Since February of 1989, this little farmhouse nestled in the heart of Wisconsin has been left in complete solitude to crumble and decay away. Without a single town in miles and few neighbors in sight, the farmhouse has truly managed to remain a time capsule of belongings and memories.
A house with so much visible history makes it hard to understand how so many personal artifacts can be left to nothing more than the cold hands of time. Is it possible to love something so much, we would rather see it rot than belong to someone else? Or do we simply see so much value in the things we love that we forget how meaningless they can be when left in the hands of a stranger.
On the other side, maybe I am being too romantic. While I like to think of love and laughter once filling these walls, I know that some places deserve nothing more than to be forgotten and left to rot. Not every piece of the past deserves to be remembered in the future. There are some parts of my own life that I have pushed into the dark recesses of my mind, hoping they will slowly rot away until they are nothing more than a dark whisper.
We will probably never know what this house truly was or what it meant to the people that once inhabited it, but it doesn’t really matter anyway. The fact is, it is there. Whether it left a beautiful or dark mark on the world, it has simply refused to be forgotten by a world that is trying to fade it away.
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.
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.
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.
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.