Back to the farm

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Regular readers of this blog may have noted a (perhaps unhealthy) fascination with abandoned places and ruined buildings on my part; past entries have included photographic explorations of the "exclusion zone" surrounding Chernobyl, blighted portions of Detroit which are being reclaimed by nature, the abandoned mines which litter California or creepy deserted Japanese amusement parks.

Now I can add to that list a place close to my own heart: the 18th-century farmhouse that had been in my family since the 1940s, until it was sold to a conservation group a few years ago. I recently returned to the Eastern shore of Maryland to visit family I hadn't seen in awhile, and also to see what the conservation group had done with the old place. To my great surprise, the answer was nothing. All the furnishings, mirrors, carpets and knickknacks had been removed, leaving the enormous, rambling place eerily barren. I had assumed they would turn the house into an office for the local Department of Natural Resources, as had been mentioned, but no one lived there, and it stood there empty, doors unlocked, slowly crumbling. It was both heartbreaking and enthralling, and I immediately grabbed my camera and began framing shots.

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Built more than 200 years ago, it's been added on to many times since then, giving the whole place a grand -- if a bit ramshackle -- profile. There were so many rooms in the place that many were rarely used, like this one. It had been used as storage for many years, and apparently before that had been the "servant's quarters." (The farm was once an enormous plantation with nearly farmable 1,000 acres; servants were no doubt useful.) By the way, I like that they left the curtains up.
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Above: a spot on the attic wall where my late father had scrawled his name as a boy. (An evocative and unsettling discovery, to say the least.)
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My mother found this old picture of my cousin -- now in her 30s -- on top of a radiator in a neglected portion of the attic -- one of the only personal items left behind. A little creepy?
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This huge, rambling basement isn't somewhere you want to spend more than a minute or two. Aside from the garter snakes hiding in every crevice, it's littered with yellowed newspapers from the 70s and bricks fallen from the wall which are returning to dust. But the weirdest thing is the layout: it's clearly arranged into rooms, several of which have their own fireplaces. Why would you need to heat several rooms of a basement? Same reason those rooms would need chains and ankle cuffs affixed to their walls. That's right: at one time, Bloomfield Farm was that kind of plantation. (Not while my family owned it, of course. We came from the North, and only moved south of the Mason-Dixon line in the 1940s.) The existence of said slave chains are disputed -- two of my aunts swear they've seen them, while two of my uncles say they were never there -- and despite extensive, creeped-out searching, I didn't find any.
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The cavernous, impossible-to-heat master bathroom. Someone left a bottle of toilet cleaner and a can of hair spray behind. Poison ivy crawls up the outside of the window.
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This is happening to a lot of the ceilings. If you hang out in the most affected rooms for long enough, you can hear the wind whistling through the holes. Anybody know a good plaster guy?
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This is the never-lived-in third floor attic, which if you look at just the right angle, looks kinda like a face.
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You gotta respect the bold color choices. (In fact, it's a little like my bathroom.)
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At least the place has beautiful doorknobs.
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Ugly, cookie-cutter housing developments encroach on every side of the farm's land. If those had sprung up on our property, I think I'd have to ritually disembowel myself.
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Just to prove it's not all decaying, here's the driveway. Not bad, huh?

If you want to see more, check out my Flickr page.

And if anyone has any bright ideas about how to convince a government agency to spend millions restoring the house you sold them ... uh, let me know.

October 31, 2007 - 3:30am
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