Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why some of us appreciate abandoned buildings February 25, 2011


Harriet Traxler photographed this abandoned building along U.S. Highway 14 near Waseca several years ago. She's a hobbyist photographer specializing in nature and rural photography. This photo placed in a photo contest Harriet entered. "It is one of my favorites because of what it doesn't tell you," Harriet says.

SOMETIMES I’M SURPRISED by readers’ reactions to my posts. Usually, the stories and photos I least expect will interest readers, do.

Take my post on abandoned buildings. Last fall, I photographed a dilapidated building in the middle of nowhere along a gravel road near Kasota. I can’t give you the exact location because I don’t know quite where I was on that autumn day.

When I published that photo and wrote about my fascination with abandoned buildings in rural landscapes earlier this week, readers from Oregon, Arkansas and Minnesota responded. Seems I’m not alone in my appreciation of abandoned buildings and the history, memories and stories they hold.

Harriet Traxler, a hobbyist photographer from rural Belle Plaine and the publisher of a book series featuring photos of Sibley County, Minnesota, barns, emailed two photos of abandoned buildings. She is graciously allowing me to share her images and thoughts.

“I, too, am drawn to photographing old, abandoned buildings and then find myself staring at the pictures and trying to imagine who the people were that built and lived in these homes or worked in these barns that now stand empty,” Harriet says. “And the memories of the hard work, the laughter, the troubles; everything that went towards making it a home or farm are now gone forever.

Oftentimes when I would be out photographing the barns in Sibley County or even on a cross country trip, I would see a windmill or a silo or a small grove of trees standing alone in the middle of a field and wonder about the farm that stood there too.

What happened to the family that lived there once not too long ago? Were they happy? Were there children who played and worked alongside their family? Was there a tragedy that occurred that drove the family from the farm?

We often romanticize farm life, but that life was one of the hardest to live. If it was a dairy farm, like most were in rural Minnesota, then it was long days, seven days a week, and children after growing up on this type of farm, learning good work ethics, seldom wanted to spend the rest of their lives doing the work their parents had done for years and years. When they left the farms for those good ‘city jobs,’ that is when farm life began to disappear and those abandoned buildings really began to appear.”

I COULDN’T HAVE said it any better, Harriet. I am one of those kids who left the (dairy) farm.

Harriet, too, grew up on a farm, in Sibley County, on her uncle’s place, that looks nothing like the home of her youth.


The old granary on the farm where Harriet grew up.

“All that remains standing is this old granary that also always smelled of rats and dusty bins of oats,” Harriet says. “It had a lean-to attached to it that was used as a garage for my uncle’s car. I remember every inch of that farm because I loved to explore every inch of it.

I didn’t have to work nearly as hard on that farm as most children had to on the farms they grew up on so maybe that is why I loved it so much.

The freedom to be me was always there and I have often gone back to my ‘roots’ and those memories…the better memories seem to always remain pushing other memories that were not so much fun to the far corners of the mind.”

© Text copyright 2011 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

© Photo copyright by Harriet Traxler


5 Responses to “Why some of us appreciate abandoned buildings”

  1. Sarah Elizabeth Says:

    I love old, abandoned buildings. And here, in my hometown, there are plenty of them. All through Toano and Lanexa and New Kent County. Even old buildings in general, like the church in which George and Martha Washington were married, fascinate me (which is still currently up and running). New Kent is “the home of the First Lady,” the sign will tell you when you enter my neck of the woods. A good friend of mine was buried outside of it, and just to be inside the old brick church during his funeral was an experience.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sarah, thanks for checking in from Virgina. My appreciation for old buildings extends, too, beyond abandoned buildings. I especially value old country churches and barns.

      Readers, I would encourage you to check out Sarah’s blog. She has some fantastic images posted. If you live in a cold and snowy place like I do, you’ll especially enjoy her “spring fever” post.

  2. Bernie Says:

    Those are fun shots. I can never get enough of pictures like that.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Harriet is a gifted photographer and I’m glad she’s allowed me to share her images on Minnesota Prairie Roots several times. She’ll have more photos in the spring issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

  3. […] not the only one intrigued with these: Minnesota Prairie Roots’ Audrey has also taken a shine to the beauty of the sometimes underappreciated or unnoticed buildings all around […]

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