you and I can look at the same photo and take different things away from it is something else that has always stuck out to me. I’m not just talking about the narrative streaming from the content, I’m referring to it on an emotional level as well. What it sparks inside of you when you see it. Much like when you hear a particular line from a song and it strikes you like a tsunami, flooding your brain with memories. The person who wrote that song is not going to have the same connection to that line as yourself. It’s that endless possibility that occurs in art that I’ve always admired. Of course I will have completely different thoughts when I look at my own work but that’s just because I was there when a photo was taken. I had the pleasure to see behind the scenes and not just what the lens captured. Personally, my memory along with the ability to pay attention to anything has always been shit and has often been mistaken by others as a lack of caring. Photography has always been a sort of loophole to my shitty memory. Perhaps that’s another reason I fell in love with it at a young age. I can take a single photo of just about anything and remember details from the entire day. To put that in perspective, I can barely tell you what happened a few days ago and that’s not by choice. 

Now to stop rambling and touch on the subject line. It’s not just taking a photo I care about. Do I have an emotional connection with every place I find? Of course not. Occasionally it does happen though, maybe emotional isn’t the correct word to use here but there is a connection none the less, a magnetism if you will. I wish when I started to get serious about photography I would have travelled back to southern West Virginia and re-shot photos of the first abandoned spot I went to before some asshole torched it. It’s honestly one of my regrets in life. When I first moved to Huntington and started taking photos on a regular basis, I fell in love with a vacant house near Ritter Park. That house was known as Yellowwood and more info on that can be found a few posts back. Anyway, last year that property went up for sale, not sure what legal victory happened to finally make that a possibility, but it did. It was listed for $149,900 and even in the horrid shape it was in quickly sold. I’m not sure what the final buying price was, but was told by a friend that knows the new owners that it is their retirement project. I simply adore that. The level of joy that filled me upon hearing that someone bought the property and planned to restore it is ridiculous. I have no personal connection to that house other than falling in love with it’s style and taking photos of it. I never knew anyone who lived there nor did I spend my childhood playing in the yard or anything. There was a connection regardless. 

Whenever I’m at an abandoned place I like to spend a chunk of time just being still and silent and just observe the surrounding world at that particular spot. The sights, the sounds, the smells. I try to imagine how things once were when it was vibrant and full of life. The experiences others have had in the past right where I stand. I like to think what events occurred there that may have affected someone’s life whether it be good or bad. Part of me could really care less about getting a photo. It’s that experience alone why I go to these places to begin with. I take photos because simply it’s what I love doing and it helps me remember what I felt when I was there. Even if no one but myself ever looked at the pictures I take, I would still be out there exploring places and documenting what I find.

 

 

Buckeye Ordnance Works

Constructed in early 1942, the Buckeye Ordnance Works Plant was built to make hydrogen ammonia for military explosives. As a result the city of South Point, Ohio and nearby Ironton were placed in the Industrial Defense Zone. Operations began in 1943 and after the end of World War II, Allied Chemical Corporation bought the plant in 1946 converting it to producing chemical fertilizer. The plant continued as a major employer for the region until a drastic cutback in 1968 reduced the 1,300+ employee complex to just a 200 person operation producing various chemicals such as ammonia, nitrogen fertilizer, and formaldehyde until 1978.

In 1979 the abandoned plant was sold to Ashland Oil Inc. who began demolition of the majority of the existing structures. Through a partnership with other corporations, they developed an ethanol processing plant that made alcohol from corn to be used as a gasoline additive under the corporate name South Point Ethanol and continued operations until 1995. In 2000, Biomass Energy LLC acquired the South Point site with the plan for an operation of burning wood waste to generate electricity. It all seemed promising but was immediately shut down as soon as it opened due to numerous EPA violations. In December 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to pay Biomass $2.33 million to destroy 121,000 tons of surplus tobacco. During the spring of 2003, more than 10,000 tons of tobacco in cardboard boxes were shipped to the South Point location. South Point Mayor Bill Gaskin at the time commented that he didn’t think the plant even had a working furnace and they were just storing the tobacco in a large building and even had piles just out in a field. The Ohio EPA inspected the site in March of 2003 and alongside the tobacco piles, discovered 35,000 tons of coal and coke waste.

Over the years that followed several citations and lawsuits have been filed concerning the improper on site storage of tobacco, coal, and coke waste. Along with blatant disregard for environmental laws, South Point Biomass has had a rocky road with paying property taxes on the 80 acre plot. At one time the company owed more than $100,000 in back taxes, which was only paid when the county put public pressure on the company and it’s CEO Mark Harris. 

During the past few years parts of the plant have had the demolition process started and then halted immediately due to yet even more EPA violations, this time concerning the proper removal of asbestos. Citations were issued by the Portsmouth Local Air Agency, which oversees air quality issues on behalf of the Ohio EPA. The complaint alleges that in October 2013, buildings at the now long abandoned ethanol plant had contained asbestos, and the owners, without notifying the Ohio EPA as required by law, improperly handled and disposed of it while demolishing some of the equipment. As of September 2015, South Point Biomass has yet to fulfill court ordered obligations regarding proper clean up of the site and currently owes $16,000 in back taxes to Lawrence County.

The photos below were taken between 2013 and 2015. 

 

Welcome to Abandoned Appalachia

Here you will find photographs and horrid writing about my adventures. I don’t at all claim to be a great photographer and I definitely will never claim to be a writer of any sort. Hell, I can barely speak a coherent sentence let alone write one. I’m just a guy with a camera that wanders through the chunk of Appalachia that I reside in seeking out what people have long left behind.  

Why?

Well, I don’t honestly know how to answer that. I’m certainly more curious than intelligent. In this current world of status updates, friend requests, and cars that drive themselves, it’s nice to take a step back and be disconnected from everything. To get a glimpse of the world after humans, the point when nature starts to reclaim what was built upon it. I encountered my first abandoned building in the fall of 2000 at the age of 16. It was an old high school in a small town in southern West Virginia that I lived in at the time. There was just something about it that instantly hooked me. The joy of being in a space that people were not, that smell of rotting wood, mold, and dust. More about losing my bando virginity later though. Mainly, it’s getting a first hand look at history that you can never gain from any textbook or classroom. It has always meant so much to me to have the opportunity to wander through other peoples memories. 

This page will constantly be a work in progress. I will add content weekly if not more often. I have backdated a few articles that I had from an older blog to give a bit of a jumpstart. Enjoy. 

Yellowwood

Dec 2016

I started to get serious about photography around ten years ago, it was around that same time I also became obsessed with the architecture in the town that I resided in. Huntington, West Virginia is not by any means a huge city or anything but in the early 1900’s was certainly somewhere to be. The advancement of the railroad and shipping along the Ohio River made Huntington grow at a rapid pace. One property in particular always caught my eye, instantly hypnotizing me with it’s beauty.

In 1911 an Adirondack log cabin style house called Yellowwood was built on the southern side of the city by Mr. and Mrs. S.P. Hager. The original purpose was for it to be used as a hunting lodge, but three years later as Huntington continued to grow they decided to convert the structure into a home adding an English Tudor section in 1914. Yellowwood covers 6,000 square feet (not including the basement and secret passageways) and sits on two acres of land. An eclectic mix of woods including pine, oak, chestnut, hickory, and poplar were used in construction. The majority of the raw materials used in the build were from the surrounding land including the cobblestones that make up the bordering wall and chimney. In it’s prime the house was surrounded by gardens, wildflowers, and a dry lily pond but as it sits now overgrown weeds and fallen tree limbs are all that remain.

Over the years I’ve taken numerous photos of this house, constantly day dreaming about it in it’s glory and especially if it were mine. While photographing it last summer a neighbor and his friendly yellow lab approached me to inquire what I was doing. During our brief conversation we compared a few notes on it’s history as I inquired about the plaque with the names on the rear patio. It was then that he informed me of the previous owners and part of the sad story that had left the house in it’s current state. Dr. Constance Hayden was a psychiatrist and her husband Dr. Richard Ansinelli was a cardiologist both in Huntington. The home had actually been in Dr. Hayden’s family for quite a while. Her parent’s rented the garage apartment from the second owner, Mr. Jameson, in the early 1960’s before acquiring the home in 1962. It was in 1988 that Dr. Hayden and her husband purchased the property from Hayden’s mother before restoring the home. I’ve seen a few photos of the house after the restoration and it was everything and more than I imagined while day dreaming all those times. The interior was filled with books, art, and antiques from around the world as well as from right here in West Virginia. Amongst these exquisite items was a handcrafted grand piano matching the wood of the house that Mr. Jameson had commissioned for his son, a concert pianist at Carnegie Hall. According to a 1992 local magazine article, it was the setting for quite a few Hallmark Christmas card photos as well.

From what I could gather about Dr. Hayden, she was a former US Army psychiatrist who did consulting and research in Washington, DC along with having a private practice in Huntington that doubled as a research center. Amongst her list of accomplishments, she helped develop a drug for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Her practice in Huntington primarily focused on chronic pain management and sleep disorders. In the late 90’s a divorce left Dr. Hayden with control of the home but her declining mental state left her incapable of maintaining it. In 1997 she was involved in a high speed police chase originating in Lawrence County, Ohio and ending across the bridge in Huntington. Charges were dropped after the court believed she was incompetent to stand trial. The following year as a result of the police chase the WV Board of Osteopathy placed her medical license on restricted status. In 2003 she published a book titled “The True Art of Survival” on which the cover photo of her was taken at Yellowwood.

This is where the story gets a bit fuzzy. The last listed owner is a woman named Erin Hutchinson from eastern Kentucky. Upon trying to find out who this was I discovered that she was the wife of Chris Hutchinson, a man who allegedly coerced Dr. Hayden, in her unstable mental state, into selling him the house for cheap. Sadly Dr. Hayden did not have the ability, even after a lengthy court battle, to reclaim the property from him. According to neighbors, Hutchinson lived there for a brief time but was booted for whatever reason from the home. I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the court battles involving Dr. Hayden or the mortgage company. Shortly after his departure, “vandals” broke in and completely trashed the place. Go figure. Chris Hutchinson had owned and operated at least ten different electrical and security businesses between 1990 and 2012. In October of 2013 he pleaded guilty to tax fraud for failing to pay $250,000 in employment taxes and was sentenced to a federal prison.

According to the neighbor with the friendly lab, the bank who mortgaged the property occasionally sends someone there to secure it and mow the lawn. "It’s future at this point is unknown" he says. It was a huge relief to find out that he was just as interested in the property as I. He then went on to tell me about how he used to go to the courthouse to follow the case before it went cold. I don’t think whomever controls it now have been able to resell the property because of the ongoing lawsuits. A few years ago during a massive storm a tree fell on the front of the house knocking a hole in the slate roof. There has been talk of it being demolished because of the insanely high cost needed to restore the home but I honestly do not see how someone could even fathom the idea of doing so.

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Exploring the TNT Area of West Virginia (Part 1)

Jul 2016

Just north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia is 8,000+ acres that was once home to a US Army facility dedicated to the manufacturing of ammunition and explosives during World War II. The $45 Million project was only operational from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945 and employed around 3,500 people during the peak of operations. The explosives for safety reasons were stored in bunkers or “igloos” that were strategically scattered across the territory and hidden by a thick layer of earth to prevent being spotted from the air. The plant was disposed of shortly after the war and the surrounding land was utilized for a landfill, the Mason County Airport, an industrial park, and the McClintic Wildlife Management Area. This area is most famously known as the location of one of the first sightings of a cryptid known as “The Mothman” in November 1966. During the late 70’s a fisherman reported red water seepage at the site and in 1981 TNT, DNT,  and other contaminates from the WWII operations were discovered. In September of 1983 the site was included on the EPA’s National Priorities List making it eligible for the cleanup under the Superfund program. It was then listed as West Virginia’s top priority site and one of the top ten polluted in the entire country. A handful of the bunkers are still in use and are leased to private companies/individuals. In the summer of 2010 one of those bunkers containing ammunition exploded, the cause was determined to be from a deterioration of the ammunition and the excessive heat. In the summer of 2012 another bunker owned by the same individual also containing ammunition and propellents exploded, this time it was ruled as arson by the state fire marshal
 

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The Crosley Building

Dec 2016

Standing vacant for twenty years in the skyline of the Camp Washington neighborhood of Cincinnati, this ten story industrial building has been on my list of places to explore for some time now. The problem is pretty much any time over the past few years that I’ve made the trip to Cincy it was with other people and I never got the chance to check it out. So this week whilst burning some much overdue vacation time from work I randomly decided to point my car west and head that way solo. Over the years I’ve seen lots of photos of the interior and exterior of this place and much like with all massive art deco abandoned buildings, I fell in love with it immediately. Built in 1928 to house the headquarters of the Crosley Corporation, it was a state of the art facility at the time. The lower floors served as home to the manufacturing facilities for radios and other appliances while the top floors held a handful of broadcasting stations owned by the corporation. In 1960 the building was taken over by AVCO Electronics who continued to use it to make radios until 1970 when it was sold yet again. This past summer news broke that an Indianapolis based development firm was awarded $5 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits toward it’s planned $35 million conversion of the historic building into 238 apartments.

The Ghost Ship of Kentucky

Aug 2016

Tucked away in a small creek just a bit downstream from Cincinnati, Ohio rests a 114 year old ship known as the Celt. It simply fascinates me the history that this one ship has and upon first glance of this rusted hulk you would never imagine so. Originally setting sail back in 1902 as a luxury yacht of a wealthy railroad executive, Celt was 180 feet long and powered by steam. The ship changed hands in 1917 when the US Navy started renting small, quick vessels to outmaneuver German U-boats during World War I. It was during this time that it was renamed the USS Sachem (SP-192) and was used as a coastal patrol boat after being outfitted with depth charges and machine guns. One of the most notable things about it’s life during WWI is that it was loaned to Thomas Edison while he conducted US Government funded experiments onboard in New York as head of the Naval Consulting Board.

After the end of WWI the Sachem changed owners a couple of times before landing back in the hands of the Navy for $65,000 in 1942. The Navy then changed the name to USS Phenakite (PYc-25) and used the vessel to patrol the waters off of the Florida Keys. Phenakite was used for a brief time after WWII to train soldiers to test sonar equipment before being decommissioned and returned to the previous owner in 1945. Subsequently it was sold to Circle Line of NYC and renamed Sightseer but was soon renamed Circle Line V and served as a tour boat until 1983. In 1986 a Cincinnati local named Robert Miller bought the ship for a mere $7,500 and before leaving the New York Harbor it had a cameo in Madonna’s music video for ‘Papa Don’t Preach’. After traveling up the Hudson, through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and into the Ohio River, the ship settled in a small creek next to Miller’s property in Northern Kentucky where it has rested since.

It really is a surreal thing to come across when walking down a short path in the woods. The first time I went to see it was in June of 2016 and I try to visit each time I'm in the Cincinnati area for whatever reason. The photos below were taken on various visits between June 2016 and January 2018.

 

The West Virginia Flood of 2016

Jan 2017

I took a sunday afternoon drive to Clendenin, West Virginia. Clendenin is a town in Kanawha County that was one of many areas that were affected by the flooding that occurred in the summer of 2016 when around 10 inches of rain fell in a 12 hour period. When it was all said and done 23 people lost their lives, 6 of those being in Kanawha County. It was one of the worst floods in West Virginia history and the deadliest flash flood in the US since the 2010 flooding in Tennessee. The destruction was so severe and widespread that the governor declared a state of emergency for 44 of the 55 counties in West Virginia.

Flooding in Appalachia is a subject that hits deep with me. The summer before my senior year of high school flash flooding hit southern West Virginia where I lived in Wyoming County. I wasn’t home at the time but the way my mother tells it the water rising only lasted about 20 minutes. That’s all it took. 20 Minutes for 4 feet of muddy water from the overflowing Guyandotte River to rush through our house and destroy everything we had. The river was at the end of our dead end street and normally didn’t have a depth of more than a few feet, but that day it had crested at 18-20 feet in places. During the actual flooding I was a few miles outside of town riding an atv through the mountains with a friend. Up until that point in my 17 years on this planet I had never been on an atv and I was having the time of my life speeding through the southern West Virginia landscape. To this day the irony kills me that while I was off enjoying myself, everything I had acquired in life was being destroyed.  

When I arrived in Clendenin I was shocked to see it still in the shape that it was in. The flood happened in June of 2016, here it was January 2017 and it appeared as if the river had just ran through a couple of weeks ago. Piles of people’s belongings stacked in front of ruined homes, trash carried by the river hanging from tree limbs, rows of closed businesses, and the stench of dampness and mold filling the air. All of the terrible memories I had from the flood of 2001 came crashing back. It really makes me think of all of the money that is spent on something like a presidential campaign, where one person is basically just saying “look at how much of an asshole my opponent is”, when that same amount of money could easily be put to an area such as this and help people rebuild their lives.

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Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church

Sept 2016

Located at Ohio’s southernmost point, the community of Burlington saw large numbers of both runaway and freed slaves during the decades before the Civil War. Around 1811 a small group of Baptists settled here and founded a small primitive church. In late 1849 a Virginia landowner named James Twyman freed many of his slaves at the time of his death and provided land for them near Burlington, Ohio. Forty-six former slaves settled near the church on land that they now officially owned. After joining the existing Baptist congregation they helped build a replacement church on Macedonia Ridge, from which the they took it’s name of “Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church”. The then newly built church is believed to be the first African-American established church in the state of Ohio. Among various other things, the congregation was also involved in assisting other slaves during era of the Underground Railroad. Qualifying both because of being historically significant in local history and architecture, the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February of 1978. The included photos were taken in spring of 2013, as the church sits now all of the windows are boarded up and the front door is sealed shut after strings of vandalism on the somewhat secluded property. A July 2016 local newspaper article states that a Lawrence County native named Calvin Vincent is currently seeking grants to restore the building and turn it into a museum.

The Abandoned Homes of Huntington, WV

Jan 2017

My current hometown of Huntington, West Virginia is no stranger to vacant houses. It’s estimated that around 250 homes in the city are abandoned but that number is declining thanks to an anonymous donation of $100,000 to the city with the strict instruction that it be spent on the demolition of abandoned houses. The city of Huntington matched the donation and got to work. Not only are the vacant properties an eyesore for neighbors, they are also a drain on the surrounding property value and a target for copper thieves and drug activity. Perhaps what prompted the initiative of cleaning up vacant properties in Huntington is the fact that, like most parts of Appalachia, the city is in the midst of a massive heroin epidemic. Last summer alone we experienced the worst overdose rate in the history of West Virginia, 26 in the span of a few hours. Yes I said HOURS. The AP reported that the heroin overdose fatality rate in Cabell County alone is 13 times higher than the national rate. The average cost of demolishing a house is between $8,000 and $10,000 so there is still a long road ahead but at least they got the ball rolling and are making an effort to clean things up. 

    The Jim. C Hamer Lumber Co. - Kenova, WV

    I first stumbled upon this massive industrial site late in the summer of 2016. I didn’t have my camera with me nor had any idea what it’s former function was at the time. So I snapped a few shots with my phone and jotted down the location as a reminder to return. It was the first of October before I made it back. I wandered around the site snapping photos and drinking cans of beer I had stuffed in my camera bag. It was late in the afternoon, the sun began to set and the wind started to chill. I must say it was one of the most relaxing evenings ever. I still have some research to do along with processing quite a few photos from various visits over the past few months. All I know as of now is that it was a sawmill that possibly shut down around 2012-2013, but why it shut down is the mystery to me. This particular company appears to still be operational and successful with other mills all across West Virginia, so I’m wondering why this one location went under.