Chris Hardie: Abandoned rural properties have stories to tell

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Place of exploration

This barn in Jackson County marks the location of a homestead Chris Hardie once explored nearly 20 years ago.

Dotted across our rural landscape are haunting vestiges of what once was.

Abandoned houses and buildings always draw my curiosity.

I once spent a day with a photographer roaming the countryside as we checked out numerous abandoned properties with the goal of creating a photo story. We crept in and out of buildings, breaking trespassing laws and pushing safety boundaries by testing spongy floorboards.

It was a project that remained on the unfinished pile when I accepted a promotion in the company. But to this day I like to photograph old buildings — stopping short of inside exploration.

Each place has a story. Who lived there? When was it built? Why was it abandoned? Will anyone ever live there again?

Recently I had to travel to central Wisconsin. I drove Hwy. 54 and passed several abandoned properties. On my return I took a short stop in City Point, an unincorporated hamlet on the Wood and Jackson county line.

Next to the railroad tracks about one block off the highway is a house with weathered siding, broken windows and missing shingles. Decorative spindles grace the front porch. It had the looks of what was once a fine building.

City Point used to be a bustling village located in the town by the same name. Originally called Sulllivan after local resident John L. Sullivan, the town was renamed City Point in 1889.

Black River Falls resident Darren Durman said his great-great grandparents George and Mary Galloway lived in the house, which was once the post office. Mary was the post mistress.

Durman said the house has two front doors — one went into the post office and other into the residence, which also served as a boarding house for travelers coming off the train. Many businesses lined the street.

Mary Galloway died in the 1920s and a new post office was built across the street. Rail passenger service in Jackson County stopped in the early 1960s. Only a few old buildings remain. Today the area is part of the Pittsville post office.

I’m glad that Durman was able to fill in some of the story behind the building. Those stories are often lost.

One of the houses that I explored nearly 20 years ago looked like the residents had just left that morning. The bed was still made. Dishes were in the cupboard. Yet the calendar hanging on the wall was dated July 1967 and only half the windows were intact.

It’s possible it was still in use by homeless travelers. Maybe the owner still came back to check on it. It was an odd feeling of being in a distorted time warp.

I drove past the location of the house late last year. It’s no longer there. There’s only a barn to mark what was once a homestead. Perhaps that too will soon be gone.

Here are more photos of houses and places across our region. If you know the stories, please let me know.

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