Category Archives: Industry

Melcenia Fields; the Hermit of Beury

When Melcenia Fields failed to retrieve her groceries, railroad workers knew something was wrong. Fields, inexplicably to all but herself, lived in the ruins of Beury, WV, one of dozens of company towns in the New River Gorge that residents completely abandoned when the adjacent coal seams were mined out. Fields lived there alone for … Continue reading

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R/V Arctic Discoverer; The Sad Remnants of a Golden Find

The listing and rusted vessel is what you’d expect to see at a scrapyard. What’s not readily apparent, though, is that beneath the cracked paint and broken windows lies an epic tale of disaster and riches, disappearance and discovery, greed and justice. And the story is far from over. The Research Vessel Arctic Discoverer was … Continue reading

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Buffalo Springs; The Nectar of Eden

To hear William Byrd II tell it, these springs made wet dreams, allowing his exploring party’s “appetites to mend, our slumbers to sweeten, the stream of life to run cool and peaceably in veins, and if ever we dreamt of women, they were kind.” The water, Byrd said, was “what Adam drank in Paradise.” What … Continue reading

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The Bethlehem Steel Plant; A Phoenix in Pennsylvania

Eight out of every ten New York City skyscrapers originated here, not to mention every bridge and tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. Wartime product was even grander: 1,127 World War II-era ships, as well as every 16-inch gun and 40% of American artillery shells used during both global wars. Despite helping to forge the … Continue reading

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Iron Furnaces in a National Forest; Deceptively Beautiful Ruins

Virginia’s iron industry was neither the first nor the largest in early America–those distinctions belong to Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But the demand for day-to-day items such as nails and barrel staves and, later, armaments for the Confederacy, meant that some hundred-plus stone furnaces once graced the Old Dominion. Most are long gone, their cut stone … Continue reading

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Chapman’s Mill and the Traces of Energy’s Past

How many high-speed commuters drive by the towering shell of Chapman’s Mill—or any old mill, for that matter—and connect the crumbling ruins to the energy that allows them to zoom past? Not many, I’d wager. But as calls mount to make renewable sources a larger portion of our voracious energy diets, noble old ruins such … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 8 Comments

Lost Drive-In Theaters in Maryland; The Vanished Pastime of a Generation

There’s a good chance that if you’re better than 40 years old, you have a vivid recollection or two from a drive-in movie theater. After all, more than 4,000 of them once peppered the American landscape. For Bob Mondello, National Public Radio’s film critic, the most potent memories are of the zany ploys he used … Continue reading

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Matildaville; A Town That Couldn’t Catch a Break

Go big or go home, right? That’s no doubt what Henry Lee III was thinking when he signed a 900-year lease on land near the Potomac River’s Great Falls. In the 1790s, old Light-Horse Harry had high hopes for the up-and-coming Matildaville, which had been named in honor of his late cousin-turned-first wife. He bought … Continue reading

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Port Tobacco and the Silt that Suffocated Chesapeake Communities

The fields that line the Chesapeake Bay’s back roads make for pretty scenery. Full of fruit in summer, fallow in winter, the farmland has that rustic, rural charm that attracts so many people to the countryside. For all its appeal, though, that landscape comes at a steep price. It smothered the life out of Port … Continue reading

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The Forgotten Mass Grave at Harpers Ferry; A Strange Trip for Eight Raiders

Three feet down, the men struck something: a pine box. Waterlogged and rotting, yes, but a pine box nonetheless–exactly what they’d come looking for. They pried off the lid. A man’s spine was stuck to it. They closed the coffin, refilled the hole, placed a couple crude headstones, knowing all the while there’d soon be … Continue reading

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The Goose Creek Canal; Craftsmanship that Outlived Failure

Tucked in the snaking suburban streets of Loudoun County, Virginia are the remnants of a construction project gone wrong. This isn’t some formerly up-and-coming neighborhood that fell victim to the housing bust. This failure is a hundred-fifty years old. Look deep into the heart of these ruins, though, and you can sense the pulse of … Continue reading

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The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike; A Road to Nowhere

In the mountains of southern Pennsylvania, there’s a 13-mile stretch of highway where the rules of the road don’t apply. You can change lanes without signaling. Heck, you can do it without even looking. Of course, you won’t be in an automobile, and neither will anyone else, because all will be on the Abandoned Pennsylvania … Continue reading

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Poplar Grove; Imagine There’s No Tide Mill

No telling what John Lennon thought when he hopped out of his Rolls Royce at Poplar Grove and saw the tide mill off in the distance. Perhaps the structure’s rustic charm inspired some nascent song lyrics or signaled the peace of mind Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono would invariably find at their country home. … Continue reading

Posted in Earthworks, Food, Ghost towns, Industry | 23 Comments

Valentine’s Meat Juice; An Odd Tonic Trusted the World Over

There’s nothing like those tried-and-true remedies when life throws an ailment your way: plenty of rest; chicken noodle soup; a tonic of meat juice in your rear end. Okay, maybe those first two have survived the ages, but that last one, believe it or not, was a recommended application of a product that was all … Continue reading

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Mockhorn Island and the Ruins of a Concrete Effort

I wasn’t sure what I’d find on Mockhorn Island. I knew there was a chance there would be odd artifacts since Mockhorn had once been the secluded retreat of the Cushman family, heirs to a New York bakery fortune, and later Yale University football coaching legend-turned-businessman T.A.D. Jones. Nevertheless, what greeted me when I first … Continue reading

Posted in Bay Islands, Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 20 Comments

Steamboat Wharves; The Vanished Lifeblood of Rural Communities

There were once hundreds of them, just about any spot a country road dead ended at tidewater. They were the lifeblood of communities, a portal to the world beyond. Folks once planned their days, their seasons around them. But now the rotten pilings that descend into murky water do little service to the long-lost importance … Continue reading

Posted in Bay Islands, Boat Graveyards, Ghost towns, Industry | 3 Comments

Capeville’s Train Depot; Passing Time on the Passing of an Era

When photographer Meredith West and I arrived at the train depot in Capeville on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, an unexpected visitor had gotten there ahead of us. Meredith and I were on assignment for another article and made the brief detour to get a firsthand look at the ramshackle building I had driven by a hundred … Continue reading

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The New River Gorge; A Natural Wonder, Take Two

Every October, tens of thousands of spectators show up in Fayetteville, West Virginia to watch several hundred brave souls leap from the 876-foot-high New River Gorge Bridge. Just as stunning as the parachutists’ courage on Bridge Day, however, is the scenery at the gorge. It’s breathtaking on the scale of the Grand Canyon. Lush forests line the … Continue reading

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Centralia, Pennsylvania; A Time Capsule Left Behind

Centralia, Pennsylvania is readying for its swan song. The cursed borough’s dramatic saga is coming to a close and media giants no longer come calling as they once did. But time’s approaching for an event that’ll be a measure of how deep a meaning the lost town has in the hearts of the people forced … Continue reading

Posted in Cemeteries, Ghost towns, Industry, Mines | 46 Comments

The James River Reserve Fleet; The Last of an Armada that Served the World

Used to be you had no problem seeing the Ghost Fleet. After all, there were 850 idle ships lashed together in neat rows of two dozen or more stretching five miles. Today, though, that vast armada is a dying flame. There are fewer than twenty vessels, and the James River’s role as a vault for … Continue reading

Posted in Boat Graveyards, Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 14 Comments