Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Land of Enchantment

From Dave Brigham:

I lived here 29 years ago. No, I wasn't homeless, although there was a Salvation Army shelter just up the street all those years ago. And no, I wasn't squatting in a tent on the property, at 314 Broadway SE in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was a small house, with a few attached apartments, here three decades ago. I lived there with friends for three months, following a three-week road trip.

I've been writing a memoir covering the trip and my time spent in the Land of Enchantment. I decided a while back I would write the last chapter only after returning to the city. I tried to convince my wife and kids to take a family vacation in New Mexico, but they wouldn't go for it. Then I realized that the better idea was to hang out in Albuquerque with the guys who I traveled and lived with in 1988.

So in early May my college buddy Pete and I flew out of Boston and met our fellow road-tripper, my high school friend and Seattle resident Andy, in the Duke City. Primary on my agenda for our quick two-day visit was to check out a few old haunts. That's what this post is about. I will also write two other posts, one featuring shots I took on an early-morning walk through downtown Albuquerque, the other, photos of Native American and Spanish ruins in the desert north of the city.

I like the look of the Broadway Market Building, which was just a few blocks from our house. I don't have any idea if there was a market in this building 29 years ago. We never shopped at markets or grocery stores back then; we ate out once in a while, or bought ramen noodles, soup, bread, mayo, tuna, cereal and beer at places like the Circle K or 7-Eleven. We also bought more than our share of chili-and-cheese hot dogs at the latter joint. The building was converted to apartments at some point.

One place we ate is the Frontier Restaurant, an institution for students at the University of New Mexico. Located on Central Avenue (aka Route 66), the restaurant served as a hangout for Pete and me, as well as another guy on our trip, John. Andy left our road trip, which started in New England, part way through in order to return to Connecticut for a family party. He joined us in Albuquerque after we'd already been there for at least a month.

I have a thing for clever hair salon names, which started when I was living in Albuquerque. On the 1.5-mile walk from our rental house to the Frontier, I passed a place called Hairforce One, which to this day is my favorite salon name. I didn't see it on my return trip, but Hair We Are is a pretty good name, and I just love the colors and the artwork on their shop.

We didn't have a lot of money when we lived in the Duke City, but luckily drinks and cover charges were pretty low, so we managed to get out with some regularity to see local and national bands. We spent plenty of nights at the Fat Chance Saloon, which no longer exists. We asked the owner of a bar on Central Ave. where we were tipping a pint, "Where was the Fat Chance?" He told us it was in the space where Brickyard Pizza is now, so we popped in for a quick look.

There was a much closer bar that we also visited on occasion. El Madrid (or, as we gringoes called it, The El Madrid), was a short walk from our house, across a bridge over some railroad tracks. We drank cheap beer out of mismatched mugs -- Black Label beer, Mason jars, cartoon characters -- and watched local bands and performance artists.

(Pete in the doorway of El Madrid.)

The place has obviously been shuttered for a while. I was saddened but not completely shocked to see that the awesome Elvis mural on the outside of the bar has been defaced. That's just tragic. It was painted by Kenneth Wolverton.

Here's a photo of the full mural -- on each side of the front door, and above as well -- in all its glory.

I want this sign and light from outside El Madrid. Now, look in the background of this photo, to the right of the "BAR" sign. It's a turret.

And here's that turret from the front.

Built in 2006, this mansion belonged to the late local jewelry and antique seller Gertrude Zachary. Her store is located next to the house, in a neighborhood that various publications I found online refer to as "skid row," "a battlefield of failed homes [and] empty parking lots" and "a barren industrial neighborhood." Those terms may still apply somewhat, but when we walked through the 'hood we spied a brew pub, an artists' collective called Sanitary Tortilla Factory, several funky new apartment buildings and a Fast Signs franchise.

I'm not sure why this poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King was plastered on this building, but I like it.

Just two blocks from the mansion and antique/jewelry store, you get a sense of why folks refer to this area as skid row. The building above until recently was the Albuquerque Rescue Mission. The mission changed its name to Steelbridge and houses nearly 100 men and women on a daily basis and offers "faith-based" programs. I spied at least one building with the Steelbridge name on it, and saw a handful of apparently homeless men lolling about nearby.

After walking through some of our old neighborhood in the midday sun, we drove up Central Ave. to the Route 66 Diner, where Pete worked when we lived there.

Pete had the Pile Up, a "pile of pan fried potatoes, chopped bacon, chopped green chile, two eggs any style, cheddar cheese & red or green chile sauce on top," per the restaurant's menu. I had the 66 Burger, topped with New Mexico Green Chile. Andy had 66 Chicken Fried Steak. They were all terrific.

The next installment in this mini-series will focus on photos I took early one morning in the downtown Albuquerque area.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Anniversary Post #6: My Favorites from 2015

From Dave Brigham:

Welcome to the sixth installment in a series celebrating the 7th anniversary of the blog (for links to the prior five installments, see the bottom of this post). This post covers 2015.

I need to mention that Joe Viger has contributed some amazing photos and fantastic write-ups over the years, but I'll be linking to very few of them in this series. Why? Because Joe -- an amazing photographer who has served as a mentor of sorts to me in that regard, and a great friend I've known for nearly 30 years -- has changed the security settings on his Flickr account so that many of his photos that have run on this blog show up as broken links now. I will instead direct you to his wonderful online portfolio.

I take pride in this blog, as I'm sure you can imagine. I love exploring, taking photos, doing research and writing posts, as well as editing the work of others. One of the trickier elements of running this blog is writing headlines. I first learned this art during college, when I worked as news editor for my school paper. A good headline should be clear and concise and give the reader a general idea of the story. I follow those rules most of the time, but I also lean on my love of music and a good joke whenever possible.

Such was the case from the first highlighted story of 2015. "Maryland Mansion", from January 19, 2015, is the one and only story submitted by my brother, Steve Brigham. I hope I don't need to tell you the music joke that I made with that headline. Anyway, the post features some cool photos of a long-abandoned home near where my brother lives in the Old Line State.

(The pool of the abandoned Maryland mansion. Photo by Steve Brigham.)

"The Price of Gas" from February 7, 2015, is on this list for three reasons: it represents the first (and so far, only) use of a Google Maps capture on the blog; through online research I learned about the history of the Waltham Gas Light Company in this area; and my speculation in the post that improvements in the surrounding area seemed to be evidence that the lot in question would soon be developed has turned out to be true.

Just one week later, on February 14, 2015, in "Crumpled Paper Company," Heidi Waugaman-Page shared some amazing photos she took inside an old paper mill in Bellows Falls, Vermont.

(On the inside, looking out of the Robertson Paper Company. Photo by Heidi Waugaman-Page.)

Any time we can showcase states outside of the Northeast, I'm happy. So on March 9, 2015, when Kristen Smith shared some shots of Idaho and Wyoming in "Chewed Up, Spit Out," I was ecstatic. The backdrops for these photos are simply stunning.

The next post in March also took readers out of the Northeast. On March 17, 2015, in "Take Me Down to Panama City," I wrote about and shared photos from my family vacation in Panama City, Florida. I got up early a few mornings and cruised around taking photos of abandoned bars, motels and amusement parks. It was a lot of fun.

(Shuttered motel in Panama City Beach, Florida.)

On June 30, 2015, Mick Melvin posted about the former headquarters of the Colt firearms company in Hartford, Connecticut, in "Hartford Arming for New National Park."

(Former Colt armory headquarters. Photo by Mick Melvin.)

"Cavalier Attitude About Motels" from July 26, 2015, represents my favorite kind of post: the successful "find" after an aimless and frustrating drive.

The Internet is this blog's best friend. It's a rare case when I can't find at least a little bit of information about a small conservation area, long-abandoned building or repurposed mill complex. In "Bigelow's Little Office," from September 5, 2015, I was able to distinguish between two small former law offices in Weston, Massachusetts.

(The former Alpheus Bigelow, Jr., House, Weston, Mass.)

I love Mick Melvin's "Is That Paul Bunyan?" from October 16, 2015, because he found a true roadside American icon: the muffler man.

November 30, 2015's, "Walking Dead Tracks" reminds me of my childhood, when I spent countless hours meandering along the rarely used railbed in my hometown.

I encourage contributors to the blog to interpret "the backside" any way they wish, and to simply send me photos if they don't want to write any words. For the most part I like to conduct research and write a story to go with my pictures. Sometimes, however, I just let the photos do the talking. Such was the case with my December 9, 2015, post, "Scenes From An Old Shoe Town," about Hudson, Mass.

The final post of the year, from December 29, 2015, was the result of my slamming on the brakes and doubling back. "Gravity Can Lift You Up" features a cool old building with an interesting story.

Here are the links to the previous five installments of this series:

"Anniversary Post #5: My Favorites from 2014"

"Anniversary Post #4: My Favorites from 2013"

"Anniversary Post #3: My Favorites from 2012"

"Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011"

"Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010"

Stay tuned for my favorites from 2016, including a look at Clinton, Mass.; a fascinating journey through a former military training annex in the suburbs west of Boston; a skateboard park in Hartford, CT; the long-abandoned Medfield State Hospital; a Shaker cemetery; a junkyard in Somerville, Mass.; and a beautiful church in the woods of Maine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Put Some Lustron In Your Life!

From Dave Brigham:

The future's so bright, you got to pull down the shades....

Sorry, I couldn't help myself, but that is one ugly house.

Post-World War II Americans buzzed with excitement for greater telephone and TV access, bigger, more beautiful cars, an expanded highway system and TV dinners. Soldiers returning from the battlefronts got married, had kids and sought out places to live outside the cities of our great land. In order to help meet that demand, a Chicago industrialist named Carl Strandlund designed, marketed and sold enameled metal homes, looking to push the market that Sears, Roebuck & Co. opened up with its prefab kit houses from 1908 to 1940.

Sold under the name Lustron, Strandlund's homes came in eight models with walls that could hold magnets, be cleaned with soap and water, and never needed to be painted. The kits arrived with at least 3,300 parts and took about two weeks to assemble, according to this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Just as Tuuperware at this time in American history was thrilling homeowners with the ability to store food for longer periods of time, Lustron homes excited people with their affordability and durability. And for two whole years, the dream of owning an easily maintained, cutting-edge home was real. From 1948 to 1950, the Lustron Corporation sold homes in dozens of states, but went into bankruptcy and never realized its goal of selling 45,000 homes.

More than 1,000 Lustron homes still stand across the United States. According to an article on the National Association of Realtors web site, hundreds have been destroyed by tornados, floods and the base instincts of developers who don't appreciate the all-metal homes for their simplicity, kitsch value and magnetic qualities. OK, that last part was all me, not the Realtors.

Back in May 2013, Pete Zarria posted on the blog about a Lustron home in German Valley, Illinois (see "Space-Age Bachelor Pad").

There are several such homes in Massachusetts, including one each in Brookline and Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

This is the matching garage for the West Roxbury house, seen at the top of this post. Lustron claimed that its houses weren't prone to rust, decay or fire, which seems hard to believe. As you can see in these photos, this house has water stains (or perhaps something else). The house is in rough shape on the outside. I imagine it might be torn down in the near future.

The Brookline house, above, is in better shape than its compatriot in West Roxbury. It sits in a quiet neighborhood where, on the day I stopped by to shoot photos, renovation work was being done on several houses. I imagine that whenever this house hits the market, the pressure will be pretty heavy on the owners to sell to someone who will preserve the odd metal structure. But the money from developers who want to bulldoze the stubby, tan, formerly "hep" house and put up something larger and more in line with Brookline's moneyed aesthetic will be hard to resist.

Here's a cool video from the Ohio Historical Society providing the history of the post-World War II homes, and showing the inside of a Lustron house occupied by two aging hipsters:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Who Was Emma Cummings?

From Dave Brigham:

Tucked into a small planting group next to an incredibly busy and occasionally dangerous rotary -- there was an accident there just before I arrived to shoot this photo -- is this tasteful monument. When I'd spotted the stone a few days prior, I assumed it marked the former locale of a historic home or battle scene (did the Revolutionary War spill blood in Brookline, Mass.?).

Directly, the marker tells anyone who happens to walk by -- unfortunately that's a small number on this bustling roadway -- that Emma G. Cummings was a member of Brookline's tree planting committee from 1902 to 1939. Indirectly, the stone announces to the world that Ms. Cummings was so well-regarded that her fellow horticultural enthusiasts decided to hew their admiration for her into the living rock, as Spinal Tap would say.

So who was Emma Cummings?

Well, she was a world traveler, public speaker and technology enthusiast, for starters.

"March 30, Miss Emma Cummings, one of our members, gave a very interesting talk on the Hawaiian Islands, which she had recently visited. A novel experiment at the Devotion Bouse (sic -- should be "Devotion House") was made with the stereopticon, which was a great success. A number of beautiful pictures were shown and a most interesting talk was given by Miss Cummings. The room was filled and it was a most entertaining evening. " -- PROCEEDINGS OF THE BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY AT THE ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 30, 1923 BROOKLINE, MASS.

Emma Cummings was also an author.

In 1901, she published The Trees of Our Neighborhood, a lecture she delivered before the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Her talk focused on, as you probably guessed, the trees of Brookline. "As I have long been interested in the study of trees," Ms. Cummings starts her lecture/book, "I determined a few years ago to make a more intimate acquaintance with them, especially with the trees growing in this vicinity."

Sounds like my kind of lady. Want to know about something in the natural world around you? Take a walk and find out.

She tells a funny story about wandering through the woods with a friend and coming across a police officer keeping lookie-loos (my word, but I suspect Ms. Cummings may have enjoyed that epithet) from ogling folks at the horse races at the Brookline Country Club. They convince the officer they simply want to catalog trees in the area, and so he escorts them through the grounds. Rather than being impressed with the society types arriving for the "May Meetings," Ms. Cummings is more interested in reporting that "we saw a Cut-Leaved Beech, the first that we had noticed in Brookline."

She also mentions traveling in Spain in the course of her dissertation on the many trees in Brookline that are native to the eastern United States (Maples, Oaks, Black Walnuts), as well as others that originate in other regions of the country (Magnolias, Locusts, Red Mulberries), and brought over from Europe (willows), Japan, China and Persia (now Iran).

Ms. Cummings also co-authored a book called Baby bird finder with Harriet E. Richards.

She was evidently quite the researcher. In The Trees of Our Neighborhood, she waxes poetic about "the Kentucky Coffee tree, the American Crabapple (Pyrus coronaria), interesting for its beautiful fragrant flowers, and the fact that it comes into blossom ten or twelve days after all the other apples have shed their petals, yet it is less frequently planted than the Japanese varieties, the Ash-leaved maple, Osage-orange, which is used in the West and South quite extensively for hedges, and some of the Oaks."

The lady knew her stuff.

But what else do we know about Emma Cummings?

Not much, unfortunately, beyond a confusing reference to photography and a private girls' school in Brookline. According to the 2001 Annual Report of the Town Officers of Brookline, Emma Cummings was the founder and first headmistress of the Brimmer School. Founded in 1887, the school merged with the May School in 1939, and has since been known as Brimmer & May. The town report also cited our horticulturist and author as the photographer and one-time owner of 250 lantern slides.

Given that lantern slides were another cool photo technology like the stereopticon, I'm guessing that Emma Cummings did indeed once own them and may even have produced them. The report states that the slides came from the Brimmer & May School. Here's the problem, though: Wikipedia, in its entry about the private school, states that while a woman named Cummings was at one time the Brimmer headmistress, her name was Mabel Homer Cummings. So either Emma had multiple personalities, or she was related to Mabel in some way, and a mix-up occurred in the writing of the report.

Regardless, Emma Cummings was a woman of curiosity and tenacity (she walked the entirety of Brookline documenting trees, after all); prodigious talents for researching and retaining information, as well as writing about it; and obviously someone with the means to travel to different countries and spend a lot of time on walkabout.

Above all, perhaps, Emma Cummings was a poet, although I have no idea if she wrote poetry. She had a mind for beauty, a thirst for knowledge, a curiosity for the natural world in her midst. I will finish this post with the words she uses to begin the final paragraph of The Trees of Our Neighborhood:

"Who that has seen in the Spring the scarlet flowers and fruit of the red maple, the delicate drooping clusters of the sugar maple, the snowy whiteness of the fruit trees, set off by the delicacy and richness of the tints of young leaves of the birches, beeches, oaks, and others—who, I ask, that has seen them, can willingly spend these days in a city?"

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Anniversary Post #5: My Favorites from 2014

From Dave Brigham:

Welcome to the fifth installment in a series celebrating the 7th anniversary of the blog (for links to the prior four installments, see the bottom of this post). This post covers 2014.

I need to mention that Joe Viger has contributed some amazing photos and fantastic write-ups over the years, but I'll be linking to very few of them in this series. Why? Because Joe -- an amazing photographer who has served as a mentor of sorts to me in that regard, and a great friend I've known for nearly 30 years -- has changed the security settings on his Flickr account so that many of his photos that have run on this blog show up as broken links now. I will instead direct you to his wonderful online portfolio.

The year started out well, on January 3, 2014, with the blog's first -- and, to date, only -- photo from Hawaii. Lostlosangeles shared a great shot of an abandoned high school in "Maui Wowee."

Just eight days later, on January 11, 2014, I posted about a drive-in theater in Connecticut where as a teenager I'd seen wholesome films such as "Eager Beavers." "Fade to Black" found me astonished at how much of the old outdoor movie place was still intact.

(The East Hartford Drive-In, South Windsor, Connecticut.)

The good streak kept on rolling at the end of the month. On January 25, 2014, I published "Last Building Standing," about the lone architectural solider left standing after Boston's West End was demolished in the late 1950's.

February 17, 2014, brought us another great collection of Pete Zarria's photos. In "Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign," he shared lots of neat photos of old signs in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa and Missouri.

On April 14, 2014, I published a post about a trip a friend and I took to Springfield, Massachusetts. "Coincidence?" features two black-and-white photos, one of which is of the YMCA where my father spent countless hours as a kid. I"d heard a lot about the Y as a kid, but had never seen the building until that. day just a few weeks before my father passed away.

(YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts.)

Mick Melvin's "Holy Resurrection!" from June 24, 2014, brought me back to childhood road trips to my cousins' house in Westchester County, New York. As we drove along I-84 approaching Waterbury, Connecticut, I'd look up on the hill next to the highway where Holy Land USA stood. There, I'd see the giant cross and wonder what the park was like. Mick didn't get inside, but he took some nice photos of the cross and the gates to the long-abandoned Christian-themed park.

(Holy Land USA, Waterbury, Connecticut.)

We finished up the year on December 26, 2014, with an ode to a closed restaurant. "What's Sadder Than a Closed BBQ Joint?" was specifically about Jake's Dixie Roadhouse in Waltham, Massachusetts, but illustrates the general problem of keeping a family-owned eatery in business when health issues arise.

(A sad sight: the bar at the former Jake's Dixie Roadhouse in Waltham, Massachusetts.)

Here are links to the previous three installments of this series:

"Anniversary Post #4: My Favorites from 2013"

"Anniversary Post #3: My Favorites from 2012"

"Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011"

"Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010"

Coming up next, my favorites from 2015, including an abandoned mansion in Maryland; the redevelopment of a former gas company site in Waltham, Mass.; some gorgeous shots of an old paper mill in Vermont; and a 200-year-old former law office along a very busy road in Weston, Mass.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Anniversary Post #4: My Favorites from 2013

From Dave Brigham:

Welcome to the fourth installment in a series celebrating the 7th anniversary of the blog (for links to the prior three installments, see the bottom of this post). This post covers 2013.

I need to mention that Joe Viger has contributed some amazing photos and fantastic write-ups over the years, but I'll be linking to very few of them in this series. Why? Because Joe -- an amazing photographer who has served as a mentor of sorts to me in that regard, and a great friend I've known for nearly 30 years -- has changed the security settings on his Flickr account so that many of his photos that have run on this blog show up as broken links now. I will instead direct you to his wonderful online portfolio.

On January 17, 2013, Heidi Waugaman-Page shared several cool shots of what I guess you would call outsider art, taken in Vermont and New Hampshire. In "Roadside Art," we see a giraffe, an eagle, some flowers and a tree, all crafted from old, and sometimes rusting, metal.

My favorite aspect of exploring for this blog is to stumble across something I didn't know I was looking for. Second to that, I suppose, is knowing roughly what I'm looking for, but still being amazed by it upon my arrival on the scene. Such was the case in my January 30, 2013, post, "Whimsical Woodlands." I'd read online about a magical place called Martini Junction and set out to find it in Needham, Massachusetts. I got turned around a bit in the woods, but when I found the spot, I was just about overwhelmed with joy.

(Scenes from Martini Junction.)

On February 7, 2013, I wrote for the second time about a mystery that has bugged me since I was 14 or 15 years old. In "President Little, Part II: From Myth to Man," I updated the story of an abandoned house in my hometown that I'd wandered through with friends when I was in high school. I learned a bit more about the man who'd lived there from some some folks who knew him. I also tried to get in touch with his son, who at that point was elderly, to ask him why his father had left everything he owned behind in his house when he died.

(What's left of the house where President Little once lived.)

On February 26, 2013, Kristen Smith shared with us a picture from an abandoned camp in New Hampshire, in "Abandoned, But Solid." Ah, the simple pleasure....

I take a fair amount of photos of churches and religious icons, but I've never seen anything like what James M. Surprenant shared with us in his March 25, 2013, post, "Jesus Saves," featuring a beautiful black-and-white shot taken in Eden, North Carolina.

In "Down On the Farm," from May 7, 2013, Pete Zarria shared some gorgeous photos of farms from Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.

While we here at The Backside of America focus quite often on abandoned or forgotten or collapsing or rusted or graffiti-covered places, we also love old places that have been restored. On May 28, 2013, in "Small, But Useful," I wrote about a tiny building that started life in the 1840's as a private school, and which over the ensuing decades served as a train station, a summer house and an art studio.

On June 14, 2013, Pete Zarria posted numerous fantastic shots of ghost signs. "More Signs That Say 'Boo'" featured photos from places in Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.

Just three days later, on June 17, 2013, I published "Powda House," which is about the most significant historic structure in Dedham, Massachusetts, and most likely the smallest as well.

I've never trespassed inside a building in service of this blog. I have, however, done some external trespassing, although on a very small scale. Two and a half years after posting about the former O'Hara Waltham Dial Company, I revisited the site, this time checking out the backside. Not sure why I didn't think of doing that sooner. In the July 8, 2013, post, "What a Dump: A Different View," I found myself face to face with this sign:

I didn't go over the fence, but I felt that in simply walking around the area, I was potentially exposing myself to hazardous waste. I snapped a few pictures and moved on.

August 19, 2013, brought another post by Pete Zarria, "Backside Business," featuring cool shots of old hotels, markets and restaurants in Iowa, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Missouri.

On September 4, 2013, I published the first of a four-part series about Chelsea, Massachusetts, "Chelsea Stroll." I shot photos of a dive bar, a really old municipal garage, a run-down residency hotel and a Russian steam bath. I did not, however, venture to take pictures of King Arthur's Lounge.

I'm happy we can share at least one post by Joe Viger. On November 18, 2013, he posted a beautiful shot of a back alley in New York City, in "New York Escape."

In "The Big Reveal" from December 10, 2013, I got a rare picture of a mural that was painted on a school in my adopted hometown on Newton, Massachusetts, in 1981. The mural had been covered for years by a loading dock, but when construction workers began renovating the building, they revealed it for just a short time, before it was torn up.

To wrap up the year, on December 26, 2013, I posted the first of several posts about named buildings, "What's In a Named Building? (Part 1)."

Here are links to the previous three installments of this series:

"Anniversary Post #3: My Favorites from 2012."

"Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011."

"Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Anniversary Post #3: My Favorites from 2012

From Dave Brigham:

This is the third in a series celebrating the 7th anniversary of the blog (for links to the prior two installments, see the bottom of this post). This post covers 2012, which to date is the high water mark for The Backside of America with 92 posts.

I need to mention that Joe Viger has contributed some amazing photos and fantastic write-ups over the years, but I'll be linking to very few of them in this series. Why? Because Joe -- an amazing photographer who has served as a mentor of sorts to me in that regard, and a great friend I've known for nearly 30 years -- has changed the security settings on his Flickr account so that many of his photos that have run on this blog show up as broken links now. I will instead direct you to his wonderful online portfolio.

As regular readers of the blog are well aware, I've chronicled the former mill city of Waltham, Mass., quite a bit. I live in the next town over, so I find it easy to hit a few spots at a time as I drive through the city. Two weeks apart in January I posted about just such a two-bird-with-one-stone situation.

On January 13, 2012, I posted black and white photos (a rarity for me, and the blog) of Mt. Feake Cemetery in "Peaceful Rest." On January 27, 2012, in "Smoke On the Water," I told the story of Nuttings on the Charles, a boathouse that was used for roller skating, boxing, dancing and concerts.

(Mt. Feake Cemetery)

On February 25, 2012, a guy calling himself lostlosangeles shared "Gathering Nutrients" with us. A simple post, yes, but it seems so unreal, so Hollywood.

Kristen Smith takes great photos, and those she posted on March 1, 2012, in "Nice Little House" are no exception. A simple house, passed by countless times, finally lures one in. And a record is made for posterity.

It's no secret that I enjoy writing a good series. On March 22, 2012, I concluded a three-part write-up about Snow Hill in Dover, Mass. "Fresh-Air Salvation" is about an outdoor worship space, something that I, someone who does not practice religion, found very spiritual.

(Abigail Draper Mann Woodland Worship Center, the Dover Church)

Heidi Waugaman-Page posted a gorgeous photo of an old train by the roadside in Sunapee, NH, on April 14, 2012. In "Long Gone Train," she also shared a shot of a nearby garage.

The train is no longer there, nor is the spooky barn that David Burke shared with the blog in "Bakerville Barn" on April 28, 2012. That's why we shoot these places -- to document them for future generations.

(Bakerville Barn in New Hartford, CT)

The blog has lost touch with David Burke, which is really too bad, because he took some great photos. In his May 12, 2012, post, "Stanley Works," he shared an amazing shot of a shuttered Stanley Works factory in New Britain, CT.

Pete Zarria (a nom de plume; say it out loud) has benefited the blog in at least two ways: sharing fantastic photos, and covering a good portion of the Midwest, allowing us to fulfill a bit more of our nationwide mandate. On May 16, 2012, he posted a shot of a great old sign in Marshalltown, Iowa -- one of dozens he has shared with the blog over the years -- in "Advertising Ghost."

My May 18, 2012, post, "Aqueduct, My Friend," (yes, I enjoy writing headlines, and often use musical references) represents the most exciting type of Backside post for me, in that it is about a place that took me completely by surprise.

I'd driven past this stone marker numerous times before I finally pulled over and investigated. Click through the link above to see what I found.

On May 21, 2012, the blog ran the first installment of a week-long look at graffiti. That was the first and only time we offered up a series in that format. I'd like to do that again. "Graffiti Week, Part I" featured several shots I took at Cat Rock Park in Weston, Mass. Here again this represents something I love about exploring: I went looking for, and found, remnants of an old ski hill, but I found much more than I could ever have expected.

(Long-abandoned snack shack at Cat Rock Park.)

Pete Zarria takes a lot of photos of old service stations, some of them restored. He shared a few from Kansas and Illinois with the blog in his July 2, 2012, post, "Fill 'Er Up, Part II."

(Nicely refurbished gas station along Route 66 in Kansas.)

Those who have any familiarity with Cambridge, Mass., might be surprised to learn, as I was a few years ago, about the extensive canal system that once ran through the city that's home to MIT and Harvard University. In "Where's the Gondolier?" from November 5, 2012, I shot photos of the last remnants of that system, Broad Canal along Memorial Drive.

I have found countless spots to explore over the years by using Google Maps. Once such site was the "Old Rifle Range" that popped up one day as I looked online for places to wander. On December 4, 2012, I wrote about and shared photos of the range in Concord, Mass., that dates to World War I. "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range" was the first of a three-part series about the Boston suburb that was so important to the Revolutionary War effort.

Every year around Christmas on the Backside of America Facebook page I share the photo that David Burke posted on December 25, 2012, of a chimney in Canton, CT, with a Christmas decorations on it. You can see it at the "Merry Christmas" post, but not in real life. It was dismantled to make way for a shopping complex.

Here are the prior two installments:

"Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011"

"Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010"

Coming up next: my favorites from 2013, including a mural, long hidden from view, that surfaced temporarily before being dismantled; great stuff from the Midwest and Southeast by Pete Zarria; an amazing roadside religious icon; and a post about an important part of my childhood, revisited.