We’d heard of the Journey Motel Court, an abandoned hotel in Memphis that would be worth our time checking out especially since it was only 20 mins from Novel the bookstore we needed to be at later that day. The day was a bright one and while there were tales about the perilous nature of the area in which we were traveling we arrived unscathed. Hoping out of our car we broke out our cameras and took in the Journey Motel Court. In the center of the property stands what was a gas station with a car port and a restaurant. On the Northside of the property was the motel office and rooms. To the South was a two story structure that looked as if the bottom was a garage while above was living quarters. This was would be the first building we would explore.
The Garage House
The Garage House was a bit odd to be honest. Originally Jay thought that maybe it had been for a mehcanic but the garage itself lacked a car lift and other featues a mechanics shop would have. I fet that it was likely for the car belonging to the Manager of the Journey. It was an ideal set up really. The manager was likely on salary and was needed on the premisies so why not live next to the Hotel? The garage’s chipped and ragged paint was blue and white and obvioulsy years old. Where a car would be parked a ham sized hole was in the concrete where some plumbing could be spied along with a small drop to the ground below.
Right above our heads was what I assumed to be the living quarters. We could see the open door to the space because the wooden floor above was for the most part gone. The condition of the 2nd floor pretty much ruled out exploring it. So with a bit more of shooting this and that we moved on and shot the outside of the Garage House. It would turn out we were both right, more or less. According to JoshWhitehead’s site http://cremedememph.blogspot.com/2018/01/journey-motel-court.html the building was a service garge and it is likely the mechanic stayed in the apartment above.
Standing in the grass behind the Journey Motel we could see the back of the Journey and deciced to explore the main building next. The grass sourrounding the motel stood at knee level the gound itseld uneven.
Up close cracks in the window panes were obvious and more than a few panes were missing. Further along the back we went. In the middle of the back of the hotel a small building stood with a steeply sloped roof. The door was heavily blockaded with large thick pieces of wood with the excpetion of a 8 inch space above the door.
Using a cell phone flashlight all that could be seen were a few stairs. There was no entering here. Imeediately behind this small entry was the rear wall of the motel (at one point a chimeny stood here). A narrow horizontal window gave us a view of the sparse interior of the Motel. A little further I found a door that was open a few inches so with a qiuck scan of the floor inside, Jay and I stepped into the Journey.
There wasn’t much too see of the back room, it was dark with a greenish cast to the light, here and there were holes in the floor, mainly beneath the windows. The main room was a bit more interesting with entries into side rooms and large windows that let in a good amount of light.
One open closet on the left revealed a floor that was severly damaged and showed a short drop to the ground below, while above were the broken and rotted risers of the stairwell to the 2nd floor where the inkeeper had an apartment.
To the right was a doorway leading to short hallway and restroom. As we explored the main room of the Journey I could hear a fluttering and sure enough a small grey bird was flying arund the room. I think it was a wren. The bird was stuck in the motel and eventually ended up battering itself against window panes of one othe main windows. I photographed the little birds efforts for a bit thinking it would fly out a an empty square. No, it kept batting itself agsinst glass. Finally the little thing sat exhausted sitting on the sill. I reached dwon and cupped the bird in my hand and raised it up to the vacant space in the window and off it went. No wave goodbye, no chirp of thanks, nothing. Ah well.
Into the next room. Now let’s get something straight, abandoned places are never really abandoned. People and animals still come on go. They leave evidence of their passing but with little or no context.
In the next room a window was covered with a gausey curtain on the sill a dead wasp sat with it’s head down and wings open, like a crashed fighter plane while in the corner stood a child’s bike. It stood on the floor with broken glass sourounding it while children’s clothes lay in front of it. Why? In dark abandoned places you will find such relics without context and you will always puzzzle over their origins.
With nothing else to explore in the main building Jay and I left to see what we could of the actual motel where the office and actual guest rooms stood. Parked backwards and blocking entrance to the hotel’s breezeway was a bar with out of state tags.
No going in here. Further down was another car this one with Canadian plates and next to it in the grass was a thick grey extension line. Apparently someone was staying here. We could not gain access to the individual rooms, each had a heavy decorative metal door which was locked.
One door had heavy black plastic over it as well as the window. So with not much left to see we were on our way back to the car. That is when we met the guy who was staying there. Out of the room with the black plastic came a guy who stood about 5’9″ or so. Bearded, dressed in camo and sporting a revolver on his hip.
Adam was his name, and yes, he was there to try and get the hotel into shape. He’d heard us and wanted to see who was on the property. This is not as rare an occurance as you might think. In an abandoned hotel in Nashville I’d run into several homeless people and a few law officers as well. Jay and I introduced ourselves as Urbexplorers and published authors who were out looking for material to go into upcoming books.
Jay and I were in luck, while Adam didn’t come out and admit to beiing a fellow Urbexplorer but we got the feeling he was. We shot the breeze for 15mins or so and Adam gave us a lead to chase. He told us to look for the Snuff Distriict and there we would find an old Snuff factory that was derilect. We should check it out and for us to not be disuaded by the 12 foot fence with razor wire surrounding the place. If we were dilignet and looked around we would likely find a way in, and we did. But that tale is for another day.
That’s right! ForgottenTennessee.com will be out in print courtesy of Font Hill Media’s America Through Time series. A rough release date of late August or September 2019 . Below is the cover which features one of my first explorations the Blackman cemetery.
Inside this book are assorted tales of my explorations around Middle Tennessee and Alabama. I will update this again once I have a firm release date. I will also be updating this with book signings since this book will be available at most bookstores as well as online.
I would like to thank my good friend and fellow photographer for turning me on to Fonthill and for the amazing trips we’ve been on.
Harlan County, Kentucky is a county of stark beauty and bleak sadness. Once a bustling coal town it is in the process of a population exodus, and has been for decades. Jay and I had just finished shooting at The United Supply Co. Corporation, a defunct company store, and we were now in search of the Lynch High School. It didn’t take long to find the school and like the company store and the Lynch Colored School, it sat in the middle of a neighborhood.
Pulling up to the school we parked in the gravel lot beside a school bus and quickly unpacked our gear. I slung on my pack and grabbed my tripod. Honestly, I seldom use my tripod, it’s big, cumbersome and heavy. However it was needed it because I had no doubt that I’d end up having to do some long exposures to capture a decent image, one can only hold their breathe so long. We didn’t have to try hard to find our way in. A door that at first looked secure was in truth easily opened. Into the darkness we went.
To say the least I was damned glad I had decided to bring my tripod and tethered trigger, because while my eyes were fine at discerning details in the near darkness we found ourselves in, there was no way my camera was going to capture anything here without some shaking on my part. After quickly affixing my camera to the tripod and hooking up its trigger I began to shoot. Now keep in mind that even with a tripod none of the following shots would be easy. The floor under and before us was covered in inches of debris.
Dust covered trash, and broken tile work. Tile work similar to the kind Jay and I found while exploring an abandoned insane asylum in Alabama. Covering both was a film of condensation, rendering the dust and finer broken tile into an ugly and at times slippery slurry. Ah well, we knew this was not going to be a cake walk and the best explorations are filled with risk.
Cave-like, is the word that came immediately to mind as I walked down the school hall we found ourselves in. Light fixtures hung from above. Before us, a semi darkness that barely hinted at another hallway. Behind us, on a landing was our only source of light, which wasn’t saying much since the day was overcast. On either side of us, were rooms of varying light or dark. Which way should we go? Forward, we decided to go further into darkness. Before we took too many steps though I decided to grab a flashlight from my back pack. If you ever get into Urbex invest in a couple of flashlights, they are invaluable additions to your kit, and just might keep you from a nasty end. As we started to explore we decided to check out the first room we came across, it was on our right, so in we went. Looking at the setup I figured this must have been used for a science class. The floor was a bit clearer except in the far corner. Light fixtures were dangled from the high ceiling while many others had succumbed to gravity and now lay across the floor.
With the first room explored it was time to move on down the murky hall. For the next hundred feet or so there wasn’t much to see, visibility without a flashlight had dropped to almost zero. At last on our right we found a bathroom, I passed this up, there just wasn’t enough light for me to work with, and it was a bathroom. I didn’t feel the urge to go (get it?). The bathroom was at the top of a flight of stairs and we could see light coming from a doorway at the bottom! The stairwell’s treads were of course covered by debris and even more broken tile. This combined with the low light made a scene that practically begged for a rolled ankle, or slide all the way to the bottom of the stairs!This likely would have shredded pants, skin, and ego alike.
Emerging from the stairs Jay and I found ourselves in the school gymnasium which was easily the width of the building and all things considering, it was in good shape. Now I’m not saying I’d suggest playing some ball, but the hoops were still up. Our luck was in, The floor was stable, and the light we had was amazing! There was just enough light to make walking safe since we could plainly see where the floor had buckled and or fell in.
There was an ethereal quality about the room, I could almost picture the people who must have filled the bleachers and ran across the floor during games. There are a few constants that we’ve come across in our Urbex adventures. They are; badly rendered graffiti dicks mostly, decades of litter from those who’d come before, and fire extinguishers. Lots fire extinguishers.
Across the gym floor were bleachers and a very dark hall way, of course that was where we went. Only the smallest amount of light was coming in from doors that had to be at the end of the corridor. I decided to forgo going into the hall and decided to do some very long exposure shooting. Jay took the flashlight from me and waved it down the hall to help add a bit of creepiness to the shot.
Yeah, a creepy feel to a photo of a creepy assed corridor with a floor strewn with an accident waiting to happen and bring an end to a good day. This is why I said earlier to pack a flashlight.
A little backstory on Lynch in Harlan County. Lynch was established in 1917 by US Steel. It built the town, it built the roads. US Steel owned the mines and everything in the town including the people. Miners were paid not in money but in script. Script was only redeemable in one place, the US Steel Company Store. At its hey day Cumberland, Benham and Lynch made up the Trip-Cities. At one point there was enough of a population to boast the name. Sadly today the population has dropped to around 700 citizens. It’s the type of region where the residents are mostly above 65 and the youth leave as soon as possible.
Sunday, March 16, 2020. They day before the pandemic pretty much shut everything down, Jay Farrell and I decided to take a trip to Harlan County, KY. There we hoped to find several abandoned sites to explore and shoot. 8am found us on the interstate driving up into Bluegrass country and then beyond that to mountain country. The slip from the from the relatively flat to hill country was subtle but after 4 hrs of driving our view became one dominated by mountains. Mountains grey, where uncountable small waterfalls cascade into culverts and gullies by the road. Skeletal trees marked our progress, as well as raging creeks and rivers, nearly swollen beyond the confines of their banks. The sky remained gray, birds chased one another and fog crowned every mountain before us.
Highway 119 took us past Totz, Hiram, Chad, then a right onto E. Main Street through the small town of Benham which in opens up to Lynch. E. Main St., really is the Main Street of Lynch which is a surprisingly narrow road that winds like a ribbon through the town.
Rounding a bend we stopped at the Lynch Colored School. Yes, I said The Lynch Colored Public School. Built in 1923 by US Steel the school sits right smack in the middle of Main St. This massive brick two story structure is imposing and proud bearing. The grounds are surrounded by plaques dedicated to the Black Miners of Benham (https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/05/03/they-will-remember-us-the-miners-of-black-harlan/). African American miners were quite often given the most dangerous jobs.
Stretching our legs was our first concern upon exiting the car, it had been a long drive on our muscles needed to limber up as we gathered our cameras. One thing we noticed was that all the windows of the school had been boarded up, and whomever did it, did a damned good job. Usually a short walk around an abandoned property usually net us a small overlooked entrance into a building. This was not the case today though.
It was somewhat puzzling, there had to be a reason. Circling to the back it was plain to see that not all of the building was closed. Some local outfit a community group, still used the property and that might be why the building was sealed so tightly. Still it was a little odd. With a rueful shrug I and Jay got back on our ride and went in hunt of our next site, the Lynch Graded High-School.
On our way to the school we came across another abandoned building we’d been looking for. The United Supply Co. Corporation, a company store.
Clothes, food, mining equipment, and more could be had at the store. But there was a catch. Nothing could be purchased here with the dollar, no, the mining company had their own currency called Script. This is what the miners used in lieu of actual money. What’s worse is that the goods within the store were outrageously expensive. The goods were so expensive that miners and their families would be in constant debt to the store. Let’s face it, this was little better than indentured servitude.
Parking in the adjoining lot of the Lynch Post Office we gathered our cameras and after an appreciative look at the building before us, we approached. We stood in the valley of the surrounding mountains and next to us stood a building made of hewn stone, almost resembling a small castle. Windows stood staring out at the world with vacant eyes. The walls were scorched in places, large pieces of plywood had closed ooff what must have been long impressive show windows. Here and there burn marks peeked out from the edges of the plywood. At first glance it looked as if there’d be no way oof entering the building, and to an extent this was true.
But Jay and I are dogged about what we do and are seldom quick to lose hope. As it was there was an awful lot of abandoned building eye candy to be had and shutters clicked away. On the right side of the old company store we found a loading dock of sorts with what looked like a collapsed tunnel that ran along the back of the store and behind that another structure stood right beside the river that flowed quickly alongside it. Splitting up Jay went his own way as did I. I made my way along the front of the store then down a bank into what looked like another smaller parking lot on the left side of the store. A small wing lay before me a doorway open black and gaping to the world.
I’d look into that later, right now it was the structure nearer the river I was interested in. There stood an alley of sorts between the two, the floor of which was now a vibrant moss green. This combined with the sparse foliage, and massive stone structures to either side the alleyway had an almost mystical look, with a bit of menace thrown in. I decided this would keep too.
No, I wanted to find a way into the the smaller of the two buildings. Carefully ,I climbed down to the buildings entrance and stood looking at a massive mound of debris and could steel wire almost as tall as myself.
Beyond it was a wonder of destruction. The building stood empty, minus a roof. All the flooring was covered in green moss and hardy weeds and creepers. There was almost magically floating a small squarish room, that stood upon a few girders and below that what looked to be a square metal lipped entrance to the underground. If it had been possible I’d been happy to climb over the mound of wires to more fully explore the room before me. But, sometimes it’s best not to tempt fate too much.
None of the mound of debris before me looked stable, it was rife with small holes that could easily swallow a person’s foot and boom, like that we’ve a frigging trip ending accident. Thanks but no thanks! So with a regretful sigh I scrambled back up to higher ground and went left to expire the alley I’d spied. I loved the look of the alley far more than I did going thru it.
The stunted trees, bushes, creepers and roots poked, pulled, stabbed, and ensnared me forward movement. With a surge I emerged from the alley and stood beside the back of the company store. There wasn’t a lot to see, but I did like the look of the one metal roll-up door that had been tagged with the obligatory legend “ Do not enter”.
Well, at least it was better than a badly rendered dick. I stood there shooting the concrete lip of the loading dock wondering just how long the store had been empty and how bad the fire must have been? From the empty windows on the left and the right it was easy to see that parts of the ceiling had collapsed at one point and likely so had the floor beneath it. What about the ground floor? Had it fallen into the basement? There was no way to tell, it would remain a mystery.
With a few more shots from the parking lot Jay and I began to hike back to the car and begin looking for main reason we’d come to Lynch, which was the old Lynch High-school.
Friends, fans, colleagues and more. Please stop asking me for my locations. The answer will be no. There are maybe 2-3 photographers who do what I do that I would share my locations with. But, the thing is, they don’t ask. As for “why” I’m not sharing? I’ve several reasons. Look at the photos I’ve put up. That portable tv, the Electrolux and more are outside the building, someone took them out. My worry is that sooner or later someone gets noticed or the the volume of people going in gets noticed and the location burns down, or becomes inaccessible. Then there is safety to be considered. There is physical risks, sometimes from people. Homeless folks. I’ve run into them. Some harmless, some scary. I thank my size and “Friendly” looks, they keep many at bay. Police? Yes, several times I’ve been approached by them . Police have seldom hassled me because I’ve learned how to deal with them. Also, my Dad was a Homicide Detective. I really don’t want people going to a location I’ve told them about and find out they’ve come to injury, arrest or are dead. Finally, while I do post my photos from my explorations, they are NOT all of the photos I’ve shot at a location. I have more. In the end they are all content for my next book(s). Ya know, one o the ways I pay my bills. In short, “y’all asking for the 11 secret herbs and spices”. It’s not, gonna happen unless I have gone exploring with you. Thanks, this has been my Jerry talk.
It was one of those Sunday mornings when all signs practically shouted “GO SHOOT! GO! EXPLORE”! So I did. My target was an old mansion a friend of mine had told me about. She said that the house was only visible during late Fall or better yet the start of Winter. She was not wrong. I’d driven by the old house, several times, and damned if it was enticing. All I could see from the side of the road was a peeked rook and columns.
That Sunday I did a few drive-byes, looking for the best route to approach from. It pays to do this if you’re going to explore the abandoned. Once I decided on a course I parked my car well off the road, grabbed my Canon 1D with its 17-40lens. Inside my go-bag sat my flashlight, water bottles, protein bar, knife and my Fuji Xe1. With everything ready I slung my camera over my back, inhaled the fresh air and trekked down around some boulders and into a clearing. I hiked for a few minutes and then entered a small copse of woods. The grass was tall, yellow and dead, many of the trees had gone bare, but those that still had their leaves provided excellent cover. Not too much longer I found myself pushing through some brush, finally I could see the house. The house stood dark and foreboding, around it lay half a dozen dead and rusting hulks.
Slowly I began making my way through the creepers, vines and saplings that entombed several cars, I ad no idea how long they’d sat around rusting away, but the fact that trees had begun to form rings around them spoke of decades gone by. An old light blue chevy pick up sat by itself and slightly behind it was an old AMC station wagon.
Crossing from one copse of trees I made way a little further from the the house looming behind me. To the left about thirty yards or so I could see some more older cars. An old Plymouth was on the ground, its passenger door wide open.
Crouching down I shot some of the Plymouth’s interior, moved around to the left and shot some of the old car’s body then with a smile moved over to the even older 30’s era Dodge Coupe. Oh, my. This car must have been a real beauty in the past. Not that I didn’t find it beautiful now. I did. I loved the rusted patina, the curves that no car possess today, especially the fenders! I was in love.
Back into the clearing I moved, not stopping until I stood in the yard. In front of me sat a plastic chair, to the left of my another old car and truck. A 60’s era Dodge of huge proportions, and a little Datsun with a magazine open on the trucks hood.
I had to stop and shoot said publication, it was old. It was a great find. It gave some kind of a timeline of those who had lived in the house. The porch was a wreck. Old magazines, tools, papers, and the like made an unsteady carpet all the way into the gloomy interior. Pausing in the doorway I took a deep breath let is out and bracing my camera firmly I began to shoot the first room.
An ocean of detritus dominated the main room. I walked around a bit, but the light was sparse and the floor was sketchy in the best places. Room two was something that looked like the entrance to hell itself.
Going through this room was a nerve tingling endeavor. Parts of the floor were firm, other parts were “squishy”. Yes, squishy. Fun times. I took the door to the left (the right was an exit), stepped through into a room with an enormous hole in the far wall.
I spied another door and went into the Music Room! Where another piano of sorts dominated one wall. I’m really not sure the instrument was a piano or something else. Whatever it was, I liked it!
I walked out that door onto the front porch. Here I felt my hair rise. Did a ghost flick my ear? No, the boards under me sagged from age. Luckily for me they held. I sighed in relief. I stepped off the porch and starred for a bit at the wrap around balcony was built upon the porch’s roof. I imagine the balcony afforded a wonderful view.
I walked around to the side of the the house to better check out that enormous hole in the wall. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, what I got was truly a shock. The massive hole was caused by a collapsed chimney! bricks lay like a ramp leading up to the house. It was quite a sight! I loved it!
By this time I was growing a bit tired and decided to shoot just a little longer. I rounded the back and discovered another wrap around porch. This one was littered with discarded appliances and assorted brick a brac.
Finally I felt I had shot all I really could and began the trek back through the trees. On my way though I stopped as I spied yet another old rusting truck that during the spring and Summer would have been consumed by the greenery. Walking over I began to shoot this latest find from the 40’s or 50’s.
Finally with one last look back at this house that was too proud to fall, I left with a feeling of contentment and an itch to look at what I had captured.
I stopped by the Rutherford County Historical Society this morning at the invitation of James Allen Gooch. The occasion? To sign his copy of Forgotten Tennessee. I was happy to do so, after all, he is in the book.
And it looks like I will be a speaker at the Historical Society Feb. 16th, more info to come.
In 2019 I and a fellow explorer Jay Farrell, decided to explore a derelict furniture factory in McKenzie, Tennessee. Below are photos taken from an out building that cut glass and mirrors for the factory. Gettinginto the structure still was no easy feat. The front of the building was cluttered with old and broken wooden frames and other random bits of this and that. But once in, we could see a building that was dominated by one large green machine.
At first I’d no idea as to what the machine did but soon that question was answered. The green machine was a glass and mirror cutter.
Looks were deceiving though. What I thought to be a large machine turned out to actually be a very large machine indeed that took up two stories and had its own elevated walkway.
I walked along the gangway and shot the mirror cutter from afar but now I was wanting to get some detail shots in. This old machine is to be honest, damned cool.
No machine lasts forever, rust eats them all, eventually.
Recently on a photo expedition with my buddy Jay Farrell we came across a road called Mud Hollar. Mud Hollar? with a name like that we were sure we’d find an abandoned house or shack of some sort. We were not wrong.
It looked “burst open”, that was my first impression of the little White House that sat on the side of the road. In front was a massive tree, its placement giving an idea as to how long the house had stood empty. While jay made to go and photograph a small gnome like shack a little further up the road, I moved to check out the main building. To be honest the footing beneath me was loose, spongey and disturbing.
Rusted sheets of metal were also underfoot and more sheets lay about further up a hill and into what was a heavily wooded space.
The side of the house we’d found was really odd. A window was in the side of the wall but the ground was almost even with the sill and just a little further down was a roof covered porch of some sort with trash strewn about.
This is of course where I made my entry into what had been the site of a pretty bad fire. The walls were charred black, ash and mud and assorted junk made up the floor, and while this place would win no awards for cleanliness there was a table with a cleanish looking frying pan. The little burned up shack was making an effort at hospitality if nothing else.
What must have been a living room at some point was nearly impassible, with the ceiling and roof having fallen in. These too were charred. On the far wall a calendar was tacked to the wall, Jay informed me that the calendar was from 1978. From the state of the walls and the amount of dirt-mud-gunk that now made op the houses floor it was easy to believe this place had been empty since ’78, well, of humans. I’ve no idea squirrels and raccoons had made this place their personal Air BnB.
I spent a good half and hour walking around inside shooting this and that but eventually made my way outside to the backyard. No, not a yard, rather a hill. A hill that had likely been growing larger and slowly moving to envelope the house? Another 20 years or so might see the back of the house consumed by the mound of dirt and grass.
Here the footing was no better than the footing on the side. I had to keep readjusting my stance to keep a foot from sinking into the loam, or from going ass over tea kettle. Here in the back stood more junk, old glass jars and bottles, large rusted cans that could actually be mistaken for pony kegs.
Finally I had made a full circuit of Casa de Charred to Hell and Back. Leaning back on the car I went through the photos I’d taken and wished that there’d been a few more personal affects left inside, but after 41yrs of being abandoned I was just surprised the house was still standing.