After gallivanting around the country for the last 6 months, I have a gigantic backlog of photos that need some sorting and a blog that needs updating. I recently performed in a burlesque show where the MC mentioned this site and my adventures during my intro. If that’s not a kick in the pants to update this thing, then I don’t know what is.
A couple of weekends ago I took another road trip down south to see what abandoned treasures awaited me. Two years ago I visited Thurmond, WV, which is one of the many New River Gorge ghost towns that surround the area. After researching the town and reading up on the history, I found out about the hilarious rivalry between Captain William Thurmond and Thomas Mckell, the founder of Glen Jean and the infamous Dun Glen Hotel. Even though Glen Jean is not really a ghost town, I really wanted to re-visit the town to see what this infamous den of vice had left. (If you missed it the first time around, you can read the Thurmond vs. Glen Jean rivalry here).
Salton Sea has been on my list for a while, thanks to an OKCupid wannabe suitor. When I found out that it was a short drive from my sister’s house in California, I immediately recruited her for a post-Christmas visit. After all, we had to work off all the Christmas junk food somehow.
We were supposed to go last year, but that trip was put on hold when my sister went into labor 3 months prematurely; a month before my trip out there. And looking back, it probably wouldn’t have been the wisest decision for a lady who was 8 months pregnant to be traipsing around a toxic sea. So, it was probably for the better that I went this year with a much-less-pregnant companion.
So nice I had to go twice…and will probably go again.
Like several of the mental facilities I have visited, Kings Park Psychiatric Center is a gigantic sprawling campus (521 acres!). I barely scratched the surface on my first visit, and maybe am now half-way through seeing everything after my second. Once the snow thaws, I’ll most likely be back for my third.
Come on in!
Sometimes it’s a breath of fresh air to take a walk through the woods and not have to worry about the police showing up.
Fireplace Jenga, anyone?
Hidden away in the forest are a small collection of ruins from the Cornish Estate (otherwise known as Northgate the the people who lived there). In 1917, Edward J. Cornish and his wife, Selina, purchased the 650 acre estate from a Chicago diamond merchant Sigmud Stern, who had built the estate 5 years earlier. At the time, the area was subject to intense mining projects, ones that threatened to destroy the face of nearby Mount Taurus. Edward, whose home was close enough to the quarries that it shook with every blast, began to worry about protecting his property as his health began to fail in the 1930s. He offered his estate for sale to the Taconic State Park Commission in 1936, however they declined claiming that the site was “not at all adaptable for a park area,” despite developing parks on several properties nearby (I’m going to take a wild guess that they soon regretted that decision).
Tucked away in the quaint township of Hamburg, New Jersey, down the street from Granny’s Pancake House, and on the aptly named Gingerbread Castle Road, lies a fairy tale castle straight out of a child’s dream – or it used to be, at least.
When one thinks of Cape Cod, beaches, sail boats and quaint cottages usually come to mind…unless you grew up there like me, then you think of catnip smoking, Robitussin-chugging derelicts who steal used cars as a method to curb boredom. In either case, Cold War spy barracks usually doesn’t come to mind.
Radar station (aka spy tower) still in use by the FAA today. Wave to Big Brother everyone!
The North Truro Air Force Station was one of the first of twenty-four stations of the Air Defense Command radar network – which was a network essentially created to spy on the Soviet Union immediately after they tested their first atomic bomb. In 1948, the Air Force began construction on these sites around the periphery of the United States, with North Truro AFS being completed in 1951.
Dundas Castle has been on my list of places to visit for a while, but I had been holding it off until the warmer months, as I could imagine nothing more magical than a fairy tale-looking castle surrounded by lush green foliage…and I certainly wasn’t wrong.
Case and point.
A lot of people have asked me where I discover these abandoned places that I visit. Sometimes I just stumble upon them. Sometimes it’s from internet research. But back when I was dating, I received a lot of recommendations from online dating. I had a little mention in my profile about how I liked visiting abandoned places, and all of these men came out of the woodwork asking me if I knew about such-and-such place. Their attempts at breaking the ice were almost always ignored (sorry fellas), but I wrote down all of these places, and called up someone else to see if they wanted to visit this new place I just heard about. Letchworth Village was one of those places. Thanks OkCupid – at least you were good for something.
The girls’ campus, 1922
Letchworth Village, officially known as Letchworth Village Home for the Feeble Minded and Epileptics, opened its doors in Thiells, NY in 1911 with a 130 buildings located atop a sprawling 2,362 acre lawn. It was named after William Pryor Letchworth, a noted humanitarian and philanthropist, who was familiar with institutional conditions. The hospitals original intentions were noble, aiming to provide the utmost quality in care for the patients. Read More
After carefully making our precarious 5 mile exit from Nutallburg, the next stop on our West Virginia ghost town tour was Thurmond – aka the place that seemed like the easiest to find out of the multitude of dubiously mapped options.
Thurmond during a more bustling time.
Unlike Nutallburg, Thurmond was bustling epicenter of train travel and commerce, seeing more transportation of coal, rather than the manufacturing of it. Formally incorporated in 1900, the town was named for Confederate Captain William Thurmond, who was offered 73 acres of land along the river as a good will gesture for just $20. The C&O railroad was routed through the area shortly after, but the town was slow to grow with only one house constructed at the time. It was not until Thomas G. McKell of neighboring Glen Jean negotiated with the railroad for a branch up Dunloup Creek, that Thurmond became the boom town it was known to be, with the line becoming one of the railroad’s busiest branches. Despite this growth of business for both parties, McKell and Thurmond became bitter enemies.
As most urban explorers usually find out, trips don’t always go as planned. Our quick little road trip down South was supposed to hit Shawnee Lake, Land of Oz and Sherwood Forest, an abandoned renaissance fair. Moments before we left, I came across a comment warning “wear orange” if visiting Sherwood during hunting season. After looking into it further, yes, we were going during prime hunting season, and yes, visitors will be shot. I can handle the cops. I cannot handle Virginian hunters. In favor of not getting shot, we decided to scratch that from our list and visit a couple of West Virginia’s many ghost towns instead, which thankfully, they are not short on.
Nutallburg, WV in its hey-day (photo courtesy of NPS.gov)
New River Gorge runs through the middle of West Virginia, and during the Industrial Period, more than fifty mining towns sprang up in the wilderness surrounding the river due to coal mining interests. Inhabited by several thousands of people, the area began to flourish after the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad line, which not only provided faster travel between the Atlantic Coast and the Ohio River Valley, but also led to fast coal transportation through the gorge, thus encouraging the local mines in the New River Coal Field to open shortly after. In 1888, it was estimated that the area was producing 1.5 million tons of coal. However, the gorge’s steep slopes and its narrow width made for a low return on investment, eventually slowing business and, starting in the 1930s, causing closure of many of the mines and forcing people to abandon the towns. Read More