The drive between my home in Delaware and my parents’ house outside Washington DC has long been a familiar but monotonous two hours for me. The route along I-95 doesn’t have the greatest scenery, but one relatively nondescript location has caught my eye for several years.
There’s a farm in rural Cecil County west of Elkton, Maryland in the little unincorporated area known as Childs. Over the years, successive transportation projects have sliced through nearby, leaving the farm as a triangular island of land bordered by Blue Ball Road, the Philadelphia Subdivision of the CSX Railroad, and Interstate 95.
I don’t know what the farm is called, or whether it includes lands on the other side of the roads and railroads that have left it apparently postage stamp-sized. It isn’t attractive in a traditional sense, and there are a lot more photogenic farms elsewhere. But I love old buildings, with rusting metal and peeling paint. In the same way I appreciate such a farm, I enjoy photographing old abandoned mills and grain elevators. The bundled bales of hay attest that this is still a working farm.
I also like a challenge when it comes to photography. At highway speeds, the farm is only visible through roadside vegetation for a second or two, on the right hand side when traveling southbound. With consistently heavy traffic, I’m not overly eager to pull onto the shoulder of I-95 for a photograph. So, that left me trying to shoot a picture only when I’m traveling as a passenger.
Over the past couple years I’d tried maybe two or three times before without getting a shot that’s both sharp and unobstructed by roadside trees. On our last trip to Maryland on December 12, however, I finally got a shot I’m satisfied with. It’s sharp, with the old barn, presumably disused grain silo, and farmhouse visible and a large tree looming behind. Incidentally, RAW saved this shot, which was initially underexposed by an f-stop because I’d neglected to check the settings after my last shoot.
I think photos like this are important for another reason as well: recording history. It’s a process that has hit rapidly developing New Castle County, Delaware and may also affect neighboring rural counties in Maryland and Pennsylvania. As farms are divided up into housing subdivisions and factories close, history is lost as old buildings are demolished for safety, redevelopment, or simply because someone thinks they’re eyesores.
In December 2006, I photographed a sad old building off Paper Mill Road near the Shoppes at Louviers in Newark Delaware, a few months before it was demolished.
It was only after it was torn down that I learned from an article in the Newark Post, “A hidden relic” by W.F. Albensi, that the building was an old one-room schoolhouse, Milford Crossroads Public School #37. According to the article, it was most likely built prior to 1914 and last held classes during the 1945-46 school year.
As long as history is of little concern to people (or too cost prohibitive to save, as the schoolhouse doubtless was by 2006) I fear that soon photographs will be all that are left of much of our heritage.