The truck, that was the first thing I noticed — just off the road, on the other side of a deep, grassy ditch. At some point in time it had been a serious truck. Not a gentleman farmer’s pick-up that could also be used to run errands, but a full-sized working truck built to haul serious payloads. Now it was basically a ruin; sitting lop-sided in the dead grass. It had been sitting there so long it had actually settled into the soil.
Beyond the truck was a house. A small farmstead, really — the house, a collapsed barn, a few small outbuildings, some sheds, a scattering of grain bins, rusted farm equipment. There was surprisingly little vandalism, aside from a few shattered windows and maybe the front door, which had been torn from its hinges. Most of the damage appeared to be the result of weather and long neglect. The property was clearly abandoned, and had been for some time.
It’s a curious term, abandon. It connotes a complete giving up, an absolute and total acknowledgment that there will be no return, a total surrender. Perhaps whoever lived there had originally intended to return — but at some point there had to be a moment of recognition that it would never happen. There’s something profoundly sad about that.
Here’s an odd thing: I couldn’t bring myself to enter the house. I mounted the stairs and stood in the doorway, but I was reluctant to go inside. Not because it wasn’t safe (the house itself seemed pretty stable), and not because it would be trespassing (legally, I was already trespassing). I was unwilling to go inside because it felt wrong. It felt like a violation, somehow. What makes it odd is that at one point in my life I had a job that involved routinely trespassing and violating the privacy of other folks. But back then I was getting paid; to trespass in the house for no reason other than my own amusement seemed like some sort of transgression.
However, I didn’t feel that way about the other buildings on the property. I noodled around in them without any compunction at all. This one, for example.
It was just a few yards away from the main house. The roof had caved in a long time ago, and the debris made it almost impossible to walk around. It didn’t help that there were obvious nails and shards of broken glass lying about (combined with the fact that I was wearing sneakers). Still, it was easy to tell the building had most recently been used as a sort of office or studio.
The bones of an old Hackley upright piano occupied the main room.
In 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, Milo J. Chase began building pianos in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A few years later, his company was reorganized as Chase-Hackley Pianos. The company had a good reputation as builders of durable, medium quality instruments. The pianos could be bought directly from the manufacturers, which allowed buyers to avoid sales and additional shipping charges. This made Chase and Hackley pianos popular with rural and farm families — at least until they went out of business in 1930, victims of the Great Depression.
It’s easy to imagine farm kids sitting in front of this old Hackley, struggling away at some painful version of Clair de Lune.
Behind the house were a variety of small, slowly collapsing sheds and workshops, as well as well as some farm equipment — all of which suggest that at one time this was a rather successful farming operation. There was a woodworking shed, a machine and tool shed, and a couple of storage buildings — all of which were in some stage of dilapidation. Only a few had working doors; none had functioning windows.
As with the house, most of the damage was a result of time and weather — and in some cases, animals. One bench was littered with raccoon shit, there were what appeared to be small mammal nests under some of the workbenches, and paw prints in the dust.
The barn was the most severely damaged structure on the farmstead. The roof and one wall had completely collapsed, two of the other walls were pretty unstable, and the fourth wall seemed to be supported primarily by stacked bales of old hay. I wouldn’t have gone inside at all, except that I could see some bones — and bones make me stupid.
So I crouched down and groucho-walked inside to look at them. It was dark, of course, and what I first thought was an old sack turned out to be the semi-mummified remains of a dog. It appeared to have died of exposure or natural causes rather than violence, and was eviscerated by other creatures after death. The roof was too low at that point to allow me to examine the dog closely. I couldn’t even photograph it properly; I had to hold the camera out at arm’s length and shoot blindly. This is the only shot that was in focus — which is probably just as well.
I didn’t stay at the farmstead very long. Places to go, people to meet, and all that. But the entire time I was there, I was very aware of my own internal dissonance. I’m not a terribly self-reflective person under most circumstances. I don’t spend much (or any) time thinking about what I feel, or wondering why I do stuff. Yet I was conscious of being torn between feeling This is so sad and thinking This is so cool.
Because it was so sad and it was so cool, and it still is. I’ll almost certainly go back at some point when I have more time to explore. Maybe I’ll even overcome my conscience and actually go inside the house.
The dog remains are so very poignant. I know exactly how you felt. And I hope you do go inside.
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Jody, when I looked in the doorway, the house looked like it had been emptied. I saw no furniture or decorations. Just an empty room. Perhaps there are more interesting things to be seen further inside.
The empty rooms can have their own character too.
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It is sad to see old buildings fading into history. As the grandson of a carpenter, I love old buildings. especially those with history. I sometimes wonder what tales they would tell if they could talk.
Every house has a story, of course. Lots of stories, really. And they all inevitably get lost.
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Fantastic piece here. I don’t know how you didn’t go into the house. Nothing would have stopped me (well, maybe a stern-looking lawman). Lots of those properties out where I live in NJ and they always amaze me. How you define “abandoned” in the beginng….I can never figure out when that “last” time – the last time driving that truck, the last time walking down the stoop of the house. It’s like, all at once, someone says “Ok, let’s go.” And they do.
Thanks Mark. I’m not sure how to explain my reasons for not going into the house. When I was standing in the doorway it just felt like some sort of violation — but a violation of what, I don’t know. Maybe because the house seemed more personal and intimate than the outbuildings.
Well the dog remains just get me. Of course, being me. Was it the farm’s dog, left behind when they left, and it kept coming back or couldn’t bring itself to leave, hoping the people would return? Did it starve to death? All the unanswered questions about the place just make it more poignant and interesting…
I considered not posting the photo of the dog — partly because I never got a good shot of the entire dog, and partly because it seemed such a sad, lonesome ending for one of the world’s most social animals.
“Struggling away at some painful version of Clare de Lune”- I hope you go back too.
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