Science and Nature

Six Abandoned Places

What is so appealing about abandoned places? Cyberspace abounds with photos, videos and bloggers waxing elegiac about abandoned old mills, mansions and malls. Sometimes they call it 'ruin porn.'

Tim Edensor, a geography professor at Manchester Metropolitan University, studies why people like abandoned places.

He called them ‘marginal spaces filled with old and obscure objects,’ where people can see and feel things they can’t in everyday life. They’re about time, nature, mortality and disinvestment, he says.

Perhaps people like abandoned places because they feel genuine in a world full of commercial clutter and Disneyized cityscapes. Or perhaps they long for an industrial past, when manufacturing provided jobs that would support a family.

Here are six abandoned places, one in each New England state. If you know of interesting abandoned places, please share them in the comments section.

Remington Arms, Bridgeport, Conn.

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Remington Arms, one of the many abandoned places that once made something.

You can barely swing a cat in New England without hitting an abandoned factory. They’re a sad reminder of the region’s past as an industrial powerhouse. The old plants stand as silent witnesses to the impact of trade deals, tax incentives and government policies rewarding finance over manufacturing.

New England’s once-enormous textile industry began to move south around the turn of the 20th century in search of cheap land and labor. A similar fate befell the high-tech industry that sprang up after World War II.

Factories that made products for the military continued to thrive, however, and successive wars masked manufacturing’s decline. Remington Arms serves as a prime example.

Eliphalet Remington founded the company in 1816 in New York. He sold it in 1888 to a company that also owned the Union Metallic Cartridge Co. in Bridgeport and the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of New Haven.

Remington made arms for France, Britain, Russia and the United States during World War I. During the Great Depression, it began making ammunition, and it made the Springfield bolt-action rifle for the U.S. government during World War II.

Remington’s Bridgeport factory expanded in 1915. At one point it was called 'the greatest small arms and ammunition plant in the world.' At its height, Remington Arms employed more than 17,000 workers.

Remington Arms closed its Bridgeport plant in 1986.

Today the abandoned Remington Arms plant still sits at 812 Barnum Ave. in Bridgeport, though plans call for its demolition.

Since workers were killed there, it is said to be haunted.

Abandoned Locomotives, The Allagash, Maine

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One of the ghost locomotives in the Allagash wilderness.

Deep in the heart of Maine’s Allagash region sit two abandoned locomotives silently rusting in the wilderness. Only a few intrepid canoes, hikers and snowmobilers can see the hulking machines, miles from any road or railhead.

An independent logger named King Ed Lacroix, put the ghost locomotives there. He built a 13-mile railroad in the middle of the Allagash -- some would call it nowhere -- to haul pulpwood to Maine paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket. There the mills turned it into newsprint.

By 1933 the Great Depression had depressed demand for newsprint, so Lacroix abandoned the Allagash, the railroad, the rolling stock and the ghost locomotives.

By the time demand for paper picked up, trucks hauled logs more efficiently than railroads.

Today the abandoned places that Ed Lacroix left are part of the remote and scenic Allagash Wilderness Waterway protected by the State of Maine.

Abandoned Bear Pens, Boston

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Bear pens, among Boston's odder abandoned places.

Abandoned bear pens in Boston? Yup. They're part of Zoo New England, formerly the Franklin Zoo in Franklin Park.

Frederick Law Olmsted designed an open plan zoological park surrounded by the larger park, also designed by Olmsted. The free zoo was a huge hit when it opened in 1912. Millions came each year. Then came the depression and the decline of the wild zoo.

Bears roamed freely (well, freely-ish) in a large stone enclosure at the bottom of a grand stone staircase. Large bas-reliefs of bears still stand amid the decaying cages.

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Bears before their pens became abandoned places. Photo courtesy Boston Public Library.

In 1958, a city commission took over the zoo and tried to figure out how to revitalize it. They built a fence around the wild menagerie and charged admission for it. The bear pens, hard to tear down, and a badger enclosure, were simply left outside to rot.

They appear in the book and film Mystic River, where a murder victim was found in the pits.

More photos here.

Beech Hill Estate, Dublin, NH

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Beech Hill Estate. Even mansions can be abadoned places.

Just because the National Park Service lists a building on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t mean it’s been preserved. Such is the case with Beech Hill Estate in Dublin, N.H., as it also makes the list of abandoned places.

Noted architect Charles Platt designed the large Georgian Revival manor house for his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Jencks of Baltimore. Like other wealthy Victorians, they fled the hot cities along the Eastern Seaboard for the summer colony along Dublin Lake. Platt designed several other mansions for the Dublin summer colony, but none so large as the Beech Hill Estate. A prominent landmark, the house has a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside.

Built in 1902-03, the house changed hands before becoming the guest house for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in 1949. Though it remains in private hands, the owners abandoned the house in the 1980s and it shows plenty of signs of neglect. The surrounding property is now conservation land with public hiking trails.

Abandoned Kmart, Cranston, R.I.

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Cranston's abandoned Kmart. Dead retail space make up a lot of abandoned places these days.

The company that incorporated as S.S. Kresge in 1916 had 85 U.S. stores. In 1962, the company had grown to hundreds of discount stores and took on the name Kmart.

By 2000, Kmart peaked with 2,171 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Then shopping malls started to die, Kmart bought Sears and began to shut down stores. In Rhode Island, both Kmart and Sears stores closed in Warwick, Woonsocket, South Attleboro, Swansea and nearby Fall River in Massachusetts.

In August 2017, the company announced the closing of Rhode Island’s last Kmart in Cranston.

Abandoned Interstate 189, Burlington, Vt.

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I-189, one of Vermont's abandoned places.

Once the Federal Highway Administration planned to build an interstate from Exit 13 on I-89 in Burlington, Vt., to the industrial waterfront where it would service freight carriers. But then a toxic barge canal stopped highway construction just beyond the US Route 7 interchange, only 1.488 miles from its beginning.

About half a mile of unfinished highway remained, though, so Jersey barriers prevented traffic on the orphaned stretch of pavement.

And then industry disappeared. By the 1980s Burlington’s commercial activity mainly involved tourism, so transportation officials abandoned plans to finish I-189, at least for a while.

In 2012, federal highway planners came up with a new plan to extend I-189 to funnel traffic from Route 7 to downtown. Opposition to the plan halted construction, and the abandoned pavement serves as a pedestrian walkway for aficionados of ruin porn.

Images: Remington Arms by Eric Kilby; Franklin Park Bear Dens By Ekmall - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29727050; Beech Hill Estate By User:Magicpiano - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25650567; abandoned Kmart by JJBers Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0); abandoned interstate by Doug Kerr Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

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