The Beauty of Abandonment After a Snowy January

A fresh snowfall presented an ideal opportunity to explore the region’s back roads, capturing both familiar and new landscapes adorned in fresh snow.

January marked a notably snowy start to the year in the Tri-State area of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, a stark contrast to the lackluster snow season of 2022-2023. This presented an ideal opportunity to explore the region’s back roads, capturing both familiar and new landscapes adorned in fresh snow.

During a three-day period, I focused my photography close to home, specifically on the historic Claylick/Buffalo School in Greenup County, Kentucky. Constructed in 1926 for $2,100 near Claylick Creek, this school ceased operations in 1955, shortly before its land was incorporated into Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. The building underwent relocation within the park by Baily Construction Company and was later restored in 1987 by Schmitt Construction Company at a cost of $9,000.

Although I have reservations about the restoration — it did not preserve the original 4/4 front and side windows, nor the original wood siding — the school still maintains its distinctive cupola and interior features. It certainly looked beautiful tucked into a tributary of Buffalo Branch.

Claylick / Buffalo School

Adjacent to the school lie the remnants of Buffalo Furnace, a notable site among the many defunct pig iron furnaces of the Hanging Rock Iron Region. Founded by H. Hollister and Ross in 1851, this furnace, with a 36½-foot tall stack, had the capability to produce 15 tons of iron daily. At its height, it employed 150 workers and played a crucial role as a major supplier for the Union Army during the Civil War. However, its operation ceased in 1875.

Ideally, Buffalo Furnace would be a prime candidate for restoration, similar to Buckeye Furnace, complete with exhibits and reconstructed auxiliary buildings. Unfortunately, its progressive deterioration each year diminishes the likelihood of the state embarking on a restoration project to return the site to its former glory.

Contrast the state of Buffalo Furnace with Etna Furnace, located in Wayne National Forest, north of Ironton, Ohio. With basic upkeep efforts, such as the removal of brush and trees around its sandstone blocks, the Etna Furnace has been kept in a stable condition. This minimal maintenance has been effective in preserving the integrity of the structure.

Etna Furnace, also known as Aetna Furnace, was built in 1832 by James Rodgers. It featured a 10½-foot wide bosh and utilized charcoal as its operating fuel. Equipped with a steam engine-driven air blast, this furnace had the capacity to produce 16 tons of material daily. Its operations continued until 1887.

Etna Furnace

During another day of my travels, I explored Boyd County, Kentucky, visiting Lakewood Village, the site of the state’s first ski resort.

The mid-20th century experienced what was often called the “Ice Age,” spanning from the 1940s to the 1970s. This period was marked by global cooling and unusual weather patterns. Climatology, then a developing field, was in the spotlight, with experts predicting a possible new ice age. This theory gained significant traction, shaping public and academic discussions.

This era was characterized by increasing pack ice in the North Atlantic and accumulating snow in the Canadian Arctic, raising concerns about the potential severe impacts of the cooling trend. However, by the late 1970s, the scientific focus shifted dramatically from global cooling to global warming, as rising temperatures began to reshape the climate discussion.

Amidst this “Ice Age,” interest in winter sports, particularly skiing, soared, leading to the expansion of the ski industry. In response, Lakewood Village was established in 1979. It boasted three north-facing slopes with a 340-foot elevation gain, accommodating skiers of various abilities. The resort featured modern facilities, including a rope tow and a T-bar tow. Initially private, it opened to the public in 1980 and expanded to include 56 housing units. Despite its initial popularity, Lakewood Village ceased operations in 1982, reflecting the ephemeral nature of the ski resort boom, influenced by shifting climate patterns and changing consumer interests.

Catlettsburg, Kentucky, home to the historic Lock No. 1 on the Big Sandy River, which was inaugurated in November 1904. This lock featured a 300-foot-long dam and was designed to create a 21-foot rise in water level. The lock itself measured 160 feet in length and 55 feet in width, and it was distinguished as the world’s tallest needle dam at the time.

However, the situation changed with the completion of Lock No. 29 on the Ohio River in Ashland. This new lock maintained a navigation pool at 498.5 feet above mean sea level, which in turn reduced the lift at Big Sandy’s Lock No. 1 to just 13.5 feet.

The lock ceased operations on June 30, 1952, following a year without any commercial traffic. Furthermore, the construction of the Greenup Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in 1962 made the facilities at Lock No. 1 entirely redundant, leading to the eventual removal of its lock and dam structures.

In Kenova, West Virginia, across the river, an intriguing sight captured my attention: a steam locomotive, positioned behind a chain-link fence at the local historical society. This locomotive, classified as 0-4-0T No. 1, was manufactured by H. K. Porter. However, details about its history, including its operational locations, remain unknown.

Later in my travels, I encountered the deserted Cannel City Union Church in Morgan County. This church was at the heart of a community established in 1905 by the Kentucky Block Cannel Coal Company, which engaged in coal mining in the area. However, due to the exhaustion of coal reserves and the impact of the Great Depression, the company ceased operations in 1933. Despite this, the church continued to function until 1961 when it closed because of a shrinking congregation.

Since my previous visit, the building’s broken windows have been boarded up. However, there are no signs of any other stabilization efforts being undertaken on the structure.

Nearby is the abandoned Lick Spring United Baptist Church, located on the opposite side of the county. Built in 1888, the church has undergone some alterations, including the addition of new siding. Despite these changes, it preserves its original 6/6 windows and door. Notably, the cemetery next to the church continues to be well-maintained.

Concluding my travels through the snow-laden landscapes of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, I reflect on the history these regions hold. From the silent one-room schools to the stoic presence of a lone locomotive to the dormant pig iron furnaces, each site is a tale of a bygone era set against the backdrop of nature’s grandeur, transforming familiar sights into scenes of serene beauty.

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I love your blog! It is so well researched with inspiring photography. My boys and I love to go exploring; always on the hunt for a dilapidated, long forgotten structure. We have actually found some truly amazing homes, churches, and even an entire neighborhood! I love to imagine what it was like when these places were full of life, so I truly appreciate the historical context that accompany your photos. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures!

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