The person who lived in the abandoned farm house finds American Urbex.
A chance sighting on the side of a Wisconsin road leads to a mystery that will take three years to unravel. This podcast is part 1 of 2.
Flickr – The abandoned farm explored described in the podcast episode.
Abandoned Waupun Farm – The original article about the abandoned farm.
Finding Your Old House – Where contact is made with the person who lived in the house.
Photo (source): The administration building.
Wisconsin has a strong cultural background in agriculture. One of Wisconsin’s first attempts at providing technical education resulted in the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy in Wauwatosa. The site of the former high school enjoys protected status on the National Register of Historic Places, State Register of Historic Places, and is a Milwaukee County Landmark. According to the Google Map above it may look like there is plenty of activity at the location, but in reality the buildings have been long abandoned. The roads leading up to the campus were stripped away after the satellite image was taken.
In 1912 Milwaukee County had the largest rural populations in the state and opened the School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy. To build the school the county purchased 206 acres of land five miles west of downtown Milwaukee for $72,100 (or $350/acre). Milwaukee architect Alex C. Eschweiler was tapped to design the main campus Neo-Gothic style facilities. Structures for the school include four class buildings, one administration building, a dormitory, power house, barn, greenhouses, poultry sheds, and other smaller buildings.
Photo (source): The five buildings designed by Eschweiler. The building to the far right in the photo has been demolished.
The high school focused on areas of study specific to agriculture. Students were given hands-on technical training, such as this practical example of how to build a farm shed. Graduates of the school were given a leg up for enrollment in the University of Wisconsin System thereafter. Milwaukee Country residents could attend the school free of charge, while non-residents paid $27 for tuition. Heavy advertising and early momentum lead to strong enrollment for the 1912-13 school year with 243 students. By the next 1913-14 school year, however, enrollment dropped to 206. 1914-15 saw enrollment precipitated further to 191. Average class attendance rates were even less than that ranging from 118-146 (source). Attendance dwindled continuously until 1928 when Milwaukee County concluded that it could no longer justify the cost of operating the school.
Photo (source): The area around the campus buildings has incredible biodiversity.
In 2007 then county executive (and current WI Governor) Scott Walker (R) opened the buildings for use by SWAT officers to host a training conference. This decision drew the ire of local preservationists attempting to save the location. One report states that paintballs were fired and caused damage to some of the interiors.
As of December 2010 the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee made a significant move to develop the site as an Innovation Park. The UWM group plans on making installments totaling $13.55 million to be paid by 2014. The Eschweiler designed buildings are expected to be sold to a private group for conversion into apartments. There are skeptics that have been quite vocal about the infeasibility of the impending sale. For better or worse, the sale of the property mandates renovation of the Eschweiler designed buildings. Another groups of environmentalist critics seek to defend the property because it is part of the threatened Monarch Trail.
Photo (source): The monarch butterfly uses the yellow shaded portion that borders the school as a stop on their migration towards Mexico.
Photo (source): Beautiful park area surrounding the school.
While researching this location online sources mention that these buildings were later used as a tuberculosis clinic and/or mental hospital. The location is often conflated with the Muirdale Sanitorium, which is now a part of the Milwaukee County Research Park. Groups interested in preserving the location make no mention of the location being used for medical activities when writing about the history. Another general misunderstanding about the former School of Agriculture buildings involves the closest structure to the site, which is currently occupied by the Milwaukee County Parks Department. This structure actually used to be the location of the the Milwaukee Home for Dependent Children in the 1940’s. These mistakes are forgivable, but the websites that claim the School of Agriculture is haunted do this location a severe disservice to its history.
The campus buildings have signs stating that the area is under surveillance. The doors are either bricked off or bolted shut. To prevent access even the highest windows are boarded up. When I first visited in April of 2008, however, one of the doors was wide open. We wandered through the building and found mostly emptiness. Unfortunately my point and shoot camera battery died, so I don’t have very many photos. The ones that I was able to take are of poor quality due to the darkness. After we explored the first building I wondered about how we could make it into the others. My gut told me that each building may be connected via a network of tunnels. We went to the basement and my instincts proved to be correct. There really wan’t a whole lot left on the inside. Some of the buildings had power and a few lights on. One had an operational telephone closet running in it. The most interesting though was the administration building. At the very top is a beautiful chapel, which has been covered in graffiti. I returned a few months later in 2008 only to find my means of ingress had been bolted shut. Whatever the future has in store for this location the park area is a great place to spend an afternoon.
All Business – Article detailing SWAT exercises at the location in 2007.
Davide Jackson – Great infrared photos of the school.
Google Books – History of Milwaukee entry on Alexander Eschweiler.
Google Books – 1911 US Office of Experiment Stations bulletin noting the agriculture school.
Google Books – 1915 Milwaukee County School of Agriculture report.
Google Books – Industrial Arts Magazine describes a student led farm shed project.
Google Books – American Poultry Advocate describes some of the farming activity on the grounds.
Google Books – Wauwatosa Historical Society book with a photo of the school.
JSOnline – Discusses the future plans of the site.
JSOnline – Discusses monarch preservation efforts by environmentalists.
Milwaukee Country Historical Society – Page on Wauwautosa landmarks.
TMJ4 – Report of damage caused by SWAT training.
Wauwautosa Now – UWM sale requires renovation.
Wikipedia – Entry for Alexander Eschweiler
In 2007 I explored a fascinating abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of Waupun, Wisconsin. There was a great amount of personal effects left behind: keys, a social security card, letter correspondence, checks, etcetera. How someone could leave all this behind was just baffling. Trying to figure out the riddle appealed to my senses and furthered my interest in urbex.
In May, 2010 I wrote about my experience at the farmhouse here on American Urbex. I even used the house as a backdrop for a few shots in a video I produced for a grad course. In the few years since first stumbling across the farmhouse I have been casually looking for the owner of the correspondence I found. The search yielded a few positive results, but nothing that would actually lead me to the person I was looking for. Imagine my surprise when this comment shows up in my moderation queue.
“Why do you want to know about the old house I grew up in?”
I was floored by the response and shot out an e-mail to the commenter immediately. Within minutes I received a reply in my inbox confirming that, yes, she was the person I was looking for. After more than two years of searching the person I was looking for found American Urbex. We exchanged phone numbers and she agreed to an interview.
Joanne Appleget is married and goes by a different name these days. She is doing quite well for herself and still lives in Wisconsin. While doing a search she came across some of the photos I had tagged with her name. That led her to American Urbex and my Flickr set.
Joanne confirmed that she did in fact live in the farmhouse until around 1986 when she left for college. After moving out her parents lived there for a while longer. Eventually the insurance company refused to renew policies on the home. The home was heated by two gas space heaters, which the insurance company deemed to dangerous. After Joanne’s parents moved the house was used primarily for storage.
Break-ins to the unguarded home started occurring with relative frequency after the family left. The Appleget family reported the thefts to police, but little could be done after the fact. Items of value started disappearing with greater frequency with the expansion of the 151 highway. Joanne recounted how a construction crew leader was asked about the abandoned home, and said that people could help themselves to whatever was inside since the home was abandoned. Scavengers took all that they could; metal, wiring, tiles, tapestries, even the columns holding the porch roof up.
I had falsely concluded after my first visit that someone in the home was diabetic due to the number of supplies I had found on my exploration of the farmhouse. Joanne confirmed that over the years the house was used by teens for parties and other people who may have brought things in. The rotting piles of junk in the house are now the property of new owners who purchased the land a year ago. New bright orange trespassing signs now adorn the outsides of the house.
Doing research on urbex locations is something I thoroughly enjoy. Finding dates, times, historical factoids and melding them with compelling visual images is easy with Google. What I’ve come to realize with talking to Joanne is that there is another element that often goes unrecorded. It is the impressions of a place and the emotions that they invoke that is only palpable by talking to someone. I could tell by our conversation that the farmhouse brought back a range of emotions. I’m especially grateful that she took the time to share a bit of personal history with American Urbex.
American Urbex focuses largely on urbex locations located in… you guessed it… America. However, the diverse urbex community is not limited to just the United States. All over the globe there are wonderful sites explored by thrill seeking photographers, both professional and amateur alike. To borrow some comic-geek parlance, this American Urbex entry is an “origin story.” It explains how I got my start in the urbex community while living in Germany.
A long time ago in a country far, far away…
In 2007 I participated in the Hessen Exchange, which permits Wisconsin UW System college students to study abroad in the German federal state of Hessen. While studying at Philipps-Universität in Marburg an der Lahn, I would sometimes commute to Frankfurt on the weekends. Near the end of my semester abroad I was running out of cash, which meant I was left to my own devices for entertainment. Fortunately I had purchased a Kettler Alu-Rad 2600 (oh how I still miss that bicycle), and with my Philipps ID could ride anywhere in Hessen for free on the Deutsche Bahn. One of the stops between Frankfurt and Marburg was a place my father had been stationed in the military decades prior, Butzbach. One day, on a whim, I decided I would get off the train and ride around. I spent most of the day in the sweltering summer sun riding around without aim or purpose until I had my fill. When it was time to leave I made my way back to the train station, only to discover the next ride home would depart in well over a half hour. I decided to get back on my bike and ride across the tracks and there it was.
The front office building had broken windows. A large portion of the property had been demolished, but it looked as though it hadn’t been touched in a long time. The fences surrounding the complex were wide open. What the hell, I thought to myself, what do I have to lose? I locked my bike up and made my way into the sprawling Hassia Landmaschinenfabrik.
Over the next few hours I cautiously made my way through the complex buildings. The enormity of it all ramped up my adrenaline levels. I wanted to see it all, but didn’t know where to begin. Luckily I had enough presence of mind to take out my diminutive Sony DSC-L1 camera and start snapping away. Something snapped the right synapses in my head and made a connection between adventure, aesthetic beauty, and decay. Up to this point I had no prior knowledge that there was a name for this sort of thing: urban exploration.
There were so many different and varied environments at the Hassia Landmaschinenfabrik and each individual one told a story. At the forefront of complex were the offices. Rummaging through old invoices I was able to discern that the factory made heavy farm implements. The most recent dates were in the mid-1990’s. Phone directories, internal memos, backups of what I assume were important data files were littered in a single corner. This was all that remained of whatever administrative activities occurred at this place.
Behind the administration areas were even large buildings that stood mostly empty. All that remained here were massive steel machines too heavy to move. The behemoths stood like dormant monuments to the sweat poured by numerous laborers that toiled beneath them.
The stacks on the second floor had a dense wood musk to them. Among the rows I found a number of identification cards for an American soldier. It made me realize that although this place had been long abandoned, there were others just like me who explored this place.
When going through the factory I tried to snap as many photos as I possibly could to document everything. There was no way I’d be returning to this place in the near future. I managed to fill up my camera’s 1gb flash card rather quickly.
While wandering the empty factory I lost complete track of time. I had spent many hours around Frankfurt’s Museumsinsel, an area of the city densely packed with all kinds of museums. But the Hassia Landmaschinenfabrik enraptured me like nothing else. Eventually though, my camera batteries ran out and it was time to leave. I boarded the Deutsche Bahn back to Marburg an der Lahn, took the bus home, put my bike away, and fell into bed.
Translation: Grinding without protective eyewear is forbidden!
When I awoke the only thing I could think about was processing the pictures and getting them uploaded to Flickr. Once they were up there the response was immediate.
How did you find this place?
What made you want to go in there?
What if you got hurt?
Are you crazy?
It was then I learned that there is a social component to urbex. There is the urbex community which find this subject matter engaging. Then there is average person who is oddly repulsed, but simultaneously attracted to the photos that urbexers create.
We live in a time where safety and security has been taken to extremes. Playgrounds in America cannot have wood chips because a kid might get a splinter. Working in a college environment I have to deal with “helicopter parents” hover over their adult children. Schools have begun to ban soda because for fear of diabetes, obesity, and caffeinated kids. Cities have health ordinances that prevent enterprising children from running a lemonade stand. Toys are constantly recalled because children manage to somehow hurt themselves. Our society is constantly reengineering public and private spaces to minimize the risk of potential injury.
I think that urbex photography is attractive to the viewer because it is so taboo. Entering abandoned property is a dangerous activity that contradicts societal rules for safety that we grow up with. We’re taught to stay away from such places. That’s not to say urbexers do not take safety seriously. On the contrary, SAFETY is taken very serious by urbexers. Urbexers must practice safety methods in order to experience these places and get out in one piece.
With that my English explanation of how I got involved in urbex comes to an end. For you German speakers there is this little bit more.
Es würde mich freuen, nach diesen Ort nochmals zu reisen. Ich habe ein kleines Teil meines Harz in Deutschland zurückgelassen. Meine Urbex-Passion wachst mit jedem verlassenen Gebäude, dass ich fotografiere. Und jedes Mal, denke ich an die Hassia Landmaschinenfabrik. Die inspiriert mich.
My Flickr Set: Hassia Landmaschinenfabrik
The first time I came across this trailer in Baraboo, Wisconsin I learned a valuable lesson. Always, always, always check your camera batteries before leaving the house. The battery in my main camera was completely dead on arrival. To make matters worse, my trusty backup camera was also toast. I had to settle with shooting with the iPhone 3G’s s*** camera the first time. I invested in a car charger for my camera batteries after that horrible experience.
Two months later I returned to the trailer and it had deteriorated rapidly. The cold Wisconsin snow had widened the gaping ceiling hole in the kitchen. The nails that held the front door to the frame had lost their grip, exposing the dining and kitchen room to the deep nightly cold. The woodwork had absorbed much of the moisture from the brief thaw from the days prior. Black mold had begun to overtake the white kitchen lining. Everything of interest that I wanted to photograph from my first trip was where I had left it.
The family that lived in this two bedroom trailer must have been able to speak multiple languages. An edition of the Chicago Tribune on the dining room table from the late 1970’s mentions the new Star Wars movie. In one of the cupboards sat German literature. Pieces of paper with an eastern European language were also among the debris.
Hearts of Children
Four Stories from M. Lenk
Print(ed) and Publish(ed) by Johannes Herrmann
Als ich dieses Buch in meiner gefrören Hand gehalten habe, habe ich an Wisconsins Geschichte gedacht. Die deutschen Siedler dieses Staates waren sehr wichtig. Die Bauer und die Brauer haben Wisconsin als den sogennanten “Dairy State” gegründet. Einmal in Wisconsin war es normal Deutsch zu sprechen, lesen, und schreiben. Aber das ist nicht mehr den Fall.
(Feel free help me improve my German in the comments.)
As I held this book in my frozen Hand, I thought about Wisconsin’s history. The German settlers of this state were very important. The farmers and brewers laid the foundation for Wisconsin to be called the “Dairy State.” It was normal once in Wisconsin to speak, read, and write in German. Due to the course of history, American speakers of German began avoiding using the language in everyday use in the mid-1900’s. It is a shame really, because Wisconsin still retains much of its rich German cultural heritage.
In the interest of preservation the exact location of this farmhouse will not be shared. It is a fairly easy to find if you’re willing to drive around Janesville, Wisconsin. Hop on your motorcycle and you’ll be triumphant. (That’s a hint.)
This weekend I stumbled upon an abandoned farmhouse. Rural exploration (rurex) sites often yield a wealth of photographic opportunities. Because of their relatively isolated locations they receive less traffic from vandals, drug users, the homeless and other explorers. They often have personal artifacts left behind in undisturbed states. I was able to locate a phonebook from 1988 on the floor of this farmhouse. There was also a few envelopes full of checks from 1974. All evidence shows that this house is not standing up to the elements. Plants have begun to grow in the woodwork, all of the windows are broken, and the floors are sunken in.
It was also nice to get a text from another urbexer who was a few minutes away at the time. We met up and checked out another abandoned farm close by.
The exact location of this urbex site will not be shared in the interest of preservation. In April, 2010 while passing by I noticed that a significant amount of brush that had concealed the home has been cleared away. Signs warning trespassers have now been posted on the property.
This farm belonged to the Appleget family before being abandoned sometime in the late 1980/early 90’s. This house has an unusual amount artifacts left behind by the family. It is unclear why they left so much behind. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
What is known is that someone in the family taught at Green Bay West High School in 1965. At least one member of the family was diabetic as evidenced by the NPH insulin and syringes located among the rubble. Someone graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Joanne Appleget kept her mail correspondence and some of it remains unopened.