Nestled in Northern Iowa

Nestled in rural Palo Alto County, sits the barely there town of Ayshire and the remains of the Silver Lake Consolidated school.  The regal brick building with two grand entrances sits right on the main road with its front door wide open, with its only remaining visitors the birds and maybe a few thrill seekers.

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Various shades of bright blue paint still cling to the walls and the tattered remains of heavy curtains continue to hang from the classroom windows. Even though the children are no longer here, this school is anything but empty.

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It is impossible to look at these empty classrooms and not imagine what they once looked like filled with school desks and books, yet I still see so much beauty in what these rooms are now.

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Opened in 1921, the Silver Lake Consolidated school was one of two schools open in Ayrshire Iowa, a once thriving community in Northern Iowa.  As evident in the picture below, the school was certainly a centerpiece of the town and stood proud along it’s main road.

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Not long after the large, modern gymnasium was constructed and attached through the lower level, the school would finally meet its end and be consolidated with the Ruthven school in 1982.

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It is interesting to note that the main building, while open to the elements, seems to be withstanding the test of time with more grace than its newer addition, which is already crumbling in on itself.  Really proves that they simply do not make them like they used to.

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Erased From Everything But Memories

While crisscrossing the rural county highways and dirt roads of Central Iowa, our weekend explorations landed us in the town of Popejoy.  With a population last recorded at a mere 70, this little town is barely hanging on.

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After spending hours attempting to research this building, I reached out to one of my favorite Abandoned Groups online.  Besides a small paragraph regarding consolidation of districts, not a scrap of information was out there regarding this fairly large building.

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The story of this school would eventually emerge from an unlikely source; a small cookbook containing a history of Popejoy.  In late spring of 1959, the last class of students would graduate from it’s halls.  With only a few remaining classes of grades 3 through 8, the school would hold out until May of 1983 when its halls finally fell silent for good.

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During the next year, the school building and bus barn were sold at an auction to the Schutt family but in 1989, the buildings returned to the possession Franklin county for back taxes.  The school would sit quiet and desolate until December of 1993 when it fell into new hands.  Little is known about what happened during this ownership until it changed hands yet again in the winter of 1995/96 when a businessman from Iowa falls bought it to be used as a foundry making outdoor electric lamp posts.  Based on the condition of the school, it doesn’t seem likely that these plans ever took off.

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According to the history documented in this little cookbook,  virtually all papers, records and pictures were simply discarded upon the schools closing in 1983.  The only remains are the senior class pictures and a few trophies that are safely displayed at the city hall.

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It is so hard to believe that a building as important in the upbringing of children as a school could be so completely erased from existence.  This school truly only remains alive through the memories of people that have ties to this little town and to those that care to read its history in a simple cookbook.

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Three Door Stone House

One look at this house and you know it is something you don’t come across everyday.  An utter lack of modern amenities, including electricity,running water or any trace of modern appliances testify to the age of this house.  The only remaining access to the upper floors, a rusting ladder attached to the outside of the house, only adds to the strange quality of this house.

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Even without the modern amenities that have come to characterize our idea of a house, there are numerous personal effects in each of the two first floor rooms. Debris litters the floor and hides the wood plank floor.  A bookcase filled with dust covered bottles, an old fashioned desk with a painted dollhouse, and a partially collapsed dining room table all support the fact that this was indeed once a home to someone.

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This house raises so many questions that have no answers.  When was this house originally build and how long has it been sitting alone in rural Iowa?

The Epitome of Beautiful Decay

April of last year was a time of remarkable changes for me.  To say I was fortunate to have many people in my life willing to help me through my grief is an understatement.  While trying to find myself again, I spent a lot of time behind my camera, trying to find some semblance of beauty in a world made dark.

It was during a rehabilitative trip to rural Iowa, in which we spent two rain filled days getting stuck in the mud, that we stumbled upon this unforgettable house.

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Standing completely bare in the middle of a muddy field, it has been left to rot and fade away.  Just a glimpse of the outside is enough to make you wonder how someone could even contemplate leaving it behind.  Even with the faded whitewash and rotting wood pillars, this house has a powerful and undeniable presence.

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From the beautiful stained glass windows facing the front porch to the mahogany pocket doors and built in cabinets, everything about this house was obviously done with love and attention to detail.  Even the dining room and kitchen ceilings were crafted with great care.

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Even in it’s advanced stage of decay, you can see what this house once was.  While standing among the rotting furniture and garbage littered rooms, I closed my eyes and could just imagine the room filled with warm light and laughter.  It is truly the epitome of beautiful decay, in every sense.

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Even though I could photograph just about anything, I believe it is a privilege to capture the underlying beauty of places like this home.  Behind the peeling wallpaper, rotting floors and broken furniture is someone’s story, someone’s mark on the world.  The opportunity to capture it is simultaneously heartbreaking and irreplaceable in beauty.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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