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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

My Journey Here and The Mismatch House

Since stumbling upon my first house while driving the back roads of my hometown six or so years ago, my process of hunting locations has changed drastically and oddly led to the development of this blog.  As an ever expanding community, there are hundreds of photographers out there in love with urban exploration and more than willing to share their love with others.  They are in all corners of the world and yet, there are very few people documenting and sharing the obscure locations of the North.

As a native Minnesotan, I am amazed that so many beautiful locations have never been documented!  Besides my fellow explorers over at Ghosts of Minnesota, there are virtually no groups or communities dedicated to our region of the map.  In addition to my desire to share my passion with the world, this lack of northern documentation led me to the idea of starting this blog.  Why not bring my love of abandoned buildings to a place that is more personal and accessible to those that are hunting the web for locations just like me?  After years of uploading to flickr and facebook, I want to reach out in a new way to my fellow explorers and abandoned enthusiasts!

With that said, I introduce you to one of my favorite places:

The Mismatch House

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This house was nothing more than an accidental find, but it remains close to my heart to this day.

  While heading home after exploring some well documented sites in southern Minnesota, my best friend and I stumbled upon this very odd house.  Barely standing on a few remaining cement blocks, this was nothing more than a shell of a house.  A few weeks before this picture was taken I was married to someone I thought I would be with forever.  Little did I know, it would take a divorce, many months of crying and a few more of isolation to realize how lost I had been.

In a relationship spanning 7 years, I had completely forgotten who I was.  On the outside I was trying to be who he wanted, who my family wanted and who everyone else wanted.  In the end, I turned into a dark shell that barely resembled a person at all.  I was this house as many may see it.  An ugly mismatch of broken pieces and an empty structure.

  In the months that followed, I started to rediscover myself.  My family and friends surrounded me in so much light and love.  Suddenly, I realized it was okay to be exactly who I was, not what I thought I should be.  I spent years thinking I needed to be the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect friend… In this process I was constantly changing who I was.

Maybe it was the depression and low self esteem, or maybe it was simply the innate desire to make everyone happy that made it take so long to realize the truth.  I didn’t have to be shiny and perfect on the outside for people to love me.  If I just accepted my imperfections and let myself be who I was, the people that mattered would see the beauty in me as well.  In the end, I am still this house.

What changed?  The view.

 Some people may see this house as ugly and deserving of destruction.  And in some ways maybe it is.  It is a mismatch that shows the weathering of time it has endured.  For awhile, this is what I was.  Lost and unable to see the beauty in myself.  Now?  I have found a way to see myself as okay just the way I am.  I finally understand that I don’t have to change for other people to see me as something beautiful as well.  Beauty doesn’t have to be perfection… Like they say, it is in the eye of the beholder.

Scars and imperfections just make us unique and I am determined to see the beauty.