Forgotten Tennessee’s Jerry Winnett, and Jay Farrell, went south to Alabama again.
In the beginning of June we’d gone to Montgomery, Alabama in search of “Abando Gold” but came up empty. On our way back we stopped in Birmingham and found ourselves looking at a 9 story, empty hospital. Huge, was the best way to describe the building, hell the campus really. Pulling into a space in front of the hospital we got our equipment ready and with cameras clicking we began to explore. I’ll tell you more about that initial trip later. It wasn’t a lengthy exploration. We had’nt brought flashlights and after about an hour of exploring we deemed it too dangerous to go on without better light than what was offered by our phones.
No, this is just a teaser. I will be writing a much longer entry about Carraway later. For now I am going to write a small tale of warning about exploring abandoned places. The dangers of exploration are plenty. Venomous spiders, bugs that like to suck blood, and rats of course. I and a friend once came across a pit bull in an abandoned structure, luckily it was a friendly dog. Unseen nails are a constant danger, they can go through a show like a knife through butter. Glass, metal splinters, insulin needles, and more are a real threat to every part of your body as are weak floors that can drop you into a world of hurt. Ceilings, stairwells, and walls are also a concern. What stood just fine for years can without warning collapse.
People. Yes, people are a danger that is seldom considered enough. This can be a terrible mistake, fatal even. In my explorations I have come across squatters, travelers and assorted other homeless people. Lucky for me they’ve been harmless, a few were even very helpful. But you never know when you might run into the exact opposite. Violently, mentally disturbed individuals are out there. Trigger happy squatters, drug addicts, and more can be found wandering the places we like to shoot.
In this cautionary tale however, it was the discovery of a possibly stolen truck that Jay and I discovered in a hallway in the rotunda section of the hospital that alarmed us. An older, beaten up, pick-up truck was tightly lodged in a hallway. Initially when I’d spied the truck I didn’t really pay attention to it. For all I knew the truck could’ve belonged fellow explorers or drone pilots. As I drew closer however I noticed the truck’s passenger side was ground up against the wall. Whilst I continued to shoot I could feel heat coming off the truck’s hood from almost a foot away. I stepped back and stopped to consider the situation. Someone had purposefully taken a large Chevy Work Truck and ground it up against a wall deep inside an abandoned hospital’s hallway and left it. Oh, and said truck was still hot, painfully hot; perhaps in more ways than one.
This was a new experience for both Jay and myself. We were likely standing beside a possibly stolen vehicle inside an abandoned hospital. Great. And if the truck was stolen? Where might the folks be who stole the truck? On our previous trip we’d met drone pilots in the same area. In another building close by we’d run into a squatter. The chance of the drone pilots, or the squatter, giving us trouble were pretty low. Car thieves though? Who knows how such a scenario might play out? Would a car thief be dangerous? Perhaps running to escape the law for something worse than stealing a truck? Might they just be some person out on a joy ride ?Or maybe this truck belonged to somebody looking for scrap in the hospital? No way to tell, really. Wisely, we chose to move along to another section of the hospital. Somewhere safer, like the morgue.
I’ve said it before that exploring abandos is not safe, its not smart, but we do it anyway for the thrill of the experience. We also do this to amaze and tantalize those who follow our adventures.
I’ve always wanted to shoot this collection of abandoned buildings in Chattanooga, but something has always come up. Well, last Sunday I finally got to check that location off the bucket list. Jay Farrel and I hit Chatt Town and immediately spied our quarry. We pulled off the interstate and took a few side roads and found ourselves following a narrow road that dead ended in a train yard. We quickly turned around trying to find a way to get access to the buildings we wanted to shoot and noticed that there was a Green Way running along the front of our destination and the fence keeping us out was only waist high. Better yet a little investigation proved that a large section of the fence was down, we had only to duck under the fence support and we were in! We stood before the Wheland Foundry, and it was breathtaking. The sky was a beautiful blue, and the green Mountains stood majestically in the background. There was a slight breeze and I swear the temperature was a perfect 78 degrees. If anything, it was too beautiful. Rather than enter the foundry’s proper entrance that stood looming before us, we opted for one of a series of gothic looking buildings that had been painted a bright blue. I had to wonder if maybe they were painted this color to try to alleviate Tennessee’s brutal heat and direct exposure to the sun. Inside the first structure we found little beyond graffiti. Still it was worth noting the entire back wall looked as if it had been torn out and this allowed us quick access to the next large building inside which we found a few large pieces of equipment. While these were not the treasures we were looking for we could feel the potential for finding some true “Abando Gold” if we kept going.
Next up was a building the justified our tenacity. Like the other buildings it was bright blue, but that is where the similarities stopped. This building was all blue painted brick, and there were rows of empty windows, jagged glass teeth were all that remained of their panes. A large hole in the lower part of one wall showed evidence where a tree had at some point taken root and grown out of the wall itself. I had to ask myself just how long had the foundry been closed? This shorn tree was at least 8 inches in diameter, so it had been allowed to grow for quite sometime. Further along a set of double doors stood, beckoning us to enter. Inside the differences from the other buildings were even greater. It looked as if a bomb had gone off in the large hall I was standing in, my mouth slightly agape. Jay went one way, I went on my own and lost in the wonderment of the ruins I began to shoot.
With ninja like stealth we scuttled over to the next building. On its wall a giant graffiti skull blazed away. I toook this to be a good sign of what might be found within would be Abando Gold, and I was right! Ducking beneath a plastic set of curtains I found myself in the antechamber of a vast hall. This thing was the easily the size of the train works I’d shot in Alabama a few years ago. Unlike the train depot, the floor here was concrete, ash and dirt. It should have been dark in here a Stygian blackness but no, it was pretty well lit up due to all the bay doors having been removed, and the mostly vacant windows a hundred feet or more above. Sunlight streamed in and I was for once happy that it did, after all, my tripod was in the car. I walked about shooting this and that, but my attention became absorbed by giant cranes that were above us, locked in place for decades. I was in heaven.
I awoke one Saturday at 630 am. I was bored and didn’t want to watch anything on Hulu or Netflix. So I grabbed my trusty camera, and camera bag, gassed up the Jerry-mobile and headed up into Kentucky. I was on a quest to find an abandoned school in Kentucky near Franklin, KY. Coffee in hand, Stephen King’s Later playing and the miles were being steadily being consumed under the car. How hard would it be to find the aforementioned school? No idea! If nothing else my trip would be enjoyable. About 2 hours later I found myself cruising thru Franklin. Franklin is a small town, pleasant enough. I could see an abandoned high-school, it was tempting but it wasn’t not what I was after I took a left out of town and continued on my way for another 24 mins , maybe more. As I rounded a bend in the road I spied my destination right off the road! I was elated. No fence barred my way. No signs stating “No Trespassing”, (awesome-sauce). The only drawback, there wasn’t really anywhere to hide my car. Ah well.I opened my camera bag, made sure my lil Fuji was ready to go, donned my headphones, made sure my phone was in my pocket and a lamp was strapped to the side of my bag as well. I started by getting a long shot of the school, it’s asphalt black top was cracked, pitted and had most definitely seen better days. On I walked shooting away and noting the broken windows, crumbling bricks, and what looked like a singed roof.
I passed on entering right away through the front doors, instead I decided to scope out the side of the building. Down a twisty little rockcrete path I went and came across the remains of an out building that over looked the main road. The building had pancaked. The roof was in pieces, only debris was left, and a chair. On I went and on I shot. Windows empty of their glass panes were grim, and did not bode well for the conditions inside the school. From where I was I could tell the roof on this part of the school was gone, and had indeed been burnt. A wooden stoop and stairs was in a continuous state of collapse announced the end of the wall’s length. A little further on a door way beckoned, its window broken and it shook a little in the breeze. Of course I went in.
I stood in a darkened stairwell and stepped down into another small chamber. In front of me a stairway would have led up into the building, but the top was blocked off with a large section of the roof. To the right a small room, it’s floor was just hanging on by a thread, here to the roof had fallen and I could easily look up into the grey sky above. I won’t lie, it’s sights like this that can make me rethink the wisdom of my not staying home in bed. to my left another room stood, its floor bare dirt, the light was limited, but hey, the ceiling wasn’t falling down so in I went. I’d like to say that it was an interesting investigation but I’d be lying. I think at one point the room may have housed a furnace, but now it was just empty. Still the lighting made up for the lack of sights, if that makes sense.
From there I eagerly went to the next building, a newer looking addition than the one I’d just left. Up the stairs and in I went. This was more than creepy. Lighting as before was sparse, and cast the lower half of the landing I stood on in shadows. I decided to go up and see what there was to see. Up a short flight of steps I went and stood for a second looking at a recliner. Yes, a recliner in a hall next to a bathroom and a sink. Further down all I could see was a darkened hallway and a window where light came in through broken glass on the upper from doors. The floor before me was a nasty mix of “squish and crunch”, its a texture you’d have to experience first hand to fully appreciate it’s grossness. And while it can be disturbing to tread upon, I’m a pro. I only slightly grimaced.
As long as the bathrooms were directly to my right that is where I started my exploration of this wing of the school. Gloom was the order of the day and it dominated the atmosphere. Right off the bat upon entering the boys bathroom was an old tv. Of course, why wouldn’t there be a TV? There was a recliner just outside the door after all. the walls were of course bare, and void of anything but grime, graffiti and damage. A row of toilets dominated one wall. I found the least questionable toilet and relieved the pressure in my bladder. What can I say that Venti Ice Coffee had to come out at some point. I made a mental note of where I stood so that when I explored the lower level I wouldn’t end up dripping my own piss upon my head (I’m sure this has happened at some point). Sadly the toilets were the most interesting things in the room. But I did take some cool close ups of the lone sink. Think on that. Several toilets, one sink. I’m betting not all them hands got washed during recess. On wards, always on wards!
Leaving the boy’s bathroom, I entered the girl’s bathroom and discovered the only difference was a lack of a tv, stall dividers, and a corncob keeping the window closed. Why? Just why? I mean, did someone actually eat in here? Shaking off the gross mental issue of eating in this dark, dank, and yes smelly place, I made myself down the near black hallway. It wasnt a very long hallway at that and I had to ask myself “Just how many kids went to this school”? There just wasnt that much to the place.
“AAAAAAAAAAH SHIT” I exclaimed in a loud hiss! Hands windmilling in an effort to keep upright. As I just mentioned the hallway was dark. It was also cluttered and someone decided to put a moveable toilet seat in the middle of the hall. This kind of mishap is common in exploring the abandoned. I took a quick shot of the toilet and whispered thanks to the universe I’d not stepped in shit, or fallen on my ass. To The rest of the hall was littered with assorted pots, pans, and molds. I was standing in a wedge of light that led into what I took to be the Home Economics room. I passed on this room, it was pretty much empty, and went to the opposite room instead. This one was also empty but it had that “lived in look”. This wasn’t too surprising. I was getting the feeling that at some point someone had actually lived in this wing of the school. Honestly the large, wood encased, TV console along with the recliner I’d found were dead giveaways. Also, I’d come across another room that had several recliners and a sofa. I’d not be surprised to at some point find a bed.
After a bit I’d decided that I’d seen all there was to see upstairs and carefully made my way back to where I cam in. Down the stairs into an area bathed in shadows, oh, no. Wait the doors were actually painted black. That didn’t help. Pushing the doors open slowly I peered around a large open space, that at some point served as a lunch room. Once again I found myself wondering about the size of the classes held here. There were piles of stuff here and there and another discarded TV. There are traits I’ve come to expect from all abandoned places, they are as follows. Badly rendered penises, and boobs, toys (sometimes adult), and discarded TV’s. Honestly, why is it so hard to get rid of TV’s? In one room I found what was left of the cafeteria’s kitchen. Dirt and mud covered nearly everything making me think this place had to have been flooded at some point. That’s a bit creepy really. Yet another room held doors. Just doors. Institutional doors meant for a building like this, but residential doors too. The light here was nearly as bad as it was in the other basement wing. I was just happy that the ceiling above was in better shape. FInally I went into a room on the far left and found a series of darkened rooms filled with a bizarre assortment of junk, in one room a mattress sat in the middle of the floor, with several plastic chairs around it. I wont hazard a guess at how much use the mattress got, but come on, an audience too? Ah well, gotta get your entertainment where you can I guess. The darkness wasn’t the worse part of this large ongoing basement. No, the floor was damp, and the smell? Yeah, the place reeked of rotting floors and carpet. Finally I came out in a hallway that led to a way out. I could not have been happier to make my way outside and breathed in the fresh air.
Between the two buildings was a corridor that was overgrown with weeds and small saplings. Broken windows, and giant splinters of the roof beckoned me to come closer. “Shit”! Ouch! Crap” I forgot that another common trait found in abandoned places are sticker bushes, and thorn bushes. They suck. Earlier this year in Johnson City an exploration came to a dead stop due to an acre or more of such bushes that covered the field. But whatever, I made my way to a window that looked in on the first story of the original school structure. I held my camera up and looked through its LCD to get see if it might be safe for me to enter. That was a resounding no. Two major red flags were immediately visible. What remained of the school’s ceiling and roof was only a strong wind from completely falling in and pancaking the upon the floor. The floor itself? Yeah, I could see large sections that had already collapsed into the basement. I shivered because I was in that basement not too long ago. I abandoned any thought of climbing in through the window and made my way back to the front of the school and then went left and into the building. Yes, I know I said I’d not go in, but upon further examination I found that the front section of the building’s floor was concrete. The rooms beyond that had wooden floors that were collapsing. Turning in a circle shooting away I decided that I’d found myself in a place that was spookier than the basement. The very real possibility of danger was palpable, the light was scarce, coupled with the burnt out ceiling gave a truly oppressive atmosphere. Its at times like this that I remember why its a good idea to explore such places with a buddy.
“Grossly slick” is the best way to describe the rotted debris I walked upon while I shot, trying my best to capture the moment for your eyes. Charred timbers lay here and there, streak and bubbled paint covered surfaces. Burnt hair, that was the only thing I could compare the odor of this place. I was nearly done. Perhaps I’d shot some more. Maybe I’d worked up the nerve to try my luck with the rotted floor of the large room to my right. But a reflection caught my eye. Walking back to the doors I ‘d entered I could see a Sheriff’s car parked behind my own car, and a deputy peering into the back windows. This was my cue that it was time to go.
The first exploration of 2021 took place in Hazard, Kentucky. Driving to Hazard is a long but pretty drive. Jay Farrell and I finally hit Hazard, after a little under four hours, and immediately set off in search of our first destination, M.C. Napier High. M.C. Napier was built in 1953 and abandoned in the ’90s, its students absorbed by a larger and newer school. We spotted our quarry and drove down a narrow road made up of sharp twists and a steep decline. Pulling up we were more than a little surprised the abandoned school stood in the middle of a neighborhood, and mercantile strip. What’s more, nothing barred our entrance from the old brick building.This to be honest was off-putting. Most abandoned buildings like this are fenced off unless they sit forgotten in the middle of nowhere. After gathering our gear and looking about we entered the parking lot and then the building itself. Here are but a few shots of the exploration of M.C. Napier. Be on the lookout for a more detailed exploration later this weekend, you’ll love the hauntingly creepy photos!
Once in front of the high school I took a few quick shots of the exterior, walking along the wall I began to notice something truly worrisome. The brick facade of the structure was soaked. The bricks had become as water logged as a sponge! I’d only seen this once before in Memphis, Tennessee. Years of water leaking from a factory’s water tower flowed down to the building’s roof and over the decades inn-undated the buildings face. We were going to have to be a bit more careful in here than we usually were.
Instead of entering the derelict school’s front entrance we decided to go in through a side entrance. It just seemed right, and less slippery. As it turned out, it wasn’t. The first florr was indeed the most worrisome footing wise. Jay and I found ourselves standing in an ocean of water soaked debris.
This place was grim as hell and I for one was damned glad were exploring on a nice sunny day, an overcast day would have made this exponentially more difficult. Onward we went, silent but remarking to ourselves and one another about the state of decay that had befallen this school.
I wish I could describe the overall atmosphere of abandoned places like this. There is of course a stillness. But there is a weight too. It can at times be menacing and oppressive. But it has it’s moments of wonder. A sudden oasis of sunlight that reveals a beauty even amongst such decay.
As I said, there are brief oasis of light in these places, they are strange and wonderful.
You can never really become numb to the things you find when exploring abandos, from bad graffiti, and children’s toys, to miniature front loaders that for whatever reason sit within what was once a lunch room.
We’d traveresed the morass of the first floor and everything was just fine. Next up was the climb up to the second floor. There were two other stairwells but they were just far too dark to make out and the risers far too clogged with who knew what to risk.
That’s it for now kids. Next installment will be Hazard High the upper floors.
Note, the following was shot in 2019. I’d started writing about this at some point and simply got too busy to finish it until now. Enjoy.
A few years ago I went into the Rutherford County Judicial Building on business. While there I noticed a large bank vault. The door to this vault had to be nearly a yard wide. Over the years I’d thought about that vault. Mainly it’s age kept bring me back to thinking about it. On the inside of the vault’s door Fram there had been a record of each time the vault had been serviced, some of those records dated back quite some time, some in the mid-twentys. I’d always wanted to see that vault again but time got away from me and in 2017 or so the building was closed down because Rutherford County had built a new Courthouse. Great, I’d never see that vault again. Or would I?
Sitting in my car on a beautiful day it occurred t my that I might just have a way to get into the now empty court house and Forgotten Tennessee, my book might be the key. So I went to the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office to see who I had to talk to to. After hitting a few dead ends I was directed to Mr. Ben Mankin, the Facilities Director for Rutherford County, Tennessee. Initially I was just going to leave a number for Mr. Mankin but no, I decided that finding him, and talking to the man in person was the right thing to do, and as it turned out it was. Mr. Mankin was leaning against a brick wall outside his building, smoking a nice smelling cigar. Introducing myself I told him about my wanting to see and photograph the massive vault I’d seen and that I wanted to include it in my next book. Then I handed Ben a copy of Forgotten Tennessee. Ben’s face lit up as he flipped the pages. After a bit of discussion Ben informed me that He could arrange for me to see and photograph that vault, and the other vaults as well. There were five vaults in total. Five? I had no idea! And one of the vaults was actually only accessible by going through an underground hand-hewn rough tunnel. We made a date for the shoot and away I went with a smile stretching from ear to ear.
Monday morning, 8am found me on the Murfreesboro Square, parked in front of the old Court House. As I checked over the two cameras I’d brought I found myself telling folks who were trying in vain to open the doors to the building. Apparently no one had told them that the court had moved a block over. Mr. Mankin showed up and in we went. I could smell the familiar scent of abandonment. Yes, the county was keeping the lights on and keeping the place clean. But when a building becomes “abandoned” it stops breathing. The smells that say people are there, that people walk, talk, and fill the space. Those smells vanish. The floor was filled with stacks of chairs and assorted building fixtures. and while the lights were on, some had either died or were off since there was no need for the place to be brightly lit up.
We immediately made our way to a room off the main corridor and here was my vault. The shelves that once held office supplies and county information and files were all bare, the counters too. Here and there was a box filled with odds and ends and old office chairs seemed sprout here and there from the old carpet. But mostly my attention is drawn to the vault door, its sheer mass demands it. I walk about the door and admire its construction and find myself that this huge door with its complex mechanisims were built so long ago.
As I walked around the interior of the vault Mr. Mankin explained a some of the more colorful aspects of the vault. For one, I had noticed the door was anchored open. Why? Because according to my guide the building had settled over the years and over those years the door had developed a habit of swinging shut, not entirely but close enough that one day an employee of the City had placed a chair at the entrance to the vault. The 21 ton door slowly shut and predictably crushed the chair. Mr Mankin mentioned that at the time there would have been no danger in the door closing and trapping someone in the vault, after all air was continuously pumped into the vault by a an air pump and generator in the basement. However, recently the generator had stopped working. If a person were trapped in here now, they’d be ok for at least a day. I had begun shooting around the vault and thought maybe that while I was happy to get in the building and shoot, it was a bit of a let down, that was until Mr. Mankin asked if I’d like to see the other vaults?
We left the big vault and went out a side door into what was a lobby for a bank, I’d no idea had been in existence. In this lobby I’m shown two smaller vaults, one no bigger than a closet, and can not be opened because at some point the combination had been misplaced (hopefully no one was inside).
The second vault was much smaller, a wall safe basically, still the door is 3ft by 3ft. and hidden behind a wall panel. Up a flight of stairs we go to another vault, this one had served as the evidence room when the bank had become the Court House for Rutherford County.
I wont lie, I wish it was still full of evidence but sadly it had all been removed and all that was left were filing cabinets. Sensing my let down Ben, asked if I was ready to see the original vault for the bank, it had been built in the years just before the Civil War. I was of course thrilled to see it!
Down the stairs we went all the way to the basement then to a sub basement. I had no idea that such a space existed beneath Murfreesboro’s Square, but it did. At the base of the stairs a regular looking door stood before us, to the right was the entry to the sub basement. I stepped inside this dark barely illuminated space and gawked at the largest air pump/generator I’d seen. The pump was as large as a VW Beetle, and looked like it was built maybe in the 20’s. I was to find out that I was correct, it was indeed that old. Amazingly this anciemt pump had run every year for decades up until 6 years ago when it’s oil pump died and there was no way to replace it. I spent quite some time shooting the pump and the rest of the room. I was stoked! But we weren’t done yet. We went back to the ordinary looking door.
Mr. Mankin opened the door and my breath was taken away by the sight before me. Before me lay a long dirt tunnel lit only by a light at its end. To enter we had to step down onto the dirt floor and watchout for the very real chance of bumping our heads on the foundation of the building next to the one we were in. Down we went and forward the tunnel was no more than three and half feet wide and low enough that we had to walk hunched over. Halfway through the forty foot long shaft was a space on the left in which a plastic jack-o-lantern had been placed. Mr. Mankin’s crew had a sense of humor and liked to leave such morbid little knick knacks for him to find.
As we neared the end of the tunnel I could see there a larger space had been cleared. I took a moment to look around myself in awe. Directly in front of me was a wall of partially excavated dirt. The excavated part showed the foundation for the building above us. Only thick wood and stone columns were holding up the ceiling above us!
To the right of us was an ancient looking array of old wires that I assumed had been a phone switching bank. and beyond that was an old, pitted, rusting steel door that stood partially open. On its front was a combination dial and a large circular steel handle used for opening the vault. I stopped and just drank in the sight, then started shooting. This vault had been built just before the Civil War, and had been used throughout the years as extra storage. Inside the vault was a concrete room filled with old shelves, upon which were a few childrens toys. Creepy? Oh yes. But not as creepy as the dead bird I found in a drop down depression in the vault. How in the hell did a bird find its way into this place?
During my exploration Mr. Mankin told me the vault was rumored to be haunted. While I didn’t see anything beyond what I captured with my camera I will admit the atmosphere was oppressive, and close. Was it ghost or just the fact we were in an underground vault built 159 years ago with tons of dirt and concrete above us supported by wood, river rocks and dirt? I’ll let you decide.
I really hope you enjoyed this exploration below the Murfreesboro, TN Square. Please leave a comment and follow me for more adventures. Be sure to buy my book Forgotten Tennessee, it can be found anywhere books are sold and at
On a sunny day in mid October of 2020 I found myself traveling to Jasper, Tennessee along with my buddy Jay Farrell. Our reason for going on this trip? To explore and document a gas station in Jasper that has been abandoned since the late 60’s or early 70’s.
The trip down from Nashville was a pretty good one and fairly uneventful, and once we hit Jasper we began out hunt for the old gas station. Jasper is a curious town. One of the major industries appears to be selling some beautiful houses located on the most prominent mountain top in Jasper which is near Chattanooga. I wont lie, if I had the money and the wish to live in a small town, a house on the mountain would be a tempting choice.
The pandemic has struck here in the Chattanooga area, plenty of fast food places are open while a number of non chain businesses are shuttered. I hate to see this. But this is the time we are in.
We tooled around Jasper until we finally found the highway we were hunting for and directly we found ourselves pulling up in front of a pill box of a building with a two door garage attached and old fashioned analog fas pumps sitting out front like tow forgotten sentinels.
After parking and walking up on the concrete pillbox that had once been a lively gas station we easily found a way in, half the far left wall of the garage had fallen in. This was to be a hallmark of the old station. In the words of Stephen King Jasper’s Gas Station was a victim of “slippage”. Slippage is what happens to everything eventually. You see it everyday. It’s the natural order of decay that happens all around us but especially in places that are abandoned and or forgotten. In short the world has moved on but Jasper’s had not.
The collapsed wall allowed us to venture in and explore. Right off the bat exploration gold is sighted! A steel dinosaur of a car, a late 60’s Chevy Impala sat buried under debris. Whatever had led to this beauty ending up here was a mystery, but battle scars stood out upon it.
I spent quite some time documenting the Chevy, then moved on to see what else was to be found. To one side was an old drinking fountain and near the right fender of the Chevy was an ancient television. Those old consoles weighed a ton, their bodies were solid and made of actual wood. The main tube and assorted smaller tubes inside weren’t light either.
a bit further up was assorted old bottles and and well, junk, assorted stuff one might find in a gas station. But above the mechanic’s well was another vehicle from the past, this one meant for the water, not the road.
The boat had wings. Wings? Why? Were they just a design feature? Why was this dry docked here? Maybe the outboard had locked up, or maybe it was meant to just sit here for a week or two and instead this garage had become it’s home? Regardless of the why, I loved shooting it and am glad to have come across it.
Our forward progress into Jasper’s had hit a snag. More “slippage” had ocured, the floor that led into the office had collapsed just like the wall that allowed us to enter. The floor sat some 6 feet below the building’s foundation, a mess of wood, glass, tile and appliances. We had little choice but to backtrack the way we’d come in if we wanted to shoot anything in the office and even that was a bit questionable.
Jay and I made our way around to the right side and began to look around for an entry point but it quickly became apparent this was not going to happen. A narrow sidewalk sat on the side of the office that led to a bathroom (floor collapsed as well), and a house out back. It must have been a convenient set up for the owner of Jasper’s Gas being able to quickly walk to and from work. But that was then and today the house looked as much a storage unit as the garage had become. Looking through a window I was able to take a shots of what the office had been like. I only wish a few sunglasses still sat upon their display.
Walking away from the widow that showed us what had become of the office of Jasper’s gas I cam across the center plate of a Cadillac’s hubcap. I liked how it still shined in the shade, surrounded by ivy and glass.
It’s always a bit sad once an exploration is done. These trips and explorations are truly enjoyable. More often than not they end up as a bust, but that’s ok. Its the getting out there and doing them that makes it almost as valuable as finding buildings where slippage is still going on but has not yet laid a location to waste. Perhaps the best part is relaying these experiences to you, the reader.
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.