Exploring rural Indiana

Farmers Grain Company (Carlos, Indiana)

Exploring rural Indiana

Despite the overarching theme of Abandoned to explore an abandonment in urbanized areas, there is a lot to be said for getting lost through the rural, blank landscape of the Midwest.

More typical, though, is to explore the common and photograph what has been said and done. Gary, Indiana is one of those locales, home to City Methodist and its ever sterile and deteriorated core. Located within the Rust Belt of America, a region pockmarked by dominant industries on the general decline for nearly half a century, high unemployment has led many cities and townships astray. Poverty and crime correlate well in these areas, brought about by a lack of opportunities and a general sense of despair.

But for what Indiana is known for best, the ever-declining Gary and some mental institutions in its larger cities, most of the state is simply comprised of farms and timber. Subdivided into counties and then townships, each contain their own distinct nature, and my journey took me to the hinterlands of Wayne and Randolph County. It is near no large city, and the county plateaued on population in the early 1900s.

I drove northwest from Richmond via U.S. Route 35 and had no intended destination. Following the tracks of the defunct Cincinnati, Richmond and Muncie Railroad, later part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and today’s Cardinal Greenway bike path, I came across the unincorporated town of Williamsburg. Known best for the Lion’s Club community park, its focal point was the former Green Township school.

Constructed most likely in the 1920s, the tri-level school features a typical symmetrical design common in many rural designs. The standardized design allowed for typically six to eight classrooms and administrative offices on the upper two floors, and workshops and storage in the basement. A small auditorium was located in the rear center. Notable to the design is the addition of two small concrete reliefs and patterns on the front towards the outer edges. The front entrance was fairly unadorned, sans the etched “Green Township Public School” marking in the concrete above the doorway.

The interiors were fairly spartan, as were most rural schools. The plaster walls were unadorned with any moldings or reliefs, and broken up only with the addition of decorative brick blocks that extended approximately five feet from the floor. The classrooms contained hardwoods and what appeared to be pine moldings and trims, all darkly stained. The administrative office featured a fireplace.

Supposedly, the pride of the new gymnasium led the newly formed Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season, with fans packing the bleachers to capacity. Just outside the gymnasium doors was an interesting find: a concrete horn.

Williamsburg’s first radio came in 1927 when Clifford Duke built this gigantic loudspeaker from concrete, sanded down to an alabaster-like smoothness. Modeled from a “Baldwin Grand” horn, the speaker stood 9 feet tall with speaker bell diameter of 30 inches. It could be heard for up to 3 miles as it broadcasted news, game scores and other things of interest.

Although the school closed years ago, the building is home to the Williamsburg Community Center and is still the pride of Green Township. Several classrooms are dedicated to the local history of the region and the basketball court – which was just refinished in 2002 by the Cincinnati Floor Company, hosts events and gatherings.

From Williamsburg, I departed northward towards Modoc, which was in Randolph County and along the former Indiana, Bloomington & Western Railway (IB&W). Although the railroad was later merged into Penn Central, it had been abandoned since the 1970s and any business dependent on the line was along gone.

The saying goes that Modoc was named after a cigar box that contained the name Modoc, which had been pitched by a man traveling on the railroad. Another legend was that Modoc was named after the Modoc Indian tribe of northern California. Which ever the story goes, the town is home to less than two-hundred residents today and its downtown is a ghost town today. Below are photographs from the former bank, later converted into a storefront and then a residence.

Little details of its past remain today. There is no etched name, most likely hidden behind a false panel, and the only remnant is the night depository drop box next to the front door.

With the evening sun fast setting, I departed eastward and began tracing remnants of the former IB&W and came across Carlos, an unincorporated town set amongst vast empty plains. It is these quiet communities where a strong bond is settled and not much if anything changes for decades at a time. Much is preserved, such as the discovery of what may have been the IB&W freight house, apparently used for storage today. A rusting sign outside, incorporating the logo of a chevron – which I mistaken at first for the petrol station Chevron, stated “Feeds.”

It isn’t hard to travel to Carlos, however, and not be fascinated by the Farmers Grain Company silo which is by far the largest structure in the county. The top featured a castle-like motif.

From an outward appearance, and a lack of information from the local libraries about the Farmers Grain Company, it has most likely been abandoned for 30 years or more. The silo was also most likely dependent on the IB&W, which has been disused for that time period and longer.

With sunlight fast disappearing in the cold March month, I trekked eastward to Lynn along the IB&W and southward along the former Penn Central to Richmond. It was fascinating to find more to Indiana than its urban decay, for its rural closures and abandonments can be just as interesting if not just less saturated. There is no suffrage of ruin porn out here.

6Comments

  • brandon / 23 August 2011 8:56

    Interesting piece!! Please do more stories and photographs of rural small towns. When I travel, I like to take the backroads, just so I can go through small rural towns like these. They are so fascinating. One suggestion I might make is to head down to Eastern Kentucky and explore some of those small Appalachia towns back in the hills. It's a whole different world down there, but fascinating at the same time. Keep up the good work!

    • Sherman Cahal / 23 August 2011 4:20

      Thanks! I enjoy rural exploration more than anything, and I find that many of these areas have been pretty much "off limits" to explorers. Too far between abandonments, too few amenities, and a general lack of knowledge about the area due to a lack of information. It's hard to travel down to a lot of these areas, and much of it is guesswork or random chance – or pure luck. I remember making a long trip to eastern Kentucky one day and finding only a few small tipples and a school, but when I went to western West Virginia, I came across about 8 schools and countless homes. Odd how that works out!

  • KA Hughes RA / 23 August 2011 6:40

    Nice post!

    I used to drive that route daily when I lived in Muncie and worked in Richmond. There is some interesting abandonment along the railline from Richmond to Muncie. BTW that route is US 35 (not 33) but thats only a small quibble. Another interesting juant would be to travel down the Whitewater River valley from Richmond to Abington and on to Liberty. Not along a rail line but historic nonetheless.

    • Sherman Cahal / 23 August 2011 6:00

      Thanks for the correction, it is being made right now. I should have known better – I was looking over the map as I was writing the entry!

      I've been through the Whitewater River valley a few times – I still have yet to fully explore much of the back roads in the area, but it is quite scenic with a lot of railroad and canal remnants.

  • KA Hughes RA / 25 August 2011 6:44

    My wife is from Richmond, we lived there a number of years back. Lots of history & neat old architecture.

    When we lived there, I always said, if Richmond were only about 30 miles closer to Dayton or Indy it would be filled with wealthy people commuting to those large cities. Instead it is a rustbelt city slowly fading away.

    • Fernando / 31 May 2012 2:24

      Krisgg March 27, 2012 We lived just north of Cairo, in the Anna/Jonesboro area a few years ago. We accidentally found Cairo while out dnriivg in the area one day. Our reaction was very similar to yours. I thought we had driven onto a movie set of a deserted town. There were a couple of banks, which seemed odd, only 1 or 2 restaurants in the entire town, one was just a walk-up to the window type, locally owned. There were no typical fast-food establishments, and just one small gas station. It was eerie and we were just stunned as we drove around the town. It was unlike anything we’ve seen before or since.

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