A Place to Stay

A photographic essay of the former Frenchburg Presbyterian College in Frenchburg, Kentucky.

Six years in a foreign state will change a person. After living in Cincinnati, Ohio and experiencing the urban life, I had to move back out to Kentucky and reestablish my roots. I packed up my belongings, sold my house and moved into an old factory in the heart of Lexington.

I had become too accustomed to the land of the Buckeyes and cornfields. Ohio was a large state to explore but it never felt like home, despite living just across the Ohio River from Kentucky. It was an amazing state to wander about in, as it boasts an amazing amount of rust belt cities and abandoned buildings. There was an endless stream of explorations.

Moving to Kentucky was a huge change on all fronts. The topography was more hilly and considerably more raw. The abandonments were more scattered and far smaller in size. Exploring anything took significantly more legwork and persistence.

For nearly a decade, I had been attempting to photograph the inside of the Frenchburg Presbyterian College in Kentucky.

The college was a mission-based educational and healthcare facility operated by the United Presbyterian Church, and served as a high school and hospital during it’s existence. Frenchburg wasn’t a far drive from the University of Kentucky when I attended years ago, but the town was remote. Driving out to conduct followups on its status was out of the question. The complex also had multiple, vague owners, and finding contact information was a fruitless endeavor.

On the first good Saturday I had available after moving back to Kentucky, I ventured out to Frenchburg to see what became of the college. I packed up my camera gear and tripod and took the twisty two-lane back roads from Lexington and proceeded towards the hills. I had surmised that the college had been demolished or scrapped. After all, it closed decades ago and how much abuse could a building take before it had to be removed?

As I pulled up to the rear of the college, I noticed a truck parked in a mowed lot adjacent to a dormitory. A man, gaunt in appearance, stepped out of the side entrance. He glanced towards my direction. I was not for sure what to make of the situation but I waved towards his direction.

Surprisingly, he waved back and motioned me to park my car next to his truck. I did so under the assumption that I could grovel and beg for access. The scruffy man walked up to my car window and simply stated,

“You here to look at the old school?”

I nodded and pointed to my camera equipment.

“Well, come on in! I haven’t had a visitor all day.”

I threw my camera gear over my shoulder, picked up the tripod and wandered into the dormitory. It quickly became clear that the scraggy man was living ad-hoc inside the abandoned building. A curious flick of the light switch revealed no electric.

“Yes sir, I live here. It’s better than being on the streets and I have a roof over my head. It has no electric or water, but that’s fine. I’ve got daylight to do work.”

He had taken it upon himself to secure the building from trespassers and had started some minor work on stabilizing the building. He wandered up the staircase and I quickly followed behind. Along the way, he pointed out his handiwork: the removed floor tiles that revealed the beautiful hardwood flooring, the patches over the broken windows, the new boarding over holes in the roof to stop water leaks.

“It is now watertight. Nothing gets in.”

There was some commotion downstairs. He led me back down and introduced me to some of his friends who were assisting him in repairing the school. I was then free to explore.

After spending about an hour in what was really a less remarkable building than I had imagined, I walked over to the old cafeteria. It was in complete disrepair and was waterlogged – and infested with mosquitoes.

After spending ten minutes scratching my legs and dodging rain drops from an exposed roof, I headed back towards the car. I said my goodbyes.

“You take care, and let me know if you need a place to stay at!”

1 Comment

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Sounds like you ran into quite an interesting group of people. I’ve always wondered what it’d feel like to live in a neglected but historically significant location. Not that the Frenchburg Presbyterian College is a linchpin in our nation’s history, but it appears to carry a certain amount of gravitas.

I know when I lived in Detroit in a converted stable, I definitely felt inspired and connected to the flow of history in a way I wouldn’t have in a new apartment building, or even in a more thriving city. To live in the Packard Automotive Plant, as one guy does, must lead to some bizarre moments of reflection.

But is at all “schadenfreude”, a way for bored, affluent people to inject a little excitement into their lives, a reaction against the clean and safe blandness of modern life?

Nice post.

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