Author Archive

Out Of The Loop

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Rochester

Imagine a world after cars, after trucks, after petroleum. Imagine walking through the snow, following the track of a guardrail along the ghost of what was once a highway, and now carries only the prints of a few snowshoes. This could be all of us someday.

For now, it’s just one little piece of the Inner Loop, but it’s still a sign of progress. With an intermediate stage as some sort of accidental park, the former freeway will soon be a city street, filling in the moat that separates downtown from the rest of Rochester.

Obviously I wasn’t the first one to wander through here, but it’s a sight I never thought I’d see, least of all in a city that’s seemingly on its way up.

You don’t know how much I wanted to play some industrial-size Jenga here.

Because It’s There

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Outdoors, Rochester

I’ve always had a bit of an attachment to Pinnacle Hill. It’s not much of a mountain… just enough to notice you’re getting up there, before the top appears. Then another 300 feet if you feel like climbing a TV tower. Which I’ve only done once, back in freshman year. But between that climb, and the mushroom summer last year, not to mention the inkling I had ever since 2007 that I’d live within sight of the blinking towers when I could; it’s a place to go when I feel like I’m fucking everything up and I just want to step back and try again.

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Oompa-Loompa Doopadee-Doo

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Industrial, North Country, Syracuse

Apologies for the title — but you deserve just as much of a constant torment coursing through your head in an impossibly lilting and plodding e minor as we were both stuck with as we wandered around an abandoned chocolate factory. At one time Nestlé, then based in Fulton, NY, manufactured about 40% of the chocolate eaten in the US, including even franchised production for Cadbury and Hershey’s, in this one enormous factory. Open from 1899-2003, it briefly played the role of Oswego County’s largest employer, after the Miller brewery closed, but like so many other American factories, foreign production became so much cheaper that the operation moved to Mexico and Spain, leaving behind yet another massive industrial hulk. There have been some plans, and a botched demolition that took out some of the newer sheet-metal construction and left the brick behemoth largely untouched, but it has been the ruin of one developer after another, ranging from another chocolate factory to Anheuser-Busch to razing the entire thing for an Aldi and a Dollar General.

Until then, it’s just like you’d imagine an abandoned chocolate factory, right down to puddles of sticky syrup on the floor!

Necessarily for the nature of their product, this factory kept up with maintenance and cleanliness much more than, for example, a paper mill. Even though decay has obviously started, it’s notably more modern than many industrial sites that closed a few years later in the recession era.

The device to the left was some kind of bulk nozzle, capable of filling 192 bottles at a time. A likely guess for the product would be Nesquik chocolate syrup, but other than the sugar floods, no trace of finished product or packaging remains in the factory.

Notice anything wrong with this phone?

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but all the specks in this sugar-glacier are writhing maggots. Blechhh!

Quoth the spiders, “Never More.” April 9, 2003 was not in fact the day the chocolate died. But it would go to logic that the plant closed gradually, one product at a time. According to the New York Times, May 2 was the final day any product passed through the loading docks, and the last day at work for 474 upstate New Yorkers.

This time, they WERE all full…

Emphasis on WERE… Next time we should wear white. This was just one can each.

What is it with racks of keys?

There was yet another building, but we were out of daylight and the glassy syrup mirror was just too pretty to shatter.

So we left across the rubble field, and caught the end of the Bills game on the ride home instead. For the 9½th time in a row, North Country was all we could have imagined and more. Can’t wait to go back in the spring!

Fallen Champion

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Industrial, North Country

Deferiet is everything you might expect a company town to be, when the company leaves. From the potholed entrance road off the highway, to the complete lack of businesses on the village’s three streets (which wrap around one side of the mill), this is clearly no boom town. Even the bank, the post office and the fire department closed, all of them maintained by the Champion Paper Company of St Regis, just like the enormous industrial hulk that is still the focal point of Deferiet, even in its inglorious death.

The houses aren’t all empty, at least — the town borders Fort Drum, and is only 8 miles from Watertown, so especially with the undoubtedly plunging real estate prices, enough people still live here. But they only live here, with no jobs in sight. Most of the people left probably don’t even remember the mill, even though it only closed 9 years ago: those of working age would have moved to another mill town or left the paper business entirely. Even fewer care about the mill. The gates are wide open, no one is watching. The last action on the property was in the fall of 2010, when the Army tested some demolition explosives on the main building, leaving a crater of shattered brick and twisted melted re-bar. The result is too broken to salvage, and too solid, not to mention isolated, to ever be worth demolishing.

Like everywhere we’ve found in the north country, getting in was beyond obvious: follow the gaping hole, this time larger than a football field, directly into the factory, taking a short detour through the firehouse.

Like most places in the chemical business, laboratories were all over, at least one in every building, with most of the toxic fun stuff still intact (and the rest spilled, shattered and fuming the place up)

At the edge of the “demolished” section, you can start to imagine the sheer power of what broke half the massive factory apart

Looking the other way, you can see just how much is still left, AFTER half of it met the bomb!

Compared to Lyons Falls, it’s nowhere near as photogenic, being of more recent renovation. Lyons Falls was built in 1918-38; Champion has had a mill on this site since before 1900, but most of the surviving buildings date from just after World War II.

The last paper left the mill in January 2005, giving it plenty of time to reach the information age. The control panels of Lyons Falls were long since replaced by electronic terminals like this on many of the columns, each controlling one or two processes.

Most of the machines, presumably of tremendous scale, were salvaged when the mill closed, leaving gaping holes into the basement and sometimes even sub-basement

Adding to the carnage the Army inflicted on these ruins, winter (maybe aided by a blast wave) took down a few sections too.

These confuse me. Not just here either – Bensons Mines and Sykes have them too. Electrical outlets hanging from conduit, 4 feet above floor level, and not on a wall. Any idea what these might have been for?

I think this is my favorite sign I’ve found in an abandonment. If it were a little bit smaller and not nailed to the wall I’d have to admit it would be on my office wall.

This was just about the only graffiti in this place. Or in the whole north country for that matter.

Do as you ought’er:

After the mill, we went through the office, one of the more interesting parts in 2011 but now hopelessly water damaged with mushy floors and moldy just about everything inside… The hallway was the only worthwhile shot in the place, and we had better things to get to anyway after Deferiet.

Gould’s Mills

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Adirondacks, Industrial, North Country

Even though we didn’t see all we could have in Utica, we had to get to our next destination, the paper mills at Lyons Falls. Just from the one building we could get into last year, we knew it would be well worth a return trip. A whole building went missing since last time, but the demolition seemed to have stopped with that, at least for the winter if not forever, with some of the fencing and one excavator left but no signs of immediate work going on. The one remaining scaffold gave access to a historical plaque that seemed to take more effort to remove than the demolition crew were willing to spend.

We entered from the hole left by the missing building, into what was originally a basement, now open to the outside. Shelves of lab equipment and chemicals rot away into the miasma, seeing a few spots of daylight for the first time since the mills closed.

There was no adequate explanation for all these keys in the basement, nor did we find one in the rest of the mill. There simply aren’t that many doors in the remaining parts, nor evidence of corresponding room numbers. Maybe there were lockers or something in a missing section?

This section had its own special little control room, for the sulphate section. Even now, the air smells and tastes of sulfur…

As we continued, we figured out we missed the main building last time, and only saw the two ends of the mill. Which wasn’t such a big loss after all, most of the factory floor was cleaned out, except for the side rooms. These were probably more common mechanical machines that could be auctioned off and used in another mill, as opposed to the idiosyncratic processes and tanks in the chemical plant.

It seems to be the case in many industrial sites that the last of the product never got shipped as the business went under.

The last to-do list remained on the board too… it doesn’t look like directions to shut a mill down, but just another day at work. It makes me wonder just how suddenly these factories closed, whether the employees even knew time was up, or if there were just a few vague rumblings then one Monday morning they show up and the doors are locked and the machines are silent?

No, it doesn’t still spray.

ACME Corporation

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Industrial, North Country, Utica

Out of all the buildings I’ve explored so far, this one might win the prize for most varied history. Starting as a textile mill in the 19th century, G.C. Charles and Co., no single industry has been able to prosper here for more than 20 or 30 years at a time. Facing economic woes, G.C. Charles left their mill behind in 1913, eventually selling the distressed property to the US Government for production of submachine guns. Savage Arms, a local gun manufacturer, took over in 1920, using the entire complex and building more additions, at the time becoming the third-largest arms manufacturer in America, behind Colt and Remington (each based in a massive factory in Connecticut), producing well over a million arms every year for the American and European market. After World War II, however, demand for guns dropped sharply for both civilian and military use, with the glut of surplus guns on the market, and Savage relocated to a smaller plant in the Berkshires.

In 1951, the factory found a new use as the headquarters of Sperry-UNIVAC, makers of one of the first viable business computers (this in the era when vacuum-tube-based electronics were still relevant, and a computer would occupy multiple rooms). By 1975, seven of the 10 largest technology and computing companies in the US were headquartered in upstate New York: IBM (Binghamton), Xerox (Rochester), UNIVAC (Utica), Sykes Datatronics (Rochester), NCR (Ithaca/Seneca Falls) and Coleco (Amsterdam). Unfortunately for the region, just a few years later California and Japan caught up, and as the computer industry left, so did the remains of the Sperry corporation, whose UNIVAC was hopelessly out of date, and VAX-32 well on its way out.

By 1985, optimistic real estate developers, bolstered by state funding intended to stop upstate blight, began repurposing the complex as an outlet mall, creating stores, artists’ studios and restaurants out of the former factory. Partially due to location, these businesses struggled, and their fortunes continued to decline with modern, car-friendly outlet malls opening in Waterloo and Watertown, and the retail phase sputtered to a halt through the late 90s. The developers desperately tried to hold on, attracting any and all businesses that would relocate into the increasingly decrepit building, with the last ones, a screen printing shop and a chiropractic pain clinic, closing in 2008.

Using still more state and county money, demolition started on (only) the Herkimer County portion of the building, an effort given up in futility by 2012, with Utica’s portion still fully intact and awaiting another developer who will probably never come to the rotting factory.

The entrance was, as you might expect for a building missing its other half, obvious and easy: most of the doors are unlocked, and failing that, you can just go in at the county line where the demolition ends. We chose the front door of the pain clinic, and found mostly gutted rooms reeking of rot and festooned with black mold. Not exactly the best start to a place, so we moved on quickly from there…

The mold stopped almost immediately, along with the drop ceilings and flimsy drywall, and we found ourselves in an old, nonspecific factory.

Bits and pieces of just about everything ended up in this basement. There were an exceptional proportion of Christmas decorations, screen printing equipment, and rotting little league sports jerseys.

Upstairs seemed to have changed very little since the textile mill or gun factory days, other than the machinery being removed, and maybe one or two more coats of paint in the last century. Judging by the institutional green, it’s been a while…

They must have had some leftovers from Adler?

And from Sykes… ever seen a rhomboidal doorway before?

Looking out at the county line, and the missing Herkimer portion of the building… as huge as it is, it used to be almost twice the size!

Headed toward the intact part of the building, we wandered into the former mall area. To help those who inevitably get lost in the place, the hallways were designated yellow, orange, and red routes, and decorated as such — the missing part of the building may have had the green and blue sections. Advertising signs like this for stores and restaurants within the same mall appeared at most of the hallway intersections.

There were also outer (service?) corridors, which are more exposed to the elements

This office was one of the last survivors in the building, with Google Analytics reports continuing into 2009.

Someone played paintball in the mall section. It needed a bit of color.

The Yellow Corridor lived up to its name…

The restaurant looking out over the green swampy miasma appears to have been the aforementioned Charlie’s. We didn’t get to check it out because scrappers were hauling heavy equipment out into a fleet of pickup trucks, and we wanted to keep our distance from that scene.

This space was either a storage unit, a thrift store, or a hoarder’s apartment before this place closed down. Or maybe some combination of these things.

And finally, a discount shoe store dumped its wares. Looks like mostly sneakers and basketball shoes from at least 20 years ago…

I’m sure there was more to see, but we had places to go and more north country wrecks to explore… I’d certainly like to come back here again though!