… the quality/condition of being weakened, worn out, impaired, or broken down by old age, illness, or hard use.
The Mill located in Lonaconing Maryland first opened its doors for operation in the Spring of 1907 and closed them for good in the midst of a labor dispute in the summer of ’57. It was a Silk Mill that spun raw silk, from Italy and Asia, into fine thread for use in the US textile industry during its glory years in the first half of the last century. The Mill now closed longer than it was open, miraculously has not changed much within its confines over the past fifty four years. Machinery,tools and other artifacts were left as they stood the day the doors were locked for good. The building unmaintained to a large degree looks its age, windows broken, leaky roof, dust and pealing paint are the order of the day – in a word decrepit – a perfect place for photography.
The current owner, Herb Crawford, a retired teacher does what he can to keep the mill standing but its an uphill battle. Early in 2011, as I understand it, Herb started letting small groups of photographers enter the space with tripods and gear as a way to raise funds for the mills upkeep. Attempts have been made to gain state preservation funding but given the current economic climate and state budgets being stretched not much progress has been made.
I was most fortunate to be part of a group, that visited the mill in mid December of 2011. The group was small, maybe ten in all, and was made up of mostly full time professional outdoor photographers – some whose works I have admired for some time. Needless to say I was a bit apprehensive on the six hour drive from home to my hotel near the location. I arrived late and hit the sack anxious for the festivities to start the next morning.
Tony Sweet my sponsor, if you will, is a great professional photographer and instructor with whom I “studied” the previous fall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had heard of the trip to the mill and reached out to Tony to see if there might be room for one more and was happily surprised when there was! The group congregated at the mill around 8:30 to shoot the exterior and be ready for the doors to open at 9:00AM. A light snow had dusted the ground and continued to fall as we arrived and prepared to go inside. From the start everyone was very welcoming and friendly, sharing ideas and locations within the mill from previous visits. In all a great group of people.
Once inside (no heat so it was still cold) it was like a time capsule. Machinery, tools, papers and personal effects were all around the mill and available as willing subjects. We had the run of all three floors and could move objects as needed to match our vision. The only caveat being that if we moved a bucket it had to be put back to catch the water dripping from above.
The snow I mentioned before, reflected through the large industrial windows, combining with the days overcast to create a giant soft-box effect for subjects near the windows. There were countless subject opportunities affording all manner of mood and atmosphere. It’s no wonder some of the group has been back to the mill five or six times. I’ve already figured out a number of things I didn’t get to or will do differently when I return in February.
As to the title of the post, “decrepitude”, I think subjects that exhibit this characteristic strike a cord with many people. For me it’s two things:
- first as a photographer its the texture, mood and atmosphere of an object or location;
- and second is the feeling of nostalgia/history that’s evoked by a place or a thing and the wonderment about the people that interacted with it way back when.
Links to more images & information:
- My Image Gallery
- “Abandoned” Mill information
- Blog Post from John Barclay – scroll down to find several interesting posts from December 2011
- Karen Messick – Blog Entry regarding the people of the mill.
- Facebook page – Save the Lonaconing Silk Mill