Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Anniversary Post #2: My Favorites from 2011

From Dave Brigham:

Welcome to the second installment of my look back at the past seven years of this blog. Launched on March 1, 2010, The Backside of America has published more than 400 posts covering three dozen states, written by more than a dozen authors/photographers.

The first installment in my look-back, "Anniversary Post #1: My Favorites from 2010," covered the first 10 months of the blog. This post will cover the entirety of 2011. Future posts will deal with the years 2012-2016, and with some of the challenges of running this site, as well as exciting changes coming to The Backside of America.

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.

Without further ado, here are the highlights, as I see them, from 2011, the first full year of the blog.

I brought my then three-and-a-half-year-old daughter with me to take pictures of a long-abandoned section of Route 128 in Milton, Mass. She danced happily along the moss-covered roadway while I snapped away for my January 24, 2011, post, "End of the Road."

The blog has featured other abandoned roadways, as well as some that were built but never put into use. Search the site....

On January 30, 2011, we published the inaugural post by Kristen Smith, a great photographer who'd been recruited by Joe Viger, one of The Backside's original contributors. "Demolition -- Par for the Course" chronicled the demise of a miniature golf course in New Hampshire.

I was extremely excited by David Burke's February 20, 2011, post, "Lose, Place or Show." This marked the first and, to date, only time the blog has run something about an old horse track. Surely there must be other abandoned tracks like this. Maybe you or someone you know would like to take pictures of them....

I would absolutely love to get inside the former O'Hara Waltham Dial Company in -- where else? -- Waltham, Mass.

On February 27, 2011, I posted some photos and background about this building just over the line from Newton's town dump -- see "UPDATE: What a Dump." I returned a second time for a look at the backside of this backside building. I'll probably post that link in a future installment.

In her March 14, 2011, post "Lost Bomber," Kristen Smith showed readers a World War II-era crash site of a B18 bomber in the woods of New Hampshire. I was absolutely floored by her photos, as well as by the idea that such a site existed.

On March 24, 2011, the blog published the first post by Michael Cevoli. Titled "Working In a Coal Mine," the post featured gorgeous shots from Pennsylvania coal country. I had hoped we might feature a lot more of Cevoli's work, but I believe we only published one or two other of his posts. You can see his work at his web site.

"Mysterious. Odd. Mournful. Ramshackle. Puzzling. Even whimsical. Yeah, I’m talking about those weird little shacks on the side of the road that make you go 'hmmmm.'" That's how Kristen Smith introduced her beautiful shots of abandoned cabins in Vermont, New Hampshire and Montana, in her June 10, 2011, post "Roadside Attractions?"

Discovering new places to explore is great, but I find that when the stories we post here on the blog have a personal angle, I like them best. Mick Melvin went back to his adopted hometown in New Jersey and took photos and wrote about childhood memories in the June 23, 2011, post, "The Gut." Spoiler alert: "As it turns out, the families we met in the Gut will be friends of ours for life," Mick writes.

Folks like those of us here at the Backside of America who enjoy taking pictures of the dilapidated, abandoned and forgotten parts of this country sometimes get accused of exploiting the poor and downtrodden and trafficking in "ruin porn." I maintain that we are documenting the past and, sometimes, providing a forum for reminiscence to those who recall certain places and times.

Still, sometimes I make assumptions about places that I know nothing about.

The Reef was a bar in Waltham, Mass., that closed down several years ago, and has since been replaced by an apartment building. I never went to The Reef, and when I wrote about it in my August 25, 2011, post, "Goodbye Reef, So Long Bill," I was somewhat dismissive, writing, "I picture lots of skinny, old guys wearing tank tops and smoking in and around the door. I hear old country music leaking out the grimy windows. I smell pickled eggs on the bar."

This post received numerous comments -- a rarity for the blog -- from former customers who missed the bar, but also mourned the former owner, Bill. "It might have looked scarey (sic)," one person wrote, "but there where a lot of awesome people who hung out inside."

I learned not to judge a book by its deteriorating cover from those comments.

Mick Melvin made personal connections with his return to a place he once lived. I, too, have profiled a few places in my hometown of Simsbury, Connecticut. The most personal was the ruins of a home that I'd walked through as a teenager, not long after it had been abandoned with every personal possession intact.

The house was torn down decades ago, but I was amazed to see upon my return that there was plenty left behind in the mud. As I wrote in my September 20, 2011, post, "In Search of President Little," "I had no reason to expect that anything would be on the site. I'm not a spiritual guy whatsoever, but I feel like something drew me here to discover the remnants of a forgotten place."

Finally, on November 20, 2011, I published the second of a three-part series about long-abandoned waterworks in and around Newton, Mass., where I live. "History Flows On, Part II" covered the old structures of Cutler Park, specifically the section in the town of Needham, just east of Route 128, and the graffiti-covered tunnel running under the commuter train tracks.

Make sure to check back for the third part, covering all of 2012. Highlights will include photos of the remains of an old boathouse on the Charles River in Waltham; a spooky old barn in New Hartford, Conn.; and the remnants of a World War I-era rifle range in Concord, Mass.

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