Weekend excursions, especially to photograph time-worn abandonments, is always a great way to escape the mundanes of a working life. Nothing is more pleasing than taking in a whiff of that peculiar abandonment smell and documenting what lies around. It’s even better when you can introduce the field of exploration to someone who is truly eager to experience the thrill and excitement of being in a derelict.
The weekend started off at the First German Reformed Church in Cincinnati. Constructed in 1850, the church features a front limestone exterior with four, large stained glass windows on the side walls. First German served a predominantly German-American neighborhood, only a short distance from downtown. The church was later known as First Reformed Church, and by 1970, with the congregation dwindling due to the changing demographics of the neighborhood, the church closed its doors to the neighborhood. A new congregation formed soon after, which lasted only until 1975. The property has been vacant since at least 1993, sans the basement being used for storage.
Not much has changed inside since the first visit two years ago. The windows, at one point, were tarped over but that has since come down. The exterior-facing doors were once boarded over and sealed, but some have been pulled free. Graffiti has begun showing up inside the sanctuary, and more water damage is visible through the falling ceiling tiles.
The next stop was an old haunt, the Parker Tobacco Company in Maysville, Kentucky. Parker Tobacco was a tobacco redrying and threshing plant that became a large tobacco leaf purchasing, processing, marketing and commercial storage operation before closing in 1997. I recalled stepping into Parker for the first time around 2003, and was amazed at the condition of the factory: equipment that wasn’t auctioned off was in operable condition. Computers, files and books collected dust in the offices. Old photographs of the plant remained in pristine condition in sleeves within a safe. No graffiti to be found, along with not a hint of vandalism.
But that changed after a fire in 2007 ripped apart the rear wing that housed the boilers and some processing equipment. Ruled as an arson, it was just part of a series of fires in the city that summer that claimed a tobacco storage warehouse and nearly took down several others. It just wasn’t the same after that. The offices became trashed due to a large, gaping hole in the back of the property. Water damage from the now porous roof, and from the fire hoses, caused extensive rot to develop on the second floor. Rooms that were once dry became infested with mold.
In March 2010, work began to take down Parker Tobacco. Fast forward to November, and not much work has been completed on the site.
When we climbed to the roof, we were spooked to find that two other individuals were near the site. It was fairly obvious that they spotted our presence, so we went out and greeted them. Both were former employees of Parker, and were merely chatting up about the condition of the property. Listening to their tales and stories of what Parker meant to them brought back memories of the discussions I had with employees at Marquette Cement Manufacturing Company. There was an almost certain sadness in their tones, given that Parker was once one of the largest industrial plants in Maysville. Maysville and tobacco were once highly integrated, and the city prided itself on that. Today, it is known more for its antique shops and fast food eateries than any prized company.
One of the gentlemen did show us something that we had missed earlier. On the side of a warehouse was painted,”___ Taylor Com___”, and beneath it read, “Leaf Tobacco C____.”
After pulling out of Parker Tobacco, we headed south towards the William Tarr House. The imposing Federal-style house, later updated with Italianate trim, has been abandoned since at least 1985 alongside a major highway. Water intrusion has weakened much of the interior, leading to the second floor in the rear to give away fairly recently. Box gutter rot has led to much brick mortar loss and loose framework, which threatens the stability of the residence. The house, probably once owned by A. J. Hitt, the owner of a flour and grist mill in nearby Millersburg, was sold to William Tarr at some point before 1877. Tarr was a farmer and distiller, who was part owner of the Chicken Cock Distillery in Paris and the proprietor of the Ashland Distilling Company in Lexington.
With this visit, however, it seemed that the exclusivity of the residence has been lost. Windows have been kicked in, although that appeared to be the extent of the damage.