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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


Pokegama Sanatorium

After spending years actively working to fight the tuberculosis epidemic, Dr. Henry Longstreet Taylor found himself frustrated with the slow pace of progress in his home state of Minnesota and decided to take matters into his own hands.  In 1905, he utilized his own money to open a private institution on the outskirts of Pine City.  It would inherit its name from the lake whose shores would border the property.

Photo Credit: Minnesota’s Tuberculosis Sanatoriums (

Spanning 35 acres, Pokegama Sanatorium would privately cater to a limited 36 patients. With a price of $30 to $50 a week, it was a staggering amount when compared to the county sanatoriums that rarely charged the maximum $7.  With this price tag though, came a long list of luxurious amenities never seen in the overcrowded and understaffed county facilities.


The original 15 open-air cottages were comfortably warm with steam heat and woolen blankets, private bedrooms, and bathrooms that only had to be shared between two or three people.  A private farm catering only to the sanatorium provided high quality food and the reception hospital added in the early 1920’s would have many modern amenities including elevators, a long-distance telephone system, and a high class surgical suite.



With ground being gained in the fight against tuberculosis and World War II creating a shortage of both supplies and staff, Pokegama would officially close its doors in 1944.  Soon after shutting its doors, Pokegama was sold to a group called the Redemptorist Fathers, who intended to use it as a school for priests.


The site would again exchange hands and under the name “Pine Manor” it would function as a chemical dependency center.  Compared with its Sanatorium predecessor, Pine Manor provided a relatively cheap treatment cost of roughly $2,000 compared to other privately owned centers in the state that charged anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000.  Even with this advantage, Pine Manor would only last until 1986 when financial troubles would cause it to close its doors for one last time.


All that remains of the once sprawling estate is a shell of the once grand brick reception hall.  Covered in graffiti and filled with the debris of old furniture and nights of partying, the hospital is certainly in its final stages of life.  The peeling paint in the common asylum colors and walls covered in large windows still maintain a beautiful quality though.



After more than 20 years spent in empty and lonely solitude, how many more years does this forgotten sanatorium have left?  Will it live to see another 20 years or does it have a limited amount of time left on the its clock?




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


The Little Pink Farmhouse

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.

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.



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.