Wisconsin Snow

Maybe it is the fact that it has felt like a long winter, more so emotionally than anything, but it has been so difficult to find the motivation to go out and take pictures.  I keep looking at my camera sitting in the corner and I swear I can see it collecting dust.  There is no doubt that photography is my saving grace when depression is creeping at my door.  Unfortunately though, they have yet to invent a camera that also pulls you away from your comfy couch and warm blanket.

This last weekend, I finally found a friend nearby that motivated me to go on an adventure in neighboring Wisconsin.  Initially it seemed like a wonderful idea, especially considering the lack of snow and fairly reasonable winter temperatures.  What we didn’t know is that we would be wading through knee deep snow for the entire day!  I guess it wouldn’t be a true adventure without a few things failing to go according to plan right?


Our first find of the day turned out to be a gorgeous shell of a house.  Nestled on the intersection of a fairly rural road, it was buried in a mess of trees and what I am certain is a lot of incredibly tall, tick infested grass.


One of the more interesting aspects of this house is the complete removal of all the original woodwork.  Is it possible that someone cared enough to preserve each piece of trim and flooring, or was it left to rot and eventually stolen after years of decay?  Certainly only one of dozens of mysteries lying within this charming farmhouses past.


It is also hard to deny the beauty in peeling wallpaper.  I have yet to come across a room like this without it stopping me in my tracks. Something about it is so devastating, yet it almost provides a special glimpse into the secrets of a house.  Like peeling back the layers of the houses life, you are slowly being allowed to see into the depth of its soul.


Maybe this is what makes these houses so beautiful to only certain people.  Maybe you have to be damaged in some way to see the beauty behind something so decayed and to some, useless.

San Haven Sanatorium

The San Haven State Hospital, originally known as the North Dakota Tuberculosis Sanitarium was opened to the public in November of 1912. Located in the Turtle Mountains of Rolette County, it was thought that the higher altitude and drier atmosphere would be favorable to patients with tuberculosis.

In the 1950’s, after antibiotics brought some control over the tuberculosis epidemic, the hospital remodeled, expanded, and ultimately opened its doors to the developmentally disabled and elderly. As with many state hospitals, rumors and questions regarding the treatment of it’s patients began to circulate and the hospital would eventually close in December of 1987 after a lengthy lawsuit.

Image result for san haven nd

Image Courtesy of  North Dakota Newspaper Association

This once elaborate and expansive hospital now sits in ruins; only a ghost of it’s former self. A popular attraction for teenagers, there are an abundance of rumors regarding the presence of paranormal phenomenon, which only adds to the mystery and appeal. Even if this isn’t true, it is impossible to stand on the expansive and overgrown property and not feel emotional in some regard.


Standing in a building that looks almost post-apocalyptic, you can’t help but imagine the hundreds of people that walked those long halls. How different it must have been to see with the windows unbroken, the doors still attached to their hinges, and fresh paint covering the walls.  I will let the pictures do the talking this time; all you have to do is listen.



A View Into Southern Minnesota

Extreme southeastern Minnesota is characterized by beautiful rolling bluffs and miles of lush green farmland.  You can drive for miles and miles and see nothing but old family farms and your occasional horse drawn buggy.  This heartland also holds an abundance of beautiful abandoned houses, left untouched by partying teenagers and local graffiti artists.  These images are just a few of those locations, caught on a perfect fall day in 2015.







My Beloved Burtrum Schoolhouse

During another one of my binges scanning google maps, I came across a promising looking little town in northern Minnesota.  With a population barely reaching 144, there is nothing left of this little town but a few blocks of houses, a couple small town amenities and a large  three story building at the very edge of town.


On a cold February day, we were greeted with a significantly different view when compared to our first visit the Spring prior. No longer shrouded in foliage, an entirely new view was presented.  Shattered windows and boarded up doors provide a sharp contrast to the still sturdy brick walls and cement foundation.



With the back of the old schoolhouse completely open to the elements, we were fortunate enough to have full access through the boiler room to the stunning remains of this once expansive schoolhouse.  Your first view upon entering the heart of the school is a large wooden staircase with faded and crackled blue stairs.


A few steps to your right takes you into an old classroom, filled with broken furniture and a deteriorating piano.  The patterned tin wall coverings have spent years rusting and give the room an eerie orange glow.


The red and green bathroom holds it’s own unique beauty, with the original wood bathroom stalls and the vintage style toilet tanks.


Venturing up the deteriorating staircase provides a stunning view of the front windows.  The dusty filled light illuminated the peeling paint and the exposed wood beams.  The second and third floors also hold a treasure of old classrooms and walls full of broken windows.


As visible in all the pictures, the heart of the school was succumbing to extreme water damage and the rest was simply experiencing the cruel weathering of nature.  It was still so heartbreaking to hear of it’s final demise this year. It will always remain one of my most beloved locations and a stunning example of the beauty in decay.


The Roos Family Farm

My first visit to this sprawling homestead was in the Spring of 2015.  After pulling off an incredibly busy state highway and almost getting stuck in a very long and horribly muddy driveway, we were greeted by this typical Minnesotan farmhouse.  What I didn’t expect upon that first view was to find it filled to the brim with a lifetime of memories and belongings.



Wardrobes still filled with a mixture of vintage men’s and women’s clothing, old newspapers and children’s coloring books littering the floor, farming receipts and soy bean catalogs, old farming receipts and a pair of dusty glasses.


While I often find myself incredibly moved by the locations I encounter, there was something special about this family room.  From the dark mahogany piano covered in dust and the faded Mozart music books to the old television set surrounded by trash and the image of a young child and Model T.  This was one of the first houses I ever encountered with so much history left behind.



It wasn’t until recently that I decided to dig into the past of this little white farmhouse.  What I uncovered was a typical american story.  Married in 1880, German immigrants Louis and Paulena Roos made their home in rural Minnesota.  Their son William, one of seven, would make his home in nearby Lester Prairie with wife Emma and carry on the farming tradition.  A love for agriculture and farm equipment would further pass on to son Reuben, who would return to the family farm after serving his country in the Korean war.


After his death in 2014, an auction was held to sell off the collection of antique cars, tractors and farm equipment he had so obviously loved and cherished throughout his lifetime.  With only a year of time passing between the auction and my own visit in 2015, there is no doubt that this house was starting to decay long before it was left vacant and open to the elements.


Recently purchased by a large corporation, this house will likely meet the cold metal of a bulldozer in the coming years, if not months and is certainly in the last moments of it’s life.  While always hard to accept a family home such as this left to rot, it is even harder to imagine it being completely wiped out of existence.  While doubtful that I will have the opportunity to see it again before it meets it’s inevitable fate, I am thankful for these precious images and a carefully preserved Polaroid in my china cabinet to remember it by.

Faded White

The story of this rural Victorian begins way back on January 30th, 1857 in rural Ireland, with the marriage of Katherine O’Malley and James Drew.  The young couple immigrated and settled in New York for a brief time before purchasing land in Glenwood Township, Iowa.  James devoted his life to clearing, improving and developing this same plot of land and together, Mr. and Mrs. Drew would raise 12 children on its beloved ground.


After spending a childhood helping his father on the homestead and becoming familiar with the farming trade, Mike J. Drew joined his father and brothers before being gifted his own quarter section of the property.  In the spring of 1890, he married Miss Jane Sexton, also the daughter of two Irish Immigrants and fellow farmers.  While raising 8 children of his own,  Mike would become very well known in Madison township as a prosperous farmer and respected businessman.

The youngest of his daughters, Lucy Marie Drew, was born on the farm in June of 1909.  She would continue on the legacy of the beloved family farm by spending the duration of her life tending to it with her brothers and caring for both of her parents until their own deaths in 1932 and 1960.  Living out her 90 years in the family home, Lucy would be the last person to cherish the beautiful Victorian that generations before her had lived, loved, and died in.

Sitting empty since sometime in late 1999, the beautiful white Victorian is waiting patiently for someone to show it the same love and attention it had spent generations basking in.  With each passing year, nature creeps closer and closer to it’s complete takeover.


Upon stepping over the front threshold, it takes no more than a second to see how much love and attention went into the creation of this home.  A vast wooden staircase and intricately carved pocket doors are your welcoming sight.  Even covered in years of dust and cobwebs, the house is instantly remarkable.


The vintage furniture, rusting radiators, and peeling paint sit and create a lonely image of decay… Vague reminders of a family that once loved these walls so immensely.




In many ways, the house remains a time capsule.  A servants staircase can be seen branching off a collapsing kitchen; another set of stairs leading into the dark abyss of a basement.  Tattered remains of lace curtains hang from upstairs windows and vintage crystal light fixtures still hold on to the crumbling walls.




Past a dark curved staircase leading to the attic above, a bathroom with nothing but a vintage toilet and a single light fixture can be found.  It seems likely that this house has never known truly modern amenities and with the advanced stages of decay at the rear of the house, it likely never will.


A house like this, with so much time, attention and love obviously put into every little detail, shouldn’t be subjected to a world where these same things are no longer valued.  It isn’t hard to imagine it meeting the cruel fate of modernization; someone ripping out all the antique light fixtures, removing the pocket doors, and painting the beautiful mahogany trim a stark white.

In the end, maybe it is better this way.  It may have been left to decay, but this home has certainly seen enough love to carry it through it’s entire lifetime.




The Nome School

While preparing for a trip to North Dakota last September, I found myself randomly browsing google for possible locations.  While I spend more time perusing google aimlessly than I would like to admit, this time it certainly paid off.  I came across an image of a dusty bookcase filled with old textbooks.  Obviously, with my love of books, not finding this school was not an option.  With many more hours and some hints from fellow explorers, I found myself making the six hour journey to Nome, North Dakota.  While not exactly on the way to our final destination of Devils Lake, every extra minute was worth it.

The Nome school was opened in 1916 and was only in use until sometime in 1966.  The image below was originally used as the cover of the school Annual and was taken sometime in the 1950’s.  Nome saw it’s population peak just prior to this time with the 1940 census recording 277 residents.

Photo Credit: Nome North Dakota History Facebook

Since then, Nome has seen a steady decrease in residents with current estimates almost below 60.  It seems the residents have taken notice to the steady decline of their home as well.  The first sign that greeted us upon entering Nome stated: “slow down, we are still here”.  Even the school is failing to make it’s presence known as it is slowly suffocated by trees and shrubs.  If you weren’t looking for it, it would be almost impossible to see this hidden gem from the main road.


After making our way through the brush and climbing over various kinds of debris, we found ourselves greeted by glass paneled double doors and a grand wood main staircase shrouded in darkness.  Once we climbed higher, we were able to finally see the beautiful decay that is the Nome School.



Everywhere you look, you are greeted with huge glass windows, carved wooden banisters and cabinets, antique cloth chairs and black metal desks, glass vases and porcelain figurines, dusty books and used suitcases, rotting world maps and faded chalkboards.





While I doubt I would ever be able to spend enough time capturing the beauty of this school, I know this is one place that I will always think about and wish I had been able to explore in more detail.  I wouldn’t mind another look at all those old textbooks either…

The Alexian Brothers Novitiate


Built in the 30’s, the original house was specifically designed by a wealthy widow for her disabled daughter. Unfortunately the daughter died long before she was ever able to set foot in the beautiful house overlooking the Red River. After spending many years in the the 20 room house alone, it was gifted to the Alexian Brothers to be used by the Catholic Church.

Photo Credit (Carey’s Postcards)

With the completion of extensive renovations, the first novice class of 14 individuals arrived.  In order to become more self sustainable, the property was further expanded through the purchase of an additional 172 acres adjoining the property.

Right here, in the Wisconsin wilderness, people from all over studies and prepared themselves for a lifetime of service to others under the guidance of their superiors.  Even after all their time and work, changes to the church and a desire for new forms of spiritual formation led the brothers to Chicago.  The now 65 room mansion overlooking the river was put up for sale.  With no sale in sight, negotiations began with an organization of Indians from Green Bay.

After this plan failed, the house was left in the hands of a caretaker and his family. In 1974, the family was awoken in the middle of the night and taken hostage by armed members of the Menominee Warrior Society, who claimed the land was rightly theirs. Failing to meet a true settlement, the house continued to change hands until it fell into disuse and eventually it became the unfortunate victim of arson. All that remains is the shell of a once grand mansion.


The Hoffman Book House

While fairly normal looking on the outside, after seeing a fellow explorer’s images, I knew I had to find it.  With countless hours logged on google maps and a six hour drive, I was standing in front of one of the single most extraordinary locations I have yet to encounter in my years of searching.  I introduce you to The Hoffman Book House.


Although my inquiries haven’t led to much information regarding the previous owners, this house doesn’t need a documented history to make it spectacular.  For anyone who is a true book lover like myself, it is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking to see the thousands of deteriorating pages and forgotten stories.




While they may be too far gone to save now, they serve as a testament to what it means to have a true passion for knowledge and the written word.  While searching the covers, we came across everything; Classic children’s stories and picture books, instruction manuals and encyclopedias, books of poetry and church hymns, old mysteries and new romances.  It would be easy to get lost in this house for days on end, just touching each different cover.



You can’t help but wonder; Who built this library of treasures?  Where they a librarian or teacher?  Or did they simply love getting lost in the words.  As I continue filling my shelves and building a library of my own, I only hope that my books will continue to be cherished long after I am gone, even if it is just through the simple beauty of decay.




The Eldridge School

In central North Dakota sits the almost deserted town of Eldridge. With nothing but a few houses and no more than a dozen residents left, Eldridge is barely hanging on. The only reminder that this was once a fairly populated city is the ghost of a school nestled away in the far corner of town.


Someone has certainly taken measures to try and preserve this brick beauty, but like many other old structures, teenagers have found their way inside and have certainly made their mark. Beer cans and destroyed furniture can be found in every room, but even so, you can’t help but marvel at the carved wood room dividers and the love that must have gone into building this school.


As if the room dividers weren’t enough to make me swoon, once we gained the courage to climb the pitch black staircase, my fellow explorer and I were greeted by even more beautiful details.  Between the glass pained and carved trim to the intricate doorknobs and rusty hooks, I had to just stand there for a moment and take in what once was. Even the peeling walls hold their own simple form of beauty.




Although this old school will likely never be saved from it’s dark fate, it certainly provides a little glimpse into another age.  I may be “old fashioned” for someone so young, but I can’t help but wish every building was given so character and personality.