Faucet at the abandoned Sparton Plant in Jackson, MI
Albion, Michigan is one of those towns that was hit hard by the flight of rust belt industry. One big employer leaves and the whole town gasps.
There’s the college. And a few taverns to grab a bite to eat. A few manufacturers here and there.
But there’s also quite a few of abandoned spots in town – a glimpse at what this place used to look like, not so long ago.
Some of these structures were built to last. Strong brick and wood. It probably means they’ll last for decades.
They’ll probably outlast their original owners.
But others? The paint’s peeling. The wood is splintering. The glass is shattering.
It’s all going to hell, fading in the sun and the seasons.
There’s that old adage about one broken window in a neighborhood can’t be tolerated, or else more will appear. Here, though, people just drive past.
Jesus fading in the window. Boards protecting the inside from the sun’s rays and onlookers’ curiosity.
I don’t see this stuff as ruin porn or a fetishization of the Rust Belt Economy that’s dying (or in some places, dead). For me, it’s cool history.
Some of these places have a story, and lives attached to them. Who were they? What did they do here? How long did they hold out? Where are they now?
As a kid, my family often went to Stagecoach Stop and Prehistoric Forest, and played putt-putt and drove go karts at the little amusement parks. Even back then there was a level of hokeyness – but it didn’t matter. Those places were tons of fun.
In high school, my dad and step mom were married at Stagecoach Stop’s little chapel, and their reception was held in the old timey tavern.
Stagecoach was a bustling place back in the day. You could watch a gun fight in the town square, grab some ice cream, pet a goat in the petting zoo, and even stay overnight in the motel. There was a working lumber mill, and horse rides, and a drive-through haunted Halloween tour.
Now those places are overgrown and fading away.
Driving down US-12 now, and passing through the Irish Hills, it feels like a ghost town. It’s almost like a run-down part of town, with all the windows broken out and no one left to protect it. Eventually, I’m sure, these roadside attractions will be mowed down completely.
Maybe the dinosaurs at Prehistoric Forest will survive. But more and more each year that place gets eaten by vegetation.
So last fall I took a drive out there, seemingly back in time, to capture some of those attractions I remembered from childhood. Before they disappeared.
At Stagecoach, I ran into a couple that was hosting a garage sale of sorts on the property. Most of the area was closed off, but I asked if I could walk around to grab some photos, and they said “yes.”
The Irish Hills Fun Center, a general amusement park with putt-putt and go karts, was completely abandoned. The kart track was still in decent shape, but the rest of the property was fading fast.
Prehistoric Forest, the true goal of my trip last fall, has been known as a target for vandalism. With motion sensors and cameras guarding the place, it was risky to try to grab photos of the place. When I drove past, there was a utility truck and a man taking measurements, so I played it safe and drove on.
Word is that the place has been sold. Who knows what will happen to it.
It was weird to see a place that was so bustling turn into such a dead spot. I may take another drive out there this fall to see what’s changed – if anything.
I have this list of things I want to stop and photograph on my way into work. Concord, Mich. has quite a few little things like this sign that are on my list.
This month-long project is the perfect excuse to pull over, grab the camera, and check one off the list.
I’ve watched these weeds envelop this sign all summer long. Now I got it.
Lots of abandoned goodness in Albion, Mich. Took a little drive Friday afternoon during lunch and spotted a row of buildings that looked like they used to be thriving businesses.
But no longer.
A few months ago, a friend asked me, “How do you take all those cool Instagram shots?”
My simple advice: pull over.
A lot of my Instagram photos are snagged on my work commute, through back country roads with great views of the sky. Some are grabbed when I’m traveling for work, or out doing errands. But the common thread is that I pull my car over, get out, and snap the shot.
Sure, keeping an eye out for possibilities helps. Also, I try to keep locations in mind so that, if I return, I can pull over and grab the shot.
But the kicker is to just get out of the car. That’s it. If I see something noteworthy, or worth grabbing, I pull over and snap the photo. This is how I avoid banal Instagram shots like food or coffee.
Step one: go somewhere. Step two: see something cool. Step three: pull over and take the shot.
There are times when I’m concerned about traffic, especially on highways. And if someone’s behind me, I tend not to pull over. Something about being on an empty road makes me more likely to pull over. But that’s why I keep a mental inventory, for times when I am alone on the road. If a car does happen to pass by, sometimes I’ll pretend like I’m looking for something along the road.
It also helps to make sure no one’s on the property. You avoid awkward questions that way.
I’m usually not afraid to take pictures of someone’s property. Sometimes the shot is worth it. In general though, and for the style of photos I like to share, #abandoned property is best.
For the above shot, I stopped by a house that I pass fairly often. I noticed the For Sale out front, and saw that some of the barns in the back looked pretty rough. So I pulled over to walk around the property to grab some shots.
I probably looked mighty suspicious to neighbors, who had a clear view of the property. But the light was just right, and the abandoned buildlings were in disarray. It was a great opportunity to do some iPhoneography.
All I had to do was pull over.
Amazing what you can find driving here to there.