Photo Adventure Journal

This is my Photo Blog detailing my adventures into the world. From exploring the waterfalls, mountains, and the beauty that is Western North Carolina, urban exploration, to anywhere my lens takes me across the country. Also visit my site The Digital Mirage

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Castle on the Hill - Jackson Sanatorium - 10-16-2009

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"Founded on rock. For suffering ones and weary. 
A home, secure from worldly care and strife. 
Nature, the healing mistress, tends its portals. 
Beckoning with gentle hand to paths of life."
-K. J. J.

After exploring the amazing ‘modern ruins’ of Grossinger’s Resort, Andy and I had Urban Exploration fever! So a few days later we made plans to go explore Jackson Sanatorium in Dansville NY. Here’s a short history of Jackson:

The Jackson Sanatorium was founded in 1854 by Nathaniel Bingham and was established 'for the scientific treatment of invalid, and for the recuperation and rest in cases of overwork and nervous exhaustion.' Jackson, 'The Castle on the Hill', was conducted as a Health Institution and not as a 'fashionable resort'. The surrounding wooded area, temperate climate, and sources of natural springs and mineral waters were what drew the founders of Jackson to that area. The natural mineral waters were prescribed for many kinds of chronic ailments. The main building at Jackson was made from brick and iron and was marketed as "Absolutely Fire-Proof. The cost of renting a room in the main building ranged from $17.50 - $35.00 per week for an individual. Jackson could accommodate only 300 guests.


The morning we left, Elmira had its first snow of the year. In town there were light patches of snow on the ground, and flurries floating through the air. As we passed through Corning and Painted Post, the snow picked up and the hills were covered like “Frosted Mini Wheat’s”. We had high hopes of being able to get some snow shots at the sanatorium, but those hopes were dashed as we descended into the Dansville valley where the snow faded, and everything was just wet.

We parked in a parking lot about a quarter mile from the sanatorium, and loaded up our gear. This time we remembered flashlights! We walked up the hill, ignored a no trespassing sign as we walked around a locked gate and followed a grassy path. On the way we passed several abandoned decaying houses that were slowly rotting and crumbling away. As we walked along a grass path the sanatorium came into view: a beautiful 5 story red brick building, perched majestically on the side of the hill looking down at the small town of Dansville NY.



Rain drops trickled out of the sky on to us and our gear as we setup outside the building and shot our exterior shots.


We marveled at the beautiful arched windows and wrought iron balconies that evenly dotted the outside of the building.


The building was 300 feet wide, but its depth was relatively shallow, maybe no more than 40 feet. On the short side of the building we noticed a massive scar; from the fourth floor down to the second, a large gash was cut into the brick. As wide as the windows and two stories tall, the wound opened up to show empty decaying rooms inside and provided an interesting glimpse into what a cross-section view of the building might look like if you sliced it in half.



After making good use of our wide angle lenses, we walked up to the front door. We walked up the wooden stairs and entered into the main reception hall of Jackson Sanatorium. On our right a set of stairs led downwards into the pitch black basement. Above us, an iron railed staircase began its circling upward journey, dizzying us as we followed it up to the fourth floor with our eyes.


In front of us a set of columns and arches presented themselves as remnants of what once was front desk or receiving area of the building.



We immediately noticed that whatever material the floors may have been made out of at one time, now consisted of many inches of packed dust and dirt that revealed old footprints of other fellow urban explorers.



As we slowly walked around the lobby we could already taste the gritty dusty dirt that had become airborne as we paced around. We donned our masks and broke out the flashlights. Slowly we walked down the main downstairs hall, peeking in closets and old debris filled rooms with the narrow beams of our lights. The right hall ended in what must have been a large den or community room. All the first floor windows were boarded up tight, only allowing slivers of dim overcast light from the outside to enter.

We headed up the stairs to the second floor:



Andy in action:

We began slowly walking down the main hall, looking in the old rooms. Many rooms were completely bare, some were in great condition, others looked like the floor or ceiling might collapse at any moment, and in others, the floor/ceiling actually HAD collapsed! We spent a good deal of time exploring the first three floors, shooting the beautiful decaying hallways, rooms, and objects that we found.










I had seen some pictures taken from the roof so I really wanted to find a way up there. Andy stayed below and shot some more scenes while I slowly ventured up the next three flights of ever-decaying stairs. The floors of the upper level seemed to progressively get less stable. I could feel soft areas all over the place and was very careful to move slowly and spread out my body weight as much as possible. As I arrived on the roof level I noticed the significant damage of the upper level rooms. Ceilings had collapsed, walls had fallen over, and there were signs of major fire damage all around.





I emerged on the wide open roof and took in the breath taking panoramic view of Dansville NY.



I was alone, 6 stories up on the roof of a crumbling building, and my heart was racing with excitement! After hours of shooting and exploring the abandoned hallways and rooms of Jackson, I stood on the roof feeling victorious as if I had conquered a massive giant in battle!

A large tower still stood on top of the roof:


After taking in the view I headed back down to Andy.

We returned to the first floor and explored the left side of the building. We found a very large, long room lined on both sides with pillars. This was the old dining room. Boarded up windows lined either wall allowing the smallest slivers of light to pass through into the room. We set up our cameras at the entrance to the room and just had some fun running around with our flashlights and 'light painting'.





After exploring Jackson for at over two hours, we were chilled to the bone and wheezing from the dust we had breathed in. We packed our things and headed out of the building. We walked back to our car but not before stopping to turn around, and admire once more the giant, looming ruins, of the Castle on the Hill.

Ariel view of Jackson Sanatorium:


To view more of my work and purchase prints, head over to The Digital Mirage.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Modern Ruins - Grossinger's Resort - 10-11-2009

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While making plans to visit my family in upstate NY this October, fellow photographer Andy Wheeler and I began concocting ideas for our ideal photo-adventure. Andy did lots of research and by the time I flew in to the Elmira airport he had a nice sized list of places we could go. One location however jumped off the page at both of us: Grossinger's Resort in the Catskill mountains. The history of Grossinger's is a long one, so here's the short version: “Grossinger's was founded by Asher Selig Grossinger who moved to the Catskills in the 1900's. The location grew and he turned ownership over to his daughter. The resort thrived for many years as a prime vacation spot for the rich. Grossinger's daughter died in 1972, but by this time the resort had grown to a "sprawling complex of 35 buildings on 1200 acres that served 150,000 guests a year. It had it's own airstrip and post office. But in the late 1970's and 1980's, resorts like Grossinger's... could no longer attract younger guests. Grossinger's closed in 1986, and only the golf course remains." (Quote courtesy of To us, the prospect of exploring the abandoned decaying ruins of a massive location such as this was too good to pass up.

My plane flew in on Saturday night, and first thing Sunday morning Andy and I headed out to Liberty NY to go explore the resort. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive from Elmira NY to Liberty, but we spent about 45 minutes driving back and forth across Liberty until we were able to track down the location. Not really sure about the legality of potentially trespassing on the land, we spent a few minutes driving around the surrounding areas trying to figure out the best place to stash our car and make a subtle sneaky entrance onto the property. We parked behind a large utility truck next to a warehouse on the back side of the still functioning golf course.

We unpacked our gear and followed the road to the back edge of the golf course. We headed towards the looming buildings in the distance as the grass and shrubs grew taller and denser. The first building we passed was a club house for the tennis courts. Peering through the shattered windows we could see trash and rubble all around. Old tennis ads from the 70's/80's still adorned the walls. We continued on down the hill towards the ever growing complex. Waist high grass, debris, and downed electrical wire covered the ground which was swampy in places.

The first large building we came to, part of the old hotel, was about 4 stories tall.


An open emergency exit revealed little to the naked eye but rubble in darkness. It was at this point that Andy realized that we forgot to pack flashlights. After deciding not to enter that particular part of the complex we continued around the outside of the building. About 50 yards away we came to another entrance that opened up into a large two story open room. Our best guess was that this area must have been a lobby for the banquet hall. Shattered ceiling tiles littered the floor, cracked and split, but undisturbed from the time when they had once fallen.


Other rubble was mixed into the piles of debris that we stepped through to get a good view of the room. Hundreds of old bowls and dining accessories from the kitchen lay strewn about.


We explored the immediate area without delving too far into the darkness.

We didn't spend too long there as we had seen some amazing pictures taken from a decaying indoor swimming pool, and we really wanted to find that location and explore it. Looking out from the door we entered through, we saw that the brush was extremely thick around the outside of the building. We chose to cut through a large room, crossing over to another door on the far side where we saw some daylight shining in. The room was massive, two stories tall, and about the size of a football field. As we crossed through the darkness towards the daylight emanating from the exit on the other side, we speculated that this must have been a ballroom, used for huge events and parties. The room was mostly free from debris and the floor was a solid concrete foundation.

We exited the building and made our way up a steep embankment, crossing a small paved road that led up to the golf course. Careful to not be seen, we jogged towards a small greenhouse farther up the hill. The small anteroom was strewn with trash. We poked our heads through the door into the greenhouse itself and viewed a beautiful scene of plants, vines, and weeds, growing out of control, up to the ceiling of the room.

An old phone and scattered papers lay strewn about the room.


After shooting the greenhouse we back tracked down the hill and came upon what seemed to be a loading dock area next to the old boiler room building.


A monstrous pile of junk and debris was heaped between the buildings here and as if beckoning for a photo-op, an old wooden chair sat out in the middle of the courtyard in front of the junk pile. You can tell we are hardcore because of the wicked cool font I chose for our names! There are SKULLS in it!

Walt and Andy

We were having a blast, but at this point we were really getting anxious to see the fabled indoor swimming pool. Not knowing exactly where it was we continued around the outskirts of the complex. Just as we rounded the corner we saw it! The Pool!!! Magnificent two story glass windows surrounded three fourths of the pool. We rushed to the main outdoor entrance only to find it fully blocked and boarded up. As we began walking around the outside of the building we noticed an emergency exit door on the far corner of the building. The only problem was, there were no stairs. The door opened onto a small ledge that ran the full length around the building; however the ledge was easily 10 feet high and less than a foot wide. With all of our camera gear and the lack of good sturdy climbing trees, this was not going to be an easy option. We opted to fully circle the building to see if we could locate any other access. There were no other simple ways to get in from the ground level that we could see. It was at this point that we realized that up to now, we had not seen or heard any animals of any kind. Then, as if taking from a Hitchcock movie, a murder of large crows began circling above us, cawing loudly, as if to warn us that this was their domain and we should be warned. As we pondered our next move we noticed a glass entry way leading into an adjoining building.


The glass entrance gave way to a large vacant room, with large 'trenches' running the full length of the room that revealed pipes lying in the bottoms.


We crossed some planks over the trenches into what at one point, was the bar and buffet area. A row of beautifully decaying green bar stools faced the wall of the room where the old bar would have been. The chairs were all still bolted in the floor and were textured with rust, mildew, and grime from years of neglect. Tattered red upholstery peeked from beneath the chairs offering a beautiful compliment to the vivid green vinyl of the chairs.


Comparison shot of what the bar area used to look like (different angle):

Compare 05

We walked back outside, pondering our dilemma of gaining access to the indoor pool. As we walked back around the pool building we passed under a second story hallway/catwalk that ran about 100 feet from the second story of the decaying hotel to the top level of the pool. This was going to be our only option. Nervously, we inspected the bottom of the raised hallway, we noted that it was made completely out of wood. Luckily for the most part it showed no signs of water damage save for one 5 by 10 foot segment that looked very rotted and decayed. We headed into the hotel building and climbed the stairs into the second floor. I poked my head in one of the hotel rooms on the second floor only to be smacked in the face by an overwhelming stench of mold and decay. I also noticed some graffiti which read "Jesus took LSD and thought he was ME"...Interesting...

A pair of steel swinging doors opened up into the raised wooden hallway which was littered with planks and boards which had fallen off the walls and ceiling.


We knew the decaying area was close to our end and we figured going one at a time would be a wise idea. Andy wishing I had not eaten those super-sized fries on the drive out, I timidly inched my way out into the hallway. Staying as close to the wall as possible I crept foot at a time...listening, and feeling. After I had made it about 10 feet, I put my foot down and felt it SINK as the floor flexed under my weight. Since I had already transferred my weight to that foot, I was committed, I screamed like a little girl (just kidding) leaped forward past the decaying area on to what I hoped was a sturdier part of the hallway. At this point, with my heart racing, and legs shaking, I was not about to stop moving, and I speed walked safely to the other end of the hallway. Andy was able to cross safely, now knowing the treacherous spots. Still, I am sure it was a little more than nerve racking for him to cross that same area.

We stepped through the doors at the end of the hallway and feasted our eyes on a truly magnificent scene. What we saw was the epitome of beauty in decay.


The massive indoor pool sat in the middle of the two story room surrounded by 20-30 feet of red and white checker board tiled floor, out of which grew lush moss, ferns, and grasses. Lounge chairs still adorned the green outskirts of the pool like broken Christmas ornaments on a tree hastily thrown out on the curb. From floor to ceiling, the still intact giant glass windows shone the mid day sun, which glowed off everything giving a warm nostalgic feel to the entire room.




Comparison shot of the pool:

Compare 02

Gigantic wooden beams ran up the walls and across the ceiling leading the eye to the rows and banks of lights that at one point lit up the room at night. From the ceiling hung beautiful art deco chandeliers straight out of the 70's. As we walked around the pool gazing at the decadent beauty that surrounded us, particularly the vegetation, we noticed that for the most part, the moss seemed to grow only on the red tiles. This made for a strange checkerboard effect, the likes of which we had never seen before!



As we shot the room from all different angles, we heard noises echoing through the building. What must have been parts of the building falling and breaking off on distant floors, occasionally echoed through cavernous room, giving the feeling that the building indeed was alive and aware of our presence. Water trickled down from the leaky roof spattering on the floor around us.



Before we left I could not resist getting a picture of myself sitting in the bottom of the pool!


We successfully crossed back over the decaying hallway and continued our circle around the outskirts of the complex.

We passed by another few large hotel buildings on the west side.


Another shot to compare:

Compare 06

As we neared the first building we entered on the way in we discovered the outdoor swimming pool on the north west side of the complex.



Outdoor pool comparison:

Compare 01

Inside the power box at the outdoor poolside bar I discovered that the only breaker labeled was the beer cooler! This must have been party central!


Andy led us down some stairs at the end of the pool and we discovered the pool's pump room below. We figured this was a good time to don our masks. We entered the room which was filled with decaying pool chairs stacked all around. Giant pipes, pumps, and tanks lined the far wall of the room.


Large industrial sized canisters sat on the floor in front of the tanks. Presumably at one point they held chlorine or other pool cleaning chemicals, but they had long since leaked out onto the floor, leaving a powdery snow-like substance which made us glad that we had masks.



We walked back up around the pool and headed towards the tennis courts and clubhouse. The office part of the clubhouse was utterly destroyed with papers and junk littering the floor, but the 'den' area was open with a few old couches and random junk spaced around.



An old pay phone hung on the wall next to the entrance.


We found an old panel that at one point controlled the lights and heat(?) on the tennis courts.


Stairs leading out of the clubhouse:


We headed up to the tennis courts and were witness to an amazing sight of birch trees growing up through cracks in the court. The interesting thing was that there was a straight line of trees growing directly across both courts where the tennis nets used to be!



We headed back to our car, thrilled and exhausted from an exciting afternoon photographing these amazing modern ruins.

While exploring and observing the decaying glory of what was once a beautiful thriving location, we could not help but feel that Grossinger's was still alive. While it was obviously in a state of decay, it was autumn here. It was past the point where its shiny facade glistened in the sunlight, but it had yet to arrive at a state of complete entropy and ruin. If the resort was a living being, it gave the impression that it was still waking up each morning, still putting on its makeup, still trying to look good for its guests, but all the while slowly falling apart. Around every corner we could still see and imagine the beauty that once was. We could envision guests strolling around walkways lined with gardens and flowers, we could see people lounging in deck chairs next to the pool and jumping off the diving board. Grossinger's physical beauty was slowly crumbling and dying, but its spirit was still very much alive.

This is an aerial map showing the path we took while exploring Grossinger's:

1000x SatelliteMapWALKTRACK with notes

View more of my work and purchase prints at The Digital Mirage

Map Provided By Andy Wheeler

Comparison Photographs provided by Joe Lehman

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Hendersonville, NC, United States
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