Harlan, Kentucky. School is out, forever!

Lynch School, part I.

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.

Look at the hand hewn blocks, amazing!

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.

The Stygian darkness held secrets.
I wonder if anything is left inside of these?

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.

The muddy debris lay “inches” deep.

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.

Yes, the stairs were as slick and tricky to navigate as they look.

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.

Institutional green, how I loathe thee.

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.

The light was ethereal.

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.

One of the constants an Urbexer will find whilst exploring.

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.

Looks comfy, eh?
What lies within the dark?
Only a long time exposure and a flashlight knows.

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.

End of Part I.

Harlan County, You’ll never Get Out Alive! But we did.

One of my favorite shows Justified, was based on Harlan County.

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. 

The mountains bring to mind Tolkien’s Misty Mountains

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.

A coal shuttle, these stretch over the highway in many places.

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.

I don’t think they wanted any tourists.

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. 

More to come from our Harlan County trip.

If I really know you I might share my locations. Otherwise, no.

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.

-Jerry Winnett, ForgottenTennessee.com

An old mansion hidden from the eyes.

Before me stood an old mansion skeletal trees giving it a sinister aspect. .

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.

Fully entombed.
The welcome mat was not out, nor was a comfortable seat offered.

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.

Sky blue, rusty red, its days of running have fled.

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.

Wings baby!

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.

Dodge Brothers
My eyes kept going back to that benighted roof line.

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.

A dinosaur from Detroit sat in the yard.
This dates back to the Truman era.

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.
You’ve no idea how long I had to hold my breath.

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.

Bottom floor, the Gate to Hell, all off.

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.

Sit a spell before you go upstairs.
I really love discovering old pianos!

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 loved the light that played across the surface of this beauty.
Wonderful light filled the room, that door with its stained glass was a favorite.
The way back out.

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!

The chimney lay vomited upon the grass making a ramp leading into back into the house.

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.

How this chair continues to stand is beyond me.
There’s a tea pot, short and stout.
Nothing sucks like an Electrolux!

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.

Yet another TV, this one was portable.

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 hope you enjoyed this Forgotten Tennessee exploration into the abandoned. You can see more in my book Forgotten Tennessee available in most bookstores or simply click on the link https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Backroads-Roadside-Surprises/dp/1634991524/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=forgotten+tennessee&qid=1580969569&sr=8-1

A special book signing

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.

Green Machine

Walking up on this building the first thing we noticed is that the walls had for the most part fallen away.

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.

On top of the walls having fallen away the ceiling wasn’t faring much better.

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.

I was amazed to find these mirrors unbroken. Another pallet was not as lucky.

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.

Green for miles….
Looking up from below its still a stunning green machine.

No machine lasts forever, rust eats them all, eventually.

If you enjoyed reading this and looking at the photos, you might be interested in buying a copy of my book Forgotten Tennessee. Its available in most bookstores, Walmart, Target, Costco, anywhere that sells books. You may also order it by following this link https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Backroads-Roadside-Surprises/dp/1634991524/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Forgotten+Tennessee+the+book&qid=1578419500&sr=8-1

Mud Hollar Rd.

The front looked as if it had burst open.

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.

Ever see a backyard made up of rusty sheet metal? Here you go.

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.

If you enjoyed reading this and looking at the photos, you might be interested in buying a copy of my book Forgotten Tennessee. Its available in most bookstores, Walmart, Target, Costco, anywhere that sells books. You may also order it by following this link https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Backroads-Roadside-Surprises/dp/1634991524/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Forgotten+Tennessee+the+book&qid=1578419500&sr=8-1

Until next time.

Forgotten Tennessee the book! An update!

Sept. 30th is the release date for Forgotten Tennessee. You’ll be able to pick it up on Amazon as well as brick and mortar book stores, and anywhere else books are carried. Sat the 21st I attended Wine Around The Square in Murfreesboro, TN (courtesy of the RAA) where I was pleasantly surprised with 3 copies of my book sold quickly. Forgotten Tennessee and its content were, to say the least, well received.

Photo: Lisa Simms
My table at the event.

What could possibly cap that? Finding out the Lynchburg_Times had put out a great review on Forgotten Tennessee! You can read it at  https://bit.ly/2m7dAGq 

Remember Sept 30th Forgotten Tennessee hits the streets! Or you can order NOW at https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Ba…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

Forgotten Tennessee will be showing at the Smyrna Artist Cooperative “Arttitude 2019” show. Sept 27th 6-9pm and Sept 28th for Depot Days.

Youth caged

Marina Sepharina enjoys what light came in to her cell.

Recently model Marina Sepharina and myself shot a Dia de las Muertos (Day of the Dead) themed shoot at an abandoned Youth Detention Center, aka Children’s Warehouse.

Climb softly, watch your step. Footfalls stir the dust, our presence stirs something more?

All the doors were open yet led nowhere.

Right, left, desolation and ruin was the order of the day.

Likely Marina’s soft stare was the only gentleness seen here.

Some rooms still bore marks of expelled screams.

Don’t look too closely, you may find the fingernail marks that tore into that wall.

Marina ghosted about the floor, her freedom something others could only have dreamt of.

The light is captive too.

Pillars of gloom and rays of blue.

The oppressiveness is real, them heavy blues still extends to all.

In this dark place occsionally rays of hope make their way in.

A blast of fire, maybe something else?

Spirits can not stay caged!

Stone walls are not invulnerable.

SHOTS FIRED! Did the inmates take the asylum?

Or just another sign of abandonedment and decay?

After seeing so many doors blasted open we see some sealed tight. Why?

Finally, at least for Marina and myself.

If you enjoyed reading this and looking at the photos, you might be interested in buying a copy of my book Forgotten Tennessee. Its available in most bookstores, Walmart, Target, Costco, anywhere that sells books. You may also order it by following this link https://www.amazon.com/Forgotten-Tennessee-Backroads-Roadside-Surprises/dp/1634991524/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Forgotten+Tennessee+the+book&qid=1578419500&sr=8-1