September 2011

Indiana Ammunitions Depot
A Year of Little Change at the Ammunition Plant

It has been a year of little change at the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. A few buildings have now be emptied of their contents, cleaned and prepped for eventual burning and subsequent demolition, and some more ground has been cleared of vegetation, but all in all, not much has changed. This is the second post in a series on the ammunition plant, which ended with the Ether-Mix House. This thread continues on, traversing somewhat in reverse in the powder production process with the Dehy Press House (Building 202-6) that pressed the cake of nitrocellulose into a powder form.

The Blending and Wringer House (Building 113-3) was part of the nitration process and was located a step backwards in the powder production process. In order to obtain a uniform propellant and ballistic characteristic, portions of batches that have a high nitrogen content are mixed with portions that have a low nitrogen content. Slurry from the poaching tubs in the Poaching House were fed onto vibrating screens where nitrocellulose was blended, which passed into collecting boxes. The boxes were then emptied into tubs where guncotton and pyrocellulose were blended. If the sample from the tub had satisfactory nitrogen and solubility content, the slurry was pumped into the Wringer House. At the Wringer House, the large amounts of water that were used throughout the process to move the nitrocellulose is removed. The containers of partially dry nitrocellulose are transported to the Dehydration/Press House via lag cars.

The poaching process was conducted to reduce the acidity of the nitrocellulose. It also reduced the fibers remaining to minute fragments in a mechanical operation. Hot water washes in sodium carbonate, an alkaline solution, further reduced acidity. The nitrocellulose was then bathed in cold water under mechanical agitators to purify the nitrocellulose and ensure for a longer shelf life. Samples were sent to a nearby laboratory to determine the percentage of nitrogen, the solubility of the ether-alcohol mixture and the fineness degree. The following are from the Poacher House (Building 112-3).

The Pulping House, located adjacent to the Poacher House, features machinery similar to that found in paper mills. Nitrocellulose fibers were cut into short segments to open the embedded fibers which exposed any remaining impurities in the capillary channels. During this process, a very large amount of water was used, which resulted in a slurry that was pumped into the Poaching House.

Skipping over some buildings, we made our way to the Nitrating House (Building 105-1). With shredded cotton being blown in from the Cotton Dry House, 32 pounds of cellulose fiber were mixed in stainless steel nitrators that contained 1,500 pounds of nitric and sulfuric acids that were blended together. The treated nitrocellulose and spent acids were then discharged from the bottom into centrifugal wringers that removed most of the acid through the exterior of the wringer. The acid was used in the production of pyrocellulose or fortified for reuse. Wet nitrated cotton was then immersed in water and the slurry transferred to the Boiling Tub Houses.

The Cotton Dry House (Building 104-1) is where cotton linters, or short fibers that cling to cottonseeds after the first ginning was delivered in 150 pound bales, or wood pulp delivered in rolls of 700 pounds, where they were shredded. They were then pretreated in large ovens to reduce the moisture to less than 1% before being blown in ducts to the Nitrating House.

Next door was the Warehouse (Building 101).

The Process Engineering Division (Building 706-2) has been fairly recently cleaned out.

The Sulfuric Acid Concentration Plant (Building 303-2) produced sulfuric acid by melting and burning raw sulfur, which produced sulfur dioxide gas. The gas was then passed over catalytic beds that produced sulfur trioxide gas, which was absorbed through distilled water that produced sulfuric acid.

And no visit is complete without a stop to the Power Plant (Building 401-1).

This is part two in a series on the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

East Wheeling Historic District
A Travel to the Mill

In some respect, I should have been out backpacking in the highlands of West Virginia or riding my bike through the horse farms of central Kentucky. Pretty and beautiful sights and features.

Instead, I chose to get dirty and photograph derelict abandonments in far-out locations for the sheer joy of seeing pretty and beautiful sights and features and to meet other like-minded individuals from other states and Canada. But who can not appreciate the stale air of an abandoned building as much as the scent of spring flowers in a park or food baking in an oven, or the visual connection to peeling paint and rusting machinery to stately old-growth Spruce trees and grazing animals?

It was going to be a long drive from the hills of Cincinnati, Ohio to the mountains of western Maryland, but one that came with some undetermined detours. For as I went further east along the ever-generic Interstate 71 and then the charming National Road, I had more of a reason to find something new. I ventured along the back roads of central Ohio, tracing the National Road and its former alignments until I swerved south to Barnesville, which is along the abandoned Central Ohio Railroad, later part of the Baltimore and Ohio Pittsburgh-Columbus mainline.

Parking next to the Barnesville Antique Mall, I walked through the vibrant city center and cut down the hill to walk parts of the former railroad bed, which is now graveled and the shows the beginnings of a much larger rail to trail that has been proposed westward to Cambridge. A tunnel exists under the downtown which is situated on the top of a rather large hill, and was completed in 1854, extending for 423 feet. At its peak, 37 trains passed under East Main Street per day until the line was abandoned in 1983.

On the eastern front of the tunnel is the Barnesville railroad depot. Constructed in 1916 in the Federal style with Spanish Mission accents, the station was in use until 1961 as a passenger depot and 1983 as a freight depot. Two years later, due to its significant architectural features and its railroad heritage, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The station was later used as offices for the local Chamber of Commerce and is in a maintained condition today.

Noticing the evening sun creeping up further behind my back, I headed back towards my vehicle and opted for the interstate to the outskirts of Wheeling. Traveling through this part of Ohio is unlike much of the state – rolling hills tightly integrated with patches of weaving farmland and stands of timber and the remembrance of Appalachia that I miss. I exited for the National Road at St. Clairsville and headed down Blaine Hill to the impressive Blaine Hill Viaduct that span Wheeling Creek.

Constructed in 1932, the open-spandrel arch bridge is one of the Ohio’s more visually interesting crossings that is still in use. A state that is bathed in generic girder bridges, coming across an span with multiple arches is a rare treat. The bridge was designed by D.H. Overman, who was most known for his arch bridge designs throughout the state. The crossing was rehabilitate in 1982 and again in 2011, with some minor work remaining.

Blaine Hill Viaduct (US 40)

Blaine Hill Viaduct (US 40)

Blaine Hill Viaduct (US 40)

Blaine Hill Viaduct (US 40)

What lay below was even more impressive: one of the oldest bridges in the state. The Blane Hill “S” Bridge, which once carried the National Road westward from Wheeling into the then frontier, is a three span stone arch and was constructed in 1826. The 345 foot span was the main gateway to the west, and was part of the first federally funded national highway in the United States. The bridge was nearly demolished in 1999 due to its poor condition, but was given a reprieve and ultimately restored. In 2001, the “S” bridge was designated Ohio’s official bicentennial bridge.

Blaine Hill "S" Bridge (Formerly US 40)

Blaine Hill “S” Bridge (Formerly US 40) undergoing additional restoration work.

From there, it was not a far drive to Wheeling. Passing through the communities of Lansing, Wolfhurst, Brookside and Bridgeport, I was reminded of just how dense the inner reaches of the metropolitan area once were. Houses lie in waste on the hillsides, entire industries along the creek demolished, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that once paralleled Wheeling Creek through the valley was long gone. Churches for the most part remained, although a few were closed and in need of tough and loving care.

It was slow drive to the Ohio River, passing under the Ohio State Route 7 freeway that all but necessiated demolition of Bridgeport’s downtown, finally reaching the U.S. Route 40 Ohio River crossing. I entered Wheeling Island, West Virginia, and from there I managed to find my way to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge where directed my orientation towards the endangered East Wheeling Historic District. The city, containing some of the largest quantities of 19th century Victorian architecture in the United States, is considering demolishing a significant portion of the historic district due to most of it being abandoned or significantly underused.

It’s not as if Wheeling suddenly declined in the past few years. It’s been losing population for over 80 years, of which I previously attributed the beginnings of to Yost’s Law. That law essentially forced the closure of the city’s main breweries and taverns, and ultimately led to a major job loss. Wheeling was an immigrant-fueled city, after all – the Germans built much of the city’s architecture that is so endangered today.

I parked at 16th and Wood streets in the heart of the historic district and began to document each and every building from its exterior. All of the doors were freshly sealed, but you could see that many of them were very recently occupied. Blinds still hung from many of the units, along with other personal effects. And there was little if any decay in many of the buildings, although a few were clearly abandoned. A few people drove by but no one bothered to even trade a parting glance. During the 30 minutes I spent walking along 16th Street, only on pedestrian – a homeless individual, passed by me. There simply was no activity at all in that block.

Why is the mayor of Wheeling in such a haste to demolish the buildings? For “a ball field.” That’s right, for a grass field when the city has plenty of other vacant lots and fields that are unused and unmaintained.

Congratulations. While other cities are taking all of the steps necessary to stabilize and preserve their irreplaceable historic districts, this mayor is outright advocating for their demolition. What a damn shame.

After weeping over the East Wheeling Historic District, I proceeded to make a beesline east along Interstate 70 to Washington, Pennsylvania. It was all but an uneventful drive, except for the accidental discovery of the nearly abandoned Washington Mall after I had made a wrong turn. I entered the mall property from the highway and came across some active businesses that were located on the exterior of the mall: a Chinese restaurant, furniture store and a Toys-R’-Us were bustling and showed no outward signs of decay. Even the J.C. Penny had a “Now Open” sign on the three story, nearly windowless box.

But something seemed astray. The parking lot was all but vacant outside of these open businesses on the exterior. Some windows were boarded up near the concourse entrance, and the concourse entries were open but had no lights shining from the inside. I parked and walked inside the concourse and was shocked at the condition of the mall. There were no active storefronts in one entire wing of the mall, and only two on the opposing end. Ceiling tiles were missing from the ceiling. The air was stale as the air conditioning units had been disabled. The water fountains were bagged. Tar leaked from the roof onto the concourse floor. And the entire center of the mall was closed to traffic due to water damage. There was not a soul in sight.

Apparantly, Washington Mall has been in a state of limbo for years. To add to the dispair of the mall, J.C. Penny had moved out several years ago to The Foundry at South Strabane, a new shopping center a mile away, one that was built on a massive fill overlooking a valley. But when that shopping center began to fail due to foundation settling, J.C. Penny moved back into Washington Mall – hence the “Now Open” logo that has been hanging on the side of the building for a quite a while.

Don’t expect The Foundry at South Strabane to go anywhere any time soon. It’s mired in bankruptcy, and the CEO of the developer for the mall, Premier Properties of Indianapolis, has been charged with fraud and theft.

After poking through the soulless corridors of the mall and exploring the basement at Washington Mall, I hurried northward to Pittsburgh. Dinner awaited at the famous Primanti Brothers with , as well as a drive southeastward through the Pennsylvania countryside at night to Cumberland. A mill awaited me in the morning.

This article is part of a series covering the Lonaconing Silk Mill in Maryland, and a glass factory and hospital in Pennsylvania:

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.

A foggy morning at the ammunition plant

Camera bag? Check.

Tick repellant? Check.

Light? Check.

I set out one night with another photographer to capture the early morning scenery at the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, the largest abandonment in the United States. It’s not an easy hike into the facility, with tall grasses and vegetation overtaking what used to be manicured grasses and a flurry of activity.

What surprised me, in the year since my last trip, how little much of the complex has changed. While some of the buildings have been cleaned of their contents, and more ground has been scraped of their vegetation, there has not been a wholesale demolition that I had envisioned. Most buildings remained a testament of pre-World War II construction. Hand painted signs warn the dangers of spitting. Goodyear tires supporting frictionless carts. Brick layered buildings. Slides for emergency escapes.

This is part one of a series that will cover the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. And for this, I begin as I came into the plant, starting at the Control Circulation Dry House (Building 220), which dried the remaining solvent out of the powder before it went to the blending tower, where it would be blended with water to achieve a set burn rate. As these photographs were taken from the rear of the plant towards the front, they are not in order of production sequence – that will be detailed out in this series later.

The fog that morning was fairly heavy due to the nearby presence of the Ohio River. Most of my prior excursions into the plant were during the day, but I figured with the high heat of the summer and the ticks that cling onto dry vegetation, going in on a moist morning would be more beneficial – for my body.

The Water Dry Houses (Building 219), shown below, was where powder that arrived – containing 3% to 5% of the solvent, was aged and freed of any of the remaining solvent. The powder was soaked in water.

The Solvent Recovery Houses (Building 214), where the solvents, ether and alcohol were extracted from the black powder, lie in endless rows. There were two architectural styles, brick and concrete, but were identical in function.

The Mixer Houses (Building 208) mixed and kneaded powder. A Baker-Perkins mixer and kneading machine had a 100-gallon capacity.

The Dehy Press Houses (Building 202) pressed the cake of nitrocellulose into a powder form.

The Scrap Rework House (Building 209-2) contained several dozen wooden barrels, presumably containing black powder.

The Ether-Mix House (Building 206-3) was where ether was mixed.

One of the new features that is being worked on for later this fall, is a large scale map of the ammunition plant showcasing all of the buildings and their respective functions, along with a process diagram – how black powder was developed.

This is part one in a series on the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

Mt. Sterling High School

It’s not too often I make my way back down to central and eastern Kentucky anymore, but when I do, I like to at least do a check up of some of my old haunts. Mt. Sterling High School in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky is located on Montgomery County at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and is a very quaint and tight community. One of my favorites, actually. Several years ago, I photographed their high school, which was in a state of disrepair.

There were indications of potential renovations coming – but that time has passed. The school, which is structurally sound, was gutted to the core. Roping at the roof indicated work above. But there have been no signs of construction equipment on-site in months.