The Red Hook Grain Terminal

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The monumental grain terminal 

Mountainous silos, incredibly space-conscious, but creating space.

A random confusion amidst the chaos of loading and unloading corn ships, of railways and bridges, crane monsters with live gestures, hordes of silo cells in concrete, stone and glazed brick. Then suddenly a silo with administrative buildings, closed horizontal fronts against the stupendous verticals of fifty to a hundred cylinders, and all this in the sharp evening light.

I took photographs like mad. Everything else so far now seemed to have been shaped interim to my silo dreams.”

– Erich Mendelsohn, a German architect, upon visiting Buffalo’s grain terminals in 1924.

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The red hook grain terminal was built in 1922, and its mission was simple: help reinvigorate use of the New York State Canal System, and help New York City’s grain trade compete with places like Chicago and New Orleans. After 2.5 million dollars(adjusted for inflation, around $35 million today) and 16 months of labor, canal shipping was still on a steady decline, and it was clear that the terminal would end up a failed gamble. In the 1950’s, things went from bad to worse. The St. Lawrence Seaway allowed ships from the Great Lakes to reach the Atlantic, and local unions kept labor costs so high that it became uneconomical for companies to ship through the city. The end finally came in 1965, and the terminal has stood abandoned ever since.

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A machine, unused for a very long time

While the terminal never made back its initial investment, it did leave behind an architectural legacy. There was a long held rule in architecture that everything, even industrial buildings, had to be somewhat aesthetically pleasing. On old factories, you’ll see features like arched windows and ornate brickwork, at least some effort to include form in a functional structure. The grain terminal, however, disregarded the conventional idea of form completely. It was built entirely with function in mind. No element of this structure was made to please the eye.

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There is nothing conventionally beautiful about the terminal. It is entirely made from harsh, bare concrete.

However, many people found beauty in this new style of architecture. Architects like Mendelsohn saw the massive, geometric terminal as a testament to modernity: invoking feelings of grandeur, stoicism, and industrial might. Grain terminals were considered by some to be the new equivalent of the pyramids, huge, geometric, and monumental. Terminals like this one inspired the styles of modernism and brutalism, and their influence can be seen reaching into the modern era.

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A cathedral to industrial might

Grain Terminal is in no way an easy place to visit. The grounds are patrolled by security, and they supposedly catch people attempting to get in a few times a week. While the cops usually just issue warnings, jail time for those who get caught trespassing here does happen. If you go at low tide, be prepared to get wet. If you go at all, be prepared to get caught.

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It’s been a long time since this old ship went to sea

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A machine that once moved along rails on the floor

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Pipes, chains, and other fixtures on the ceiling

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For having been abandoned so long, the grain terminal is in good condition. There is some collapse though.

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The function of the chute has been long since forgotten

 

Shipwreck of the Bloxom

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This big red tugboat is probably the most iconic wreck in the graveyard

Old ships don’t get much respect after they’ve been deemed obsolete. No matter how faithful, how old, or how historic, almost every ship will eventually find itself sold for scrap and broken down. The Arthur Kill Shipwreck Graveyard is home to around 100 ships, some of historic significance, doomed to meet this fate. The Bloxom is one of them

The wreck of the Bloxom is probably the most intact and most visible from shore. She was built in West Virginia for the US Army in 1944, originally named the LT-653. After her military career, she was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad Co, where she worked until being sent here in the 1970’s. She was powered by a oil-fed steam engine, and was used for ocean towing.

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A rusty refrigerator aboard the Bloxom

Getting aboard the Bloxom was tough- i had to tie off my kayak and climb up a rotted hawser that was still dangling over the side. Holes have rusted into the deck in many places, with nothing but foul green water underneath. Sharp, rusty metal was everywhere. While i got out with only a few minor cuts, it could have been much worse.

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A crew member’s rack(bed) in one of the rooms: you can still see the uncomfortable looking spring mattress. The crew probably would have slept in shifts of 6 hours on, 6 hours off.

The Bloxom has separate quarters, originally designed to house a racially segregated crew.

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The tug’s galley, still filled with rusty equipment

Being in the scrapyard, I expected to find the ship totally gutted. I was pleasantly surprised to find a fair amount of furnishing still remaining on board. There were even some rusty old tools scattered around.

DSC_0320.JPG“Sir i think there’s minor flooding in the engine room”

Pretty much everything below the main deck is flooded. More is exposed at low tide, but i would strongly advise not walking anywhere that spends time submerged, as the rust is much worse.

DSC_0325.JPGOne of the huge stockless anchors resting on the deck

This is not where the anchor is supposed to be… I actually have no idea how it got up here.

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The bow

 

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The bridge seen from the bow

 

DSC_0319.jpgThe view from the bridge

Unlike almost all abandoned places, i found no trace of activity on the wreck: no graffiti, no footprints, no anything. I don’t know how long its been since someone stood on the bridge and looked out across the bow.

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The ship’s other anchor is still held in place

Although the Bloxom is in a scrapyard, she’s so rusty and full of holes that her scrap value is probably very low. Unless somebody decides to do something with her, she’ll sit there in the mud until she rusts away into nothing.

I would not recommend boarding the Bloxom. The floors are so weak and rusty that collapse is a very real threat.

 

 

S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse

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A large, open room filled with wooden support beams, top floor

The S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse was built in 1886 on the shores of Brooklyn’s vile Gowanus Canal. It stored grain and animal feed, both which were valuable commodities in a time when horses were used for everything from pulling the carriages of the elite and wealthy to plowing the fields of the farms still prevalent in the outer boroughs. The company’s fortunes were directly tied to grain,and when cars replaced horses on the city streets, the storehouse was forced to become a general warehouse, until it was finally abandoned sometime around the 1960’s.

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The very top of the factory. Those flimsy boards are the only things between an explorer and a 2 story fall.

S.W.Bowne, the storehouse’s owner, was not the standard rich person of his day. Instead of sitting in a comfortable office lavishing in his own wealth, he spent his time in the storehouse, doing manual labor alongside his workers. One day, while helping his workers carry lumber, his foot broke through the floor and was caught in a machine, which tore apart his leg. After the amputation that followed, Bowne was forced to sue for worker’s compensation, which was contested by his board of directors. He won, however, when the NY Appeals Court ruled that while Bowne was the owner of the company, he was also a working employee, and was therefor entitled to worker’s comp.

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Wooden beams and floors still stand strong after almost 150 years

While Red Hook is filled with abandoned warehouses, the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse is uniquely significant. Most abandoned industrial buildings, even ones older than this, are filled with modern equipment and have often been renovated or added to in more (relatively) recent times. This storehouse, however, looks pretty much the same as it did in the 1880’s, inside and out. Nothing has been added to it. The original wood floors were never done away with in favor of concrete. This old building may be the best look into industrial history you can still visit today.

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Before newfangled elevators were invented, pulleys like this were used to hoist heavy goods into the upper floors of factories and warehouses. This very obsolete piece of equipment still stands tall over the canal.

Wood floors are usually very unsafe for urban explorers. Wood floors that have not been maintained since the 1960’s have usually long since collapsed. However, bags of grain are very heavy, so the floors of the storehouse were built STRONG. In most places the wood floors still feel as solid as concrete. Time and the elements have created some weakness though, especially under the small collapse in the roof. On the top floor, you can still see two holes, one where an explorer fell through, and one where his friend fell through trying to help him. Watch your step, look out for water damage and stay safe.

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Signs in English, Italian and Yiddish can be found in the storehouse, giving a glimpse into who worked here long ago.
*Update: This is a no smoking sign written in Yiddish- thank you to Joseph Alexiou for the translation!

Due to ease of access, the storehouse has a lot of graffiti, a lot of which is beautiful and well done.

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Third floor, with pillars marked west and east. Notice how well supported the roof is.

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Factory door

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The first floor

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The storehouse from outside

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An industrial sunset

Next to the storehouse are two huge, empty warehouses. Getting in is easy, and there isn’t much inside, so the urban explorer would probably take little interest. However, they are filled with graffiti, so if that’s your thing stop by and check it out.

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The warehouses near the storehouse are huge but empty

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This one has an old boat out front for some reason

Pittsburg Plate Glass Factory

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Factory Floor

Most abandoned factories are associated with loss. Almost every one of them has a similar story: founded in the late 1800’s, profitable until the late 1900’s, and then shut down, leaving behind poverty and urban blight in the communities that once worked them. With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine that the complex of ruined industrial buildings between the Passaic River and a stretch of unused railroad track once belonged to a company that today makes more than one billion dollars annually.

DSC_0648A flooded ground floor in one of the buildings

The Pittsburgh Plate Glass company was founded in 1883, and became the first successful plate glass manufacturer in America. As cars and tall buildings grew more popular throughout the early 1900’s, the company expanded, buying new factories(this one included) and diversifying its products. It became one of the first American companies to expand overseas when it bought a plant in Belgium. In more modern times, the company is responsible for many things we see day to day, from the printing material used in passports to transition lenses.

DSC_0655Rusted Chemical Vats

The history of this particular factory is almost unknown, including when it opened, when it was abandoned, and what it made. My guess, from the number of vats, pipes, and the environmental investigation sign out front, is that it produced paint, varnish, or some other chemical product.

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I have no idea what these things did

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The inside stairs of the factory are falling apart. Use extreme caution, or better yet, the still intact fire escape outside.

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Most of the floors look something like this

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The roofs of the various buildings are easily accessible and provide a nice view of Newark’s skyline.

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Rusty ladders are often not intact enough to climb, but the ones here were still solid

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Pipes and the skyline

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Will the modern PPG Industries step up to tear this place down? I don’t really think so.

Maas & Waldstein Company Chemical Factory

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“ATTENTION!! THIS CONTAINER HAZARDOUS WHEN EMPTY. Since emptied container contains product residue (vapor or liquid), all labeled hazard precautions must be observed.”

Urban exploration, in general, is much better in the winter than in the summer. Truly abandoned places get overgrown fast, making it harder to move(and almost impossible to do so quietly). Your respirator gets sweaty and uncomfortable, exposed skin gets scratched up, and the heat generally makes things less enjoyable. I faced all these problems at the old Mass and Waldstein Company’s chemical factory, but by far the worst part were the relentless mosquitoes coming from the stagnant, muddy puddles i had to slog through on the way to the interior of the area. Please, if you go here in the warmer months, take some bug spray. Or just wait until winter.

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Inside the chemical factory, with huge overturned chemical vats seen on the right side

The Maas and Waldstein Company’s factory was founded in 1876 near the shores of New Jersey’s disgusting Passaic River. Over the years it grew, adding on new buildings and producing everything from soda flavoring to explosives used by the WWI French Army. It was abandoned sometime around the 90’s.

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Despite being abandoned fairly recently, the factory is in terrible condition.

The Maas and Waldstein Company Factory has a grim side to its long history. In 1916, workers went on strike for better hours(they only wanted to work 10 hours a day, how lazy is that?) and better pay(they wanted a whole 30 cents per hour!). The company did not listen to their complaints and hired new workers, causing many to lose their jobs. One of the company’s most exploitative ways to get new workers was to send recruiters down south to try and sign on as many poor blacks as possible. To increase the numbers of workers they brought in, recruiters would describe the lynchings of the south in gory detail in attempt to scare blacks to move north and work. They advertised that “To die from the bite of frost is far more glorious than at the hands of the mob.” Blacks came seeking opportunity, but found poor wages, long hours, and dangerous work. The factory had multiple fires and explosions during its history, some so large that people in the area felt their houses shake.

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Chemical vats

Today, the Maas and Waldstein Company Factory’s many buildings are in very poor condition. If you’re interested in exploring here, try to go soon. I have a feeling it won’t be around much longer.

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“NO SMOKING”

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Evil looking black ooze

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Factory room

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Spray paint cans on an old shelf 

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A can of kerosene, probably used by arsonists

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Total chaos

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Pretty standard abandoned factory sights

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The standard red brick smokestack

Colt Gun Mill/Allied Textile Printers

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“Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal”

Long before the Colt Revolver would become one of the most iconic American guns, Samuel Colt opened up a small factory in in the town of Paterson, NJ. Here, from 1836 to 1841, he would produce the very first Colt Revolvers, as well as various muskets and rifles. Many of the guns produced here would be sold to western settlers out on the frontier, and some probably even saw service in the Civil War. After 1841 and the closing of the gun mill, this site’s history becomes far more complicated, hosting a multitude of other industries, including a silk mill, cotton manufacturer, and dye works. The area finally died in the 1980’s, ending around 150 years of service. Today, all of the different mills and factories sit jumbled together in an overgrown and chaotic landscape.

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I believe this is the original gun mill from the 1830’s

Exploring this area is tough, as you are almost always climbing over collapsed buildings and through thick plant growthThe buildings here are also in terrible condition, some of them so bad that you can’t even go inside.

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Falling apart

With great care to avoid collapse, I entered this building.

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The inside isn’t in very good condition either…

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A stairway

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Upper Floor

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Nature has begun to reclaim the various factories

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A wall in the woods

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Darkness

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Another Factory on this site 

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The inside of that factory

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Chemical tanks inside another building

The Oil and Gas Building

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Since the later 1800’s, the prosperity of the city of New Orleans had lagged far behind other major American ports. After WWII however, the city experienced a boom, and rose back to the status of a major center of American money-making. Being a port near the oil rich Gulf of Mexico, many oil companies set up headquarters in the city’s downtown. In 1959, the Oil and Gas Building was constructed, with the intention of having different floors bought up by different companies.

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The lobby

The Oil and Gas Building still has its power on, even though it has been abandoned for a number of years now. Most lights are still lit up and you may even be able to feel an air conditioner/circulation system. Despite the benefits, like making a flashlight much less necessary, exposed live wires are some of the most dangerous things to encounter as an explorer, and i suspect there are many in here.

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A staircase still illuminated by the building’s power

The second floor seemed very utilitarian, with low ceilings, pipes and vents. Most of the doors were locked, the ones that weren’t seemed to be for storage. At the end of the second floor, a metal gate with a big lock stopped my progress into the rest of the building.

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Floor 2

Time to get out! The access point was very public, making getting in and out a risky process.

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Creepy hallway

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A busted exit sign still glows red

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The modern looking facade, uncharacteristic of abandoned buildings