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

Sedgwick Machine Works

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“The profit of any sale is of less importance than the opportunity the transaction affords to make of the purchaser a permanent customer and friend.” -Motto of the Sedgwick Machine Works

The Sedgwick Machine Works company’s story starts with its founding as an ironworks and furnace in Massachusetts in 1643, centuries before the idea of a factory even existed. Eventually, the company moved its headquarters to New York City, and almost 300 years later, in 1893, it built a modern factory upstate on the banks of the Hudson River. At this point, the Sedgwick Machine Works mainly produces elevators and dumbwaiters, which grow in demand as cities get larger and buildings get taller. The company had many notable customers, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used a Sedgwick dumbwaiter to get from floor to floor in his house after getting polio, and the Japanese Royalty, who had two Sedgwick dumbwaiters installed in the Palace of the Crown Prince of Japan. Sedgwick products could also be found in famous buildings like the Empire State Building and the Hotel Astor.

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The Testing Tower of the Sedgwick Machine Works

The most clearly visible part of the factory is a tall, thin tower, still bearing the Sedgwick name in worn paint. The tower was used as a place to test the elevators and dumbwaiters that the company was famous for. Although most of the tower’s entrances we’re boarded up, some boards had fallen away, and i managed to climb through. It is a long and dangerous way to the top of the tower, climbing from floor to floor up flights of wooden stairs that seem to get more and more brittle the farther up you go. Eventually, i reached the top floor.

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Long way to fall! Looking down from the top floor of the elevator testing tower.

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One of the middle floors of the testing tower.

Climbing down from the tower, I proceeded into the warehouse space. The main factory, once between the tower and the warehouses, was demolished in 2005.

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A warehouse interior.

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Another dark warehouse. Piles of insulation and chemicals litter the floors.

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Another Warehouse floor, showing insulation and chemicals.

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The warehouses and offices, from the tower.

The Sedgwick Machine Works is a relatively dangerous place to explore. The only way to the top of the tower is brittle wooden stairs and floors, and the warehouses are filled with dangerous chemicals. Please wear a respirator and watch your step.

Crab Island Fish Factory

Most abandoned factories are found at the ends of dirty old streets, often next to foul urban waterways or unused railroad yards. The Crab Island Fish Factory is an exception. It sits on its own island in New Jersey’s Great Bay, the only stain on a landscape that seems remote and almost untouched by humans. The factory was built in the 1800’s to turn an inedible type of fish called a bunker, or a menhaden, into an assortment of products, such as fish oil, fertilizer, and pet food. Locally, the factory was known as “the stink house”, due to the awful smell it would emit when it was in operation. The factory brought fishing in the area to an industrial scale. Bunker/menhaden travel in huge schools, which would be spotted from above by airplanes. The planes would then direct boats to surround the school with nets, catching thousands of fish with very little time and effort. Eventually, the factory’s efficiency led to its own downfall, as it dragged the once enormous bunker/menhaden population lower and lower, until there simply weren’t enough fish left to catch and still make a profit. It also had to ship product to the railroads, which were all a great distance from its remote island. After failing in its original purpose, and overusing the resource that it had thrived on, the factory still clung on to life by composting garbage from nearby Atlantic City. In the 1970’s, the factory’s atrocities towards nature ended when it became a part of the Green Acres program. Today, the factory has been reclaimed by nature, it’s warehouses are home to seabirds and its piers (ironically) shelter huge schools of small fish.

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The Crab Island Fish Factory from the kayak launch

Exploring the factory would have been fun enough, but i decided to go one step further and spend the night there. After loading very basic supplies into the kayak, I made the 1 mile journey through the marsh and across the channel to the factory’s island. Upon reaching the island, my little group dragged its kayaks into the most liveable warehouse and set up a small campsite of sleeping bags, backpacks, and lanterns. The sun was setting, but we set out to explore the island before dark.

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This is the warehouse we chose to call home for a night

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Huge machine pieces, my guess is they were for grinding up fish.

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A doorway into another warehouse

The island has many buildings and structures, all in various states of disrepair. Some buildings were just piles of twisted metal frames and pipes, which had succumb to the winds and storms off the ocean. Even the warehouse i was staying in was only half intact, with half of the roof caved in and collapsed.

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The skeletal frame of a roof over the factory
The Atlantic City skyline was visible from right in front of the warehouse i was staying in, giving a small taste of humanity to a remote and forgotten place.

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This building was far away from the main factory. I’m not sure what purpose it served.

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A large water tower in the sunset.

Sleeping in the factory was creepy to say the least. Dripping water falling on sheet metal sounded like footsteps. Rusty metal creaked and moaned. At around 4am there was an ear shattering mechanical roar, far louder than any of the planes or boats that passed by. I don’t know and don’t want to know where it came from.

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This was my view as the night fell.

When the sun came up and made the place a whole lot less creepy, i finally got some sleep. After waking up and taking a few more photos, it was back into the kayaks to sail for home.

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My warehouse in the morning.

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Collapse and decay.

The Crab Island Fish Factory is a tough place to get to (you need a boat), but if you have the chance to go, i suggest you do it soon, as this place wont be around much longer. Also, pack bug spray. You’ll need it.

Thanks for the read!

Overbrook Asylum

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In the late 1800’s, progressive reformers began to question the long standing tradition of treating the mentally ill like prisoners. They began to look at mental illness as just that: an illness, that needed to be treated and cured. In 1896, a new asylum was founded in Essex County, New Jersey. In its early years, the asylum housed thousands of inmates, but as new drugs were invented, it slowly became oversized and obsolete. The complex’s path to abandonment happened slowly, as more and more of it’s buildings became unnecessary and were abandoned. Eventually the entire asylum, which was much more like a small town, was deserted. For better or for worse, its many years of service are almost forgotten. The Essex County sheriffs department has made quite a few claims about security around the asylum, but i was not hassled as i walked into the compound and jumped through a window. The asylum’s condition is varied from place to place.

DSC_0005   Long hallways interrupted by small community rooms characterize the asylum.

Overbrook Asylum was founded by people with good intentions, but like every other asylum in the turn of the century, its methods of treatment were often cruel and torturous. “Treatments” such as lobotomies, submerging a patient in ice cold water, and even electroshock therapy were practiced in asylums across the US. In one particularly cold winter, 24 patients died of exposure when heat systems broke down. Despite the many horrors that Overbrook hosted, it probably helped rehabilitate many people during its later years when treatments were more based in science. Has Overbrook redeemed itself for the atrocities committed to the mentally ill? You can decide.

DSC_0025 “Syringes/sharps”

I could still tell what many of the rooms and areas in the asylum were used for back in the day, thanks to the countless papers and signs. In one room, i found a folder containing a file for a former taxi cab driver. His paper read
“Date Discharged: May 11 1952.”
“How Discharged: Died”

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The Cafeteria

Overbrook Asylum has now been condemned to demolition. Its long history of both helping and hurting patients in need finally comes to an end, after more than 100 years.

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Much of the asylum is dark and ominous. No wonder there are countless ghost stories about this place

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Never stop exploring!

Thanks for the read!