11.18.2006

Urban Explorations- The Ruins of Upstate New York

One of the things that I love about this state is its sense of fading glory. You see, with fading glory, you don’t get any of the arrogance of new growth, or the growing pains. Don’t get me wrong, being a crumbling Rust Belt town comes with its own sorrows and pains, but it also seems to come with grim determination and stately resolve. And after all, who’s seen a building built in the last ten years that wasn’t as ugly as sin? In our forests you find the remnants of old stone walls and farmer’s wells and in the brownfields and old neighborhoods of our cities are hidden little gems. [“Adventures in Johnson City,” by the author]
Two hundred years ago, European Romantic poets, writers and painters “discovered” their ruins. Suddenly, the old castle on the hill that had always been used locally as a source for cheap cut stone and was possibly considered something of an eyesore, was instead “picturesque” and a piece of important nationalist heritage. Something similar is going on all around us today. Perhaps to the surprise of many, a generation of local artists, writers and thinkers are becoming fascinated with Upstate New York’s ‘picturesque’ ruins.

Have you ever known the joy of pushing open the old iron door of the abandoned factory and walking among the rusted-out machines illuminated through grimy windows that make dust motes sparkle? Have you ever stepped into the once-grand dance hall where local pirate-developers have stripped out even the floor tiles and thought of the legendary jazz bands that played there in the ‘20s or the days when it was a roller rink and your grandmother courted young Poles? There is simply something fantastic about abandoned buildings and what many consider an eyesore is precious to a growing few (ex)urban explorers. The RocWiki site even has a page listing destinations for “
Urban Exploration.” Perhaps the coolest Rochester ruin is definitely the Abandoned Subway, providing residence for those without other homes and canvases for those without other artistic outlets since 1956.

In my continuing lookout for information on ruins, I have found a site dedicated entirely to abandoned towns, although it is entitled “
Ghost Towns and History of the American West,” it has a nice subpage for Ghost Towns of New York. The site details twelve abandoned settlements from the infamously polluted Love Canal in the suburbs of Buffalo (here’s the Wikipedia article) to Tawahus, the ghost village that sits nestled below the Adirondack High Peaks (here’s a nice site of pictures of the spectacular—and surreal—abandoned iron mines at Tahawus).

By the way, did you know that much of Love Canal, perhaps America’s most famous toxic site, has been redeveloped and is now called Black Creek Village and inhabited by families? Before you get up in arms, some of the first inhabitants were actually former Love Canal residents who wanted to move ‘back home.’ Interesting to know. Even the “Uninhabitable Zone” behind the fences is still occupied:
Seventy-three year old Chester Pysz can't understand why they call the five-block area at the heart of Love Canal the "Uninhabitable Zone" - namely because, he still lives there… Chester remembers when the toxic ooze began to seep into people's basements, when the vegetables in his garden began to wither, when his neighbors began to get headaches, kidney disease, and respiratory infections. A panic came over the town, and within a year or two, almost all of the town's 900 residents were evacuated. But Chester never left. Now, twenty years later, he and another man of ninety-five are the Zone's last inhabitants. And some days, when the winter wind howls down these unplowed streets, it feels like they are the last two men on earth…

[The residents of Black Creek] call the Uninhabitable Zone their "own private Eden" - it's a place where they can pick wildflowers and walk their dog without a leash. Occasionally they encounter Chester Pysz, who remains more determined than ever to ignore the EPA's seemingly arbitrary distinction. There is little to say these days. His house sits just fifty yards from the edge of Black Creek Village, but as far as all of them are concerned, it's a different world. [
1]
A bit creepy eh? If you’re interested in more essays on exploring the abandoned world around us, check out these earlier York Staters posts:

Old Jamesville Penitentiary
The Going Rate
The Ghost Deer of Romulus (and Part II)
Hudson Valley Ruins
Adventures in Johnson City
Anybody want to buy a fort?

Enjoy your explorations!

-Jesse

[1] “Locations that Almost Made the Book” from the official website of “Braving Home,” a book of America’s most extreme hometowns by Jake Halpern.

3 comments:

NYCO said...

I can't believe Shaun O'Boyle went all the way up to Tahawus and didn't take any photos of the blast furnace in the woods. Good photos anyway, though.

Marc said...

You might also be interested in my old abandoned buildings website at http://oabonny.freehostia.com, I've taken many photos of old structures in the upstate area.

Marc said...

You might also be interested in my abandoned buildings of Northern NY website at http://oabonny.freehostia.com, I've put many photos on it from the area.