The person who lived in the abandoned farm house finds American Urbex.
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.
Precise location not marked… keep reading.
Sometimes the key to finding an urbex location is to develop a keen instinct for signs along the road. Why does that isolated patch of trees have an electrical box by the curb? Why does the gravel extend beyond the side of the road? Can you sit in the car honey while I wander into the woods alone?
If you develop these instincts they can pay off.
Photo: The house was in terrible shape. The second floor had all but collapsed into the first. It is way too dangerous to enter. Also, black mold. Everywhere.
Photo: Pulling back the door of a collapsed garage revealed a cherry red Volkswagen.
Photo: Whoever lived in this house left a majority of their possessions behind. Homes like these only heighten my curiosity.
This photo was taken in an abandoned farmhouse in the Koshkonong, WI area. The property still has occupants and I did ask for permission to shoot on their land. The property owners do not wish to share their address and I must honor their wishes.
The house itself was in really bad shape. Water damage has caused the first floor to collapse into the basement. I was able to inch my way along the edges into one room that was filled with magazines, newspapers, and books. Most of the texts were illegible in the layer of filth that had accumulated. Tucked away on a shelf to the right was the spine of “The Day Kennedy Was Shot” by Jim Bishop. I’m not a big fan of the Fuji F70 EXR that I took it with, but this is one of my personal favorite photos. Sometimes there isn’t much to shoot at an urbex location. Sometimes just one shot is enough to make the entire effort worthwhile.
Wisconsin is blessed with a dearth of old barns throughout the countryside. Driving from my home to Madison, Milwaukee, or Green Bay means I’ll pass one eventually. Taking a few minutes to explore the backroads often leads to fantastic findings. Above is a beautiful old Ford truck that appears as though it hasn’t moved an inch since the 1930’s. This is an easy find for any beginner and it is relatively safe. Let me know if you come across it!
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.