A trip into the Mountain State had been a long time coming. After driving through much of West Virginia in search for abandoned residences, schools and hospitals several years ago, I thought that a thorough return visit was in order. It’s not obscenely far from my current residence in Cincinnati, Ohio, but most of my trips into the state has been to go backpacking through the wildernesses and national forests that blanket the state. Rumbling through derelict buildings just seemed as if it was a secondary mission or a side trip only if I had the time. Plus, there were plenty of abandonments closer to my apartment.

But that changed once I had obtained legal access to Sweet Springs Resort, which is on the border with Virginia. Any length and difficulty of a drive would be worth it for that.

I left Cincinnati with Robert Stevens of Urbanized with a goal of being as frugal as possible. Camping, eating out of dehydrated food bags and just being cheap. We decided to make an make an attempt at Wheeling, West Virginia as our first destination, and took mostly the back roads to see as much of rural Ohio as possible. Driving along Zane’s Trace — now known as U.S. Route 22, we passed by community after community, farm after farm, going through Circleville and Lancaster before heading into the Appalachian foothills where not only the terrain became more varied, but also the building stock.

East of Lancaster, we stopped at Rushville, Ohio to investigate a potential school, only to realize that it was still active. But while musing through the town of a few hundred, we came across the Winegardener Chapel, which was erected in 1887. We stopped and got out to shoot some photographs in the blazing afternoon sun, and much to our surprise, the owner of the church conveniently lived in the residence next door and was more than happy to allow us inside.

It wasn’t the most impressive on the inside, nor the most elaborate, but it was photogenic and beautiful in all the same respect. Stained glass windows gave the interior a fresh, colorful appearance, and ornaments from a wedding that was hosted there several years back hung from the rafters. At one point, the owner had attempted to convert the church into a lofty house, but those plans were never fulfilled.

After spending an hour at the Winegardener Chapel, we drove east, and spent the night photographing the eerily deserted Wheeling skyline. That is where we came across the abandoned Bellaire Interstate Toll Bridge over the Ohio River, which has been closed since 1991… Read more about our next day’s travels coming up in a few days!