Trap Rock Industries Hopewell Quarry Railroad

The long abandoned rail connection speaks to a different time

Trap Rock Industries once had 3 sites in operation in Central New Jersey. Today, the quarry in Rocky Hill/Kingston is in full swing while the other two out near the Delaware River are closed. All three operations had direct rail service connections at some time in the past but they’re now long gone. The infrastructure is still in place in Lambertville and Hopewell, with the former last used around 1998 and the latter much longer ago. The old rail access line leading into the closed quarry site at Hopewell is heavily overgrown and has clearly been out of use for decades. Based on my experience photographing and researching abandoned railroads it looks to be at least 40 years since a train rumbled over the bridge and down the right of way, having been long ago replaced by truck transport.

Why am I interested in these things?

As far as photography goes I began this type of work in graduate school for my MFA, where we also had to write extensively about our work so I got used to photographing and writing. It also comes from my penchant for history and photographing historic subjects in the field. Someone needs to document these things in the landscape for posterity…that’s my thought and it’s just ‘what I do.’

I also love the mystique of abandoned railroads. There’s so much to wonder about when you see an old set of rails or a decaying iron truss bridge that hasn’t seen a train in years. It’s almost like a ghost story. That, coupled with my photographic specialization in industrial subjects, compels me to produce such pictures.

Photograph what interests you.

Dive into your interests through your photography and make return visits to your favorite subjects to make more pictures. And, as one of my mentors told me years ago, shoot what’s available to you. Do research to inform yourself and your writing. Keep a journal and post the work to your blog, website and social media. You’ll start to develop a style and through the recursive process of photographing and editing, your pictures will get better. Invite critique from peers and friends.

It’s worth the effort and you’ll find it very fulfilling.


Elevate Your Photography!

Expand your photographic explorations with the help of my extensive photographic experience. My photo essays are available for download on the Photo Essays page. Get yours today and start making more compelling photos!

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The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm

The first coastal wind farm in the United States, the JAWF has been generating clean energy since 2006

A Trip To The (Wind) Farm

On a recent Saturday I made the 2-hour drive to Atlantic City to photograph the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm for my portfolio of renewable energy subjects. I’ve often seen the blades of the 5 turbines spinning gracefully in the distance but had never been up close. This was my chance to at least get a lot closer. There is no pubic access to the bridge that spans the water to the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) Wastewater Treatment Facility where the wind turbines are located so I photographed it from along Absecon Boulevard. This gave the pictures nice landscape compositions typical of my work. There’s also a nicely landscaped and appointed viewing park with an information kiosk located at the facility entrance.

Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm
The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm seen from the Absecon Boulevard Bridge

Producing Sustainable ‘Green’ Energy for the Future

The Jersey Atlantic Wind Farm has been on line and producing green energy since March 2006. It is also the first coastal wind farm in the United States. The wind farm’s primary job is to power the wastewater treatment plant where it is located with the surplus being sold to the power company. In fact, when the wind farm is producing power at its rated capacity it only takes 2 of the 5 turbines to do this job. As such, the turbines produce enough energy across a year to power 2,500 homes. You can learn all the information about the wind farm and all of Atlantic County Utilities Authority’s (ACUA) renewable energy initiatives on their website: http://www.acua.com/; mouse over the menu directly under the ACUA logo, then point to “Green Initiatives” menu item. They really have their program together in providing information to the public on their green energy technology, including the wind farm viewing park and kiosk (more on that below).

New Jersey has big plans in the works for wind power development.

ACUA currently has an impressive array of green initiatives for producing renewable energy which include the wind farm, solar arrays, geothermal energy, and gas to electric generation technologies. Of particular interest is the Landfill Gas to Energy initiative which captures methane escaping from landfills and uses it to produce electricity. The kiosk at the wind farm viewing park also illustrates Green Roof technology which I believe is in use at the ACUA site. This form of renewable energy uses vegetation and landscaping on the rooftops of buildings to minimize water runoff, control the climate within the structure (especially cooling), provide a peaceful respite for people and animals amidst urban areas and help improve air quality by producing oxygen.

Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm
The Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm seen from the viewing park on Absecon Boulevard at the ACUA entrance.

New Jersey Plans to be The ‘Houston’ of Wind Energy

Solar energy has been gaining a foothold in the State’s energy portfolio for many years with may municipalities and institutions like schools and colleges building solar parking canopies on their campuses. Solar panels can be seen all over the state on the rooftops of homes and office buildings alike and there are now programs being championed to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (see the ChargEVC website). But in my wind farm research I was surprised to learn that the two wind farms I photographed, in Bayonne (there’s only 1 turbine there) and Atlantic City, are only two of three total in the entire greater New York City/Philadelphia area. There’s also one turbine in Brooklyn but I didn’t visit there. According to the US Wind Turbine Database, the closest one outside of those sites is in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

But New Jersey has big plans in the works for wind power development. It intends to be nothing short of what Houston is to the oil and gas industry. To accomplish this goal it’s building a huge assembly and manufacturing port from which massive off-shore wind turbines will be built and deployed directly into off-shore waters. It plans to do this not only for its own clean energy plans but for supplying several other Eastern Seaboard states as well. To facilitate this grand vision the State is developing a large facility on Artificial Island in Salem County. They’ve set aside some 215 acres for the New Jersey Wind Port site which will include manufacturing and assembly plants along with staging facilities to ready the huge turbines for deployment.

It’s an exciting project and construction is set to begin in 2021.

The Viewing Park and Information Kiosk

There’s a small viewing park at the entrance to the ACUA site that’s nicely appointed and it makes a make a day trip even better. It’s got that beachy kitsch about it with its two scale-size wind turbine monuments on each side of a sheltered informational display, and the whole site (except for the parking lot) is landscaped with crushed white seashells. It’s like a little beach park and looks pretty new so the chain-link fence doesn’t detract from the ocean side aesthetic too much. The information kiosk tells you all about the wind turbines and what they do. It explains the wastewater treatment plant and there’s also a panel explaining “green roof” technology (more on that below). On the other side is another series of panels explaining all the green energy solutions that Atlantic County is developing and using. It’s really quite impressive. There’s even a picnic table to have your lunch while the wind turbines provide a serene backdrop. I highly recommend a visit.

Wind Farm Park Gallery

The display kiosk shows that Atlantic County is a leader in the development and integration of a working and sustainable renewable energy plan for a local power grid. I’ve not seen a similarly comprehensive array of in-place green energy production, at least in the other New Jersey counties where I live and regularly move around.

Over all, the Jersey Atlantic Wind Farm and Atlantic County’s many renewable energy programs provide an impressive example for the rest of the state and others across the country.


Elevate Your Photography!

Expand your photographic explorations with the help of my extensive photographic experience. My photo essays are available for download on the Photo Essays page. Get yours today and start making more compelling photos!

Expand your photographic explorations with the help of my extensive photographic experience. My photo essays are available for download on the Photo Essays page. Get yours today and start making more compelling photos!

The Millstone Branch Railroad – Remnant of a Lost Era

A railroad connected this once bustling borough with bigger cities.

A Favorite Place

abandoned railroad tracks embedded in overgrown brush
The rails are still embedded in the lot between William and Market Streets

I love East Millstone because it’s an idyllic place of quiet streets lined with Victorian houses…calming for the mind and perfect subject matter for my work. For the past 10 years I’ve occasionally made the short drive over there to photograph one of my favorite subjects – a large and stylistically unique Victorian house, along with a couple of others for my 19th Century House series. Yet for all the years I’ve been going there, one thing managed to remain hidden from me: the remnants of the Millstone and New Brunswick Railroad, later known as the Millstone Branch, which ran right up to Market Street. Through my long-term photographic study of abandoned railroads and old railroads near me I’ve developed a pretty good eye for finding them in the landscape. But a railroad in East Millstone? I had no idea.

support pillar
A pillar in the Millstone River was built to carry the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad into Hillsborough

More Railroad Clues

My first clue was spotting an old stone pillar in the middle of the Millstone River…

I think my first clue of something more was spotting an old stone pillar standing in the middle of the Millstone River just south of the Millstone bridge on Amwell Road. I knew it was a historic railroad support judging from the other river crossings in the area. This must have started me to thinking to find the right of way across the river. A railroad can be abandoned but there will still be a path where the rail bed was. This was early last Spring and I remember looking for another pillar in the swampy area between the Amwell Road bridge and the canal path, figuring that the railroad must have run through there as well.

The former right of way looking West toward East Millstone.

The next step, as I remember, was to search the Internet for “Millstone” and “railroad.“ I asked my good friend Dave (who has grown up and lived here for a long time) if he knew of any railroad there. He told me that there was and to do a Google search; sure enough, the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad came up. Dave is a local realtor who knows of my obsession with all this historic stuff, and he’s helped me with many questions about old houses in the area. He said how when he was a kid he played baseball at Ms. Irene’s Enrichment Center on Wortman Street, and they would take breaks and walk down to the railroad tracks near the building. So I went over there to see and there’s a gulley where the the tracks used to run. The Wortman Street bridge over the tracks was removed years before and the space filled in so the road could run across it.

The Sunrise Creek Deli on the old Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad; note the angled wall marking the right of way.

I then followed the old right of way through town, behind properties and across streets to Market Street, where it crossed and ran along side the Sunrise Creek Deli. You can see the angled side of the store that accommodated the railroad. There is also a fine Victorian house (a smaller one, but fine just the same) across from the deli where the tracks crossed the road. The North corner of the porch was practically right on the railroad! As such, there are no windows on that side of the house, so you know it was built after the railroad. I also know this because the railroad was completed and began operation 1854 and the house is of an 1860s or later vintage. Placing houses and other buildings close railroads was common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries…I’ve seen it in many other railroads from the same era. 

At its height, the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad had 12 passenger trains daily servicing East Millstone….

So, What Now?

Victorian House
The Victorian House that sits on the right of way.

I’ve become very passionate about abandoned rail lines and riding rail trails. In fact, I long ago gave up road riding. I felt it was too dangerous for my liking and after a 10-year absence from biking I now ride almost everyday exclusively on rail-trails. Consequently, I want to become more involved with getting abandoned railroads converted into rail trails. This brings together my interests in history, historic rail, bicycling, and my work as a photographer and writer. I love telling stories about the railroads’ history and my adventures riding the trails. I post my pictures and writing on social media so I can become more visible in the pursuit of my interests and as a photographic artist, and for the benefit of others who love to ride and want to get involved. For me it’s the perfect combination of interests and talents. I’ve also made contact with the Rails To Trails Conservancy, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving abandoned railroad right of ways for conversion to multi-use trails. I’ve also started to attend the monthly meetings of Franklin Township’s Trails Advisory Committee (TAC). Franklin is where the old Millstone & New Brunswick right of way is located and the committee was formed to involve trail users and Township residents in advising township departments the manager, and the council on issues related to trail acquisition, design, maintenance, and use.

The right of way North of Amwell Road on the edge of Colonial Park.

My first project in my rails to trails work is lobbying to get as much of the former M&NB Railroad converted to trail use as possible. At my first TAC meeting I learned that Franklin Township owns a segment of the old line between South Middlebush Road and Elizabeth Avenue (in Franklin Township). This was encouraging to hear. Not so encouraging was a committeeman telling me that we’re all “late to the party” in acquiring the other segments for trail use. The railroad sold off the other parts to private landowners a while ago. But I remain undeterred. In my historic preservation work (and rail-trails fall into the same category) I’ve been given the same “late to the party” speech about saving an endangered historic house in Lawrence Township. I still managed—single-handedly—to get a certification of eligibility from the State of New Jersey for its inclusion in the national and state historic registers. As a result, talks have been underway with the property owner for full preservation. So it’s never too late, in my experience.

I’m going to circulate a flier or brochure in East Millstone about converting the segment that runs through town to a rail-trail. The right of way comes close to no houses and wouldn’t be a bother to any one. Quite the contrary, it would afford the community a nice trail to walk their dogs or ride a bike, and to improve their physical and mental well-being. I’ve been told by a new friend who owns the Millstone Workshop art gallery and coffeehouse across the river that people in East Millstone are very receptive to new ideas. So, I think that’s in our favor. Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would object. Then, we can work on acquiring permission for the segment just North of Amwell Road that borders Colonial Park. That section could ultimately connect with the other segment the township owns.

One day, one piece at a time.

The former right of way of the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad ends at Market Street in East Millstone.

Goodman Furniture – “Bethlehem’s Finest Furniture Store”

I remembered seeing an ad for Goodman’s in my father’s old Lehigh Freshman Handbook

The Goodman Furniture Building in Bethlehem PA may not be the most exotic of subjects, since my blog is supposed to be about the cool things I photograph and write about. But it is the kind of subject matter I photograph and it has personal interest for me in its connection to my Dad’s time at Lehigh, which itself is the basis for one of my current photography projects. It also has historic significance in the preservation of these buildings, which is a related professional interest of mine.

What made me write this post and travel to Bethlehem specifically to make the photographs for it was an ad in Dad’s old Lehigh University freshman handbook. He was Class of 1944. My mother had given the pocket-sized book to me a couple of years ago. She had it stored in one of the bookshelves of her secretary desk for years. Along with all the information a young man entering Lehigh would need (it was an all-male institution back then) are pages of ads from local businesses plying their services to Lehigh men.

Goodman_Furnitire_front
The facade of the Goodman Furniture Building on W 3rd Street.

On the way home from one of my picture-making excursions for the project about my Father’s time in Bethlehem (which included photographing the Goodman Building) I thought I remembered seeing an ad for Goodman’s in it. The handbook really is an amazing time capsule—my Dad’s own handwritten notes appear throughout, and just looking at the content and the ads gives a look into a different time in our country. I thumbed through its pages later that night and there it was with the tag line, “Bethlehem’s Finest Furniture Store.” It lists the proprietor, Sam Goodman (the grandson of the founder) as a Lehigh alumnus, Class of ’32.

Goodman's Ad

I’m sure it used to be a fine furniture store but time marches ever onward. The family that founded and ran the business over several decades is long gone and the building is now a ruin.

It was purchased in 1986 by a now former Lehigh University physics professor, believe it or not. Apparently, he ran some kind of flea market in it for a time and also planned it as a space for physics research. Unfortunately, he has let the building slide into worsening decay over the last 32 years despite attempts from the city to force its cleanup, so that it has now been officially designated as a blighted property. The good news is the city was named conservator in 2017 by the courts and that gives them the power to act as owner. They plan to sell the property to a development consortium that will redevelop the site.

I wanted to make this little side piece specifically about the building because it’s something my father would have remembered from his years there. The series I’m working on in his memory is entitled Lehigh and Bethlehem: Anamnesis, which  I’m expecting to complete in Fall 2018. All of the buildings in the series were there when he attended Lehigh, including the Goodman Building. The ad in his freshman handbook makes it a more tangible connection for the project and for me, personally.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

Decay And Ruin As Process vs. Romantic Symbol

There is more to ruins than ‘Enduring Romantic Symbol’

I recently had occasion to reconnect with one of the photographers who mentored me in graduate school. He always challenged my perceived ideas about my subjects and how I approach them through the medium. I wanted to have some discussion about Time as it pertains to my current subjects and ended up learning an interesting theory about decay and ruin.

I mentioned to him that I was photographing a historic railroad in my area, the old South Branch Railroad. I told him about some ideas that had been forming in my mind about the element of ‘time’ while photographing a bridge on a defunct part of the line. The element of Time, as we know, is inherent in any photograph by the very nature of the medium and I’m always thinking about Time in relation to my photographs. When standing on or near the bridge I feel what I call a certain ‘time dilation,’ or slowing in the flow of time around me. This is not to be confused with the Theory of Relativity and the slowing of Time the nearer one gets to the speed of light…which is a very cool idea. Rather, I sense time moving more slowly as a result of being near an abandoned structure.

Olympia Beer Brewhouse
The old Olympia Beer brewhouse in Tumwater, WA July 2016

My former mentor informed me that I was looking at the bridge as an ‘enduring symbol,’ an idea that has been used to aggrandize political agendas and paint them in a light of goodness. He suggested I read a paper entitled, “The Value of Ruins: Allegories of Destruction in Benjamin and Speer.” While it’s a thick academic read it reveals new ways of looking at ruins, a subject long popular with fine art photographers. The paper compares two opposing critical theories in the evaluation of the ruin. I didn’t think my friend and mentor really believed that romanticized symbols could lead to fascism (he doesn’t) and thought to myself, how could this possibly be?

Decay and Ruin As Enduring Symbol

The Nazis were attempting to paint themselves in the light of truth, beauty and moral good…

The first theory refers to the Nazi agenda for building monumental architecture. Hitler intended his buildings to last millennia so that they would decay gracefully like classical ruins over thousands of years, inspiring future generations in their ruined state. The idea is to immortalize through symbolism and aesthetics the perceived mythical greatness—and goodness—of a political ideology. (NOTE: this case is presented merely to illustrate an academic discussion; I am NOT now, nor have I ever been, a Nazi supporter and I do not admire Hitler in any way.) This is referred to in the paper as the ‘aestheticization of politics’ and it is founded on a treatise of sorts written by Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, entitled, “A Theory of Ruin Value.” In fact, the author of the “The Value of Ruin” paper indicates that this political tool is still very much in use today by totalitarian regimes. Speer’s own description admits that the title is “pretentious” and cites the writing as more of a solution to creating the “bridge to tradition” Hitler wanted. Speer even presented it to Hitler replete with a romantic drawing of how the proposed buildings might look thousands of years in the future. The other Nazi ministers thought the theory and drawings ‘blasphemous,’ but it was adopted nonetheless.

Gallery of Decaying Subjects

Decay and Ruin As Process

Benjamin distrusted the ‘totality’ of Romantic symbolism…

The countering viewpoint is that of Walter Benjamin, a German Jewish philosopher, who elucidated a reductive theory where the ruin is the physical representation of allegory. In his view a ruin should be evaluated thus, using this theory which is based in Baroque allegory as it represents the futility of man’s existence and accomplishments. The structure is reduced to its base elements by Time to a state of positive ’poverty,’ whereby the inner components of its construction are laid bare. In this way the truth of what it represents and related historical acts can be known. Benjamin distrusted the ‘totality’ of Romantic symbolism and its depiction of classical ideals as a false image of harmony and eternal perfection. They purposely ignore the human element and gloss over the anguish of life and the true conditions and events of history. This viewpoint was no doubt aimed at the Nazi appropriation of such aesthetics to represent The Third Reich for posterity (the “1000-Year Reich”). The problem is that such symbols have been intimately connected with the ideals of truth, beauty and moral good since ancient times. The fact that the Nazis intended to paint themselves in such a light must have been incomprehensible to Benjamin…as it is to all of us. He saw allegory as a better critical tool with which to view and evaluate ruins.

It’s an interesting and dense academic discussion, but I’ve attempted to contrast and compare the basics.

This was a very different angle for me to view my subjects from and something I hadn’t considered before. It wasn’t the first time my mentor had given me an alternative approach to think about…our discussions on my thesis project had worked the same way. And therein lies the necessity and benefit of peer critique and discussion—seeing your subjects outside the scope of your learned perceptions.

What I ultimately realized, though, and I’ve read other writing that agrees with this, the idea of the romantic ruin is well entrenched in our collective psyche. Hundreds of years of its depiction in Western art have deeply ingrained it in our world view. So, it’s not just fascists who see ruins this way, it’s essentially everyone we know. The Nazis were attempting to appropriate the totality of romantic symbolism, like that of ancient ruins which present (according to Benjamin) a falsely positive image imbued with all things good. Most of us see the ruin as something nostalgic without any reference to an insidious political agenda. For my own applications, Benjamin’s allegorical approach provides an alternative that could produce different outcomes in my photographs. That’s something I always work to achieve.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

The Anderson Building – Derelict Icon of Red Bank’s West Side

The Last Bastion Of Old Red Bank

The Anderson Building has been vacant as long as I can remember and that’s a long time. I’m a native of the area and I honestly can’t remember a time when it was in use. It has reportedly been vacant for more than 30 years which would make it empty since at least 1987. Proposed redevelopment has been in the works for some time but the project is slated to begin any day.

Anderson Building 2015
The Anderson Building, Red Bank, NJ in January 2015.

My interest, however, is in the architecture and the less tangible aspects—those tenets of my photography project concept that begin in the subconscious, which I’ll discuss below. First, though, I’d like to share some of the more observable details that interest me.

Staring at the weathered red brick building you wonder what secrets its long-empty interior holds.

Abandonment, architectural significance and 19th Century vintage are three key aspects that draw me to photograph a building like this. In this instance I’m photographing it as part of the landscape but those considerations are important in order for me to make the picture. The Anderson Building has at least two of the three. It might not be a 19th century structure; I think it was probably built in the first two decades of the 20th Century but it it has a late Victorian look and feel so in my mind it qualifies. This styling appears most notably in the korbeling along the roof line and the arched windows in the small southeast section. It also has the polygonal form typical for many such buildings of its era. Add to that the fact that it has been a fixture in the landscape for many years and it makes a great subject.

 My Concept

Anderson Building 2017
The Anderson Building, Red Bank, NJ in October 2017.

Staring at the weathered red brick building you wonder what secrets its long-empty interior holds. My mind imagines the 1940s and 50s, rainy film noir scenes with pork pie-hatted men coming and going and Studebakers parked on the street. Add some cigar-chomping movers in overalls wearing those 1920s-style caps and you’ve got the picture. And then I think of how that time runs up to and connects with my era and my time in Red Bank. It was essentially the bridge between old and new, as the transformation of Red Bank began in the 1990s.

The Anderson Building is one of the last (if not the last) original untouched architectural landmarks of the Red Bank I grew up in during the 1970’s and 80’s. It’s also an icon of the West Side, which always had a distinct character of its own from the rest of town and the building contributes a lot to the old Red Bank feel. It’s a perfect addition to the Abandoned Industrial sub-series of my American Landscape project because it symbolizes for me the post-industrial era in our landscape. And it’s a shining example (again, for me) of the decline on a local urban scale not only of small family-owned commercial businesses of this type, but of industrial decline in the United States. Even though this wasn’t a manufacturing site, this and similar light-industrial types of businesses typically resided in such buildings in countless small towns across the nation. Most of those businesses and buildings are now gone and empty, respectively, and their small town landscapes have changed considerably in the last 3 decades to become shopping and dining destinations. Consequently, buildings like this are being redveloped into mixed-use buildings that retain their historic character—and this one will become one of them.

UPDATE: The redevelopment of the Anderson Building began not long after I wrote this post, probably in Spring 2018 and is likely now close to completion. Unfortunately, about 30% of the original building was demolished. I like to see 100% preservation and can’t really imagine why they would have needed to destroy that much of it. Fully restoring a historic building for use as office, living and retail space is a good use of historic resources and preserves them for future generations.

To see my fine art and commercial photography please visit my website at:

Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay, Part II – The Neshanic Station Railroad Bridge

Standing on the abandoned bridge affords one a unique way of viewing that space

A Little History

This week’s installment of Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay focuses on the old abandoned railroad bridge that stretches over the South Branch of the Raritan River in Neshanic Station, New Jersey. I’ve been photographing this structure over a period of 8 years since I moved to the area. It’s of interest to me not only because it fits in to the spectrum of historic and abandoned subject matter that I photograph and write about, but it also ties in with my childhood memories of Flemington, New Jersey. And those imagined recollections[1] are the conceptual foundation of my “Reflections” series. So, you could say that this work is an outgrowth of that project and intimately connected to it.

South Branch Railroad bridge
The abandoned South Branch Railroad bridge in Neshanic Station, NJ, July 2017

My father used to take us to Flemington when we were kids and we would ride the historic railroad on the western segment of this line. It still runs to this day, in fact. The Eastern-most segment of the railroad used to cross over this very bridge. I never rode the train over the Neshanic bridge, as passenger trains had stopped running on the line before I was even born—the last one made the final trip in November of 1953. But this bridge is part of the same railroad, I found out through research, and that led me to a connection with my own history and my memories of Flemington, and with the photography work I was doing there for my master’s thesis.

(If you’re interested in learning more about this partially defunct rail line, Google the ‘Black River & Western Railroad’. They have weekend and special holiday trips so it’s definitely worth checking out and the history is interesting.)

The Physical, Metaphysical, and Time

The bridge in January 2013

The history is a point of fascination for me but my reasons for photographing this place (and for writing this post) are about the physical aspects and also the metaphysical and philosophical lenses through which I view it. This may sound like a lot of academic hot air—and I am an academician—but these things are what compel me to make the pictures…as they do for many other fine art photographers. Abandonment, decay and isolation are the factors I mentioned in my last post and they have inspired countless photographers in the Post Modern era, which we are still in today.
 

I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…

There are many thoughts that run through my mind when I visit and photograph the bridge. Some are rooted in my childhood memories of Flemington, others are concerned with the span of time as it relates to the bridge itself. When I climb the embankment up to the old track bed (and it’s a steep climb near the abutment) the first feeling I’m struck with is that ‘this is an old place.’ I view much of my fine art photography work as a form of visual archaeology, and it also involves a lot of introspection and self-discovery, all of which apply here. It’s also a place that most people don’t or can’t go…I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…to be well off the beaten path. The fact that the railroad was but is no longer part of the moving living world is a key point that makes me want to seek answers as an artist.

Time

The old railroad station depot in Neshanic Station, NJ, in July 2015.
…a train has not rumbled across the bridge in over 40 years…

One of the more intriguing aspects of this bridge for me is that a train has not rumbled over it in 4 decades—since I graduated high school in 1978. That’s a long time in human years. As you would expect, the bridge is well overgrown at each end especially in the summer months when all the greenery is filled in. At that time of year I can stand up on the old rail bed and feel the excitement of the summers of my youth. Contemplating the passage of Time gives me many thoughts, such as what it was like when there was a passenger train running through here. It was a different time, a slower time when most people didn’t have cars and traveling from one town to another was a much bigger consideration than it is now. Then one day there were no more trains. Freight trains continued in small numbers until they, too, ceased. And then the tracks were quiet forever…and eventually removed. It seems a shame to take them out; it would add so much to the romanticism and mystery of the railroad if they had been left in place. At least the bridge, depot and track bed still exist. And it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of my work, to follow former rights-of-way to see where a train once went. Some are so well erased by now that you need to employ a detective’s mindset and eye to find them.

Sometimes I allow my mind to run free and think ludicrous thoughts…like sitting at the old station depot and waiting for the train to come. It’s an apartment house now, well-kept but a little overgrown, which adds to the feeling of Time past, and you can imagine the train coming over the bridge, through the woods and pulling up to it with brakes squealing and steam venting. (Passenger trains on this line were pulled by steam locomotives.) I’ll think, maybe if I wait long enough one will come, like in a Twilight Zone episode.

When I climb up the embankment to make pictures I think about venturing out towards the middle as I have on the Readington bridge farther west on the line. I haven’t made it very far yet—it’s about a 30-foot drop to the river below. But you can imagine summers long ago, back in the 40’s and 50’s, when some kids might have climbed up onto the bridge and jumped off into the cool water below, daring each other to do it before a train comes. It makes me think of the movie Stand By Me in both time and mood.

A Tree In Time

The bridge in July 2017
Eventually the tree took over the tracks…

There is one aspect in particular that strongly illustrates the element of Time and its effects on the bridge and the trains that would have passed though there. A tree that took root at the bottom of the abutment on the west bank of the river has grown all the way up some 30 feet through the railroad ties, or what’s left of them, and well beyond. Above the track bed its trunk is thick and continues upward. You can see it in my photograph at the top of the post. I would guess this tree to be about 40 years old, so that means it sprouted as a tiny seedling at about the time the trains stopped running here. Then it became a sapling as it continued reaching up towards the bridge and tracks. Eventually its leafy top reached the underside of the bridge and began to poke its delicate branches through the rail bed. Unimpeded, it continued its way up. But no trains were coming by to trim it and keep it from growing larger and stronger. Eventually the tree took over the tracks.

Eventually—and this is what I like to think about—it got too thick for a train to pass. If the tree was just sticking through the rail bed with its new growth, trains coming by on a regular basis would easily have kept it at bay. But now, a thick trunk courses up and branches off through the former tracks. Even if trains didn’t come by too often and the tree continued to grow, a train could easily have trimmed it. But at some point the tree became too thick for a rain to pass and that seems to me a singularity in the time of the railroad and the bridge—the point when the passage of trains on the bridge was over forever. The removal of a section of track and overpass just east of the bridge where the railroad crossed River Road really made it final, but the tree seems a more natural progression of things. Sounds like a crazy person’s thoughts, perhaps? But it’s interesting to think about. For me, anyway…

What’s In The Future?

The Readington bridge is the same iron truss type farther own the line towards Flemington that is still in use. Trains only cross it a couple of times a week but it’s in good condition. I’ve photographed that bridge extensively, too, and I expect it will be around for a while longer. But the Neshanic bridge, which was built in 1917, may not be around as long. It’s pretty rusty and since it has been abandoned for around 40 years it hasn’t been maintained. It’s very picturesque now but at some point it will probably have to be dismantled for safety reasons. Perhaps a good blow could send it crashing into the river. Other parts of this railroad were quickly demolished and essentially erased when passenger service stopped running on it, particularly the station depots. Thankfully, the bridges are much bigger considerations and so this one remains. I think they add much to the aesthetic of our historic landscape. Eventually, though this one will come down and someone who comes after me might have less to go on in discovering this old railroad. And that’s another consideration of Time.

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1. The photographs in my Reflections series visualize deep impressions of each place that are driven by memory. In a similar way, the photographs I make in this series are inspired by the same memories. In his seminal book, “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard suggests that real images we see are engraved in memory by the imagination; the engravings replace the real images and deepen our remembering so that they become ‘imagined recollections.’ This is a concept that underlies much of my fine art work.

Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay, Part I – The Route 206 Bypass

I’ve decided to write a series of posts on photographing abandoned and decaying subjects. Since much of my fine art photography focuses on forgotten objects and places in the landscape I wanted to share what draws me to make these pictures. This is not a “Weird NJ” thing but a serious subject of my fine art photography, with a deep connection to me as an individual and artist. The subject matter consists of things that have interested me for most of my life so they are topics of substance that also have a history, and researching that is another aspect of my work. For this first installment I’m looking at the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough, New Jersey.

unfinished route 206
The unfinished Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough, May 2017

 
Unfinished highway projects have always held a fascination for me. Two that have long been of interest are Routes 18 and 33 in Monmouth County and I have plans to photograph and write about them soon. More recently, another state highway has appeared on my radar—the Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough Township, my current place of residence. This project has been in the works for four decades and work was finally began in 2012. I became interested in exploring it when I was looking for new and accessible subject matter for my American Landscape project. The bypass has been sitting unfinished for 5 years and since it’s in close proximity to me I wanted to walk and photograph it.

(UPDATE: Work finally began in late 2018 to finish the north and south connections to the existing roadway, with completion scheduled for Spring 2020.)

“Magnificent Desolation”

Each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in…

It’s a wonderfully desolate place where I can experience the isolation I love working in when I make pictures…even when doing commercial photography I prefer to work alone. Since my photography projects are all based on a defined concept, I started thinking a lot about what draws me to these strange places and I came up with the answer: it’s the idea of decay and abandonment, two ideas that compel fine art photographers to seek out, explore, photograph and write about such things. Abandonment is obvious (although in this case it’s not really abandoned) and decay is the way the Earth reclaims anything paved over with our developments…like how grass and weeds are taking over this one.

But there’s more than that; each individual artist has an intimate connection that draws them in for their own reasons. For me it’s partly a love of architecture and certain engineering projects like this one. It’s also about an elated sense of isolation when I’m photographing out in the field; a frame of mind where I feel I’m in a place that no one else can go and where I can be fully present in my photographic process, as photographer Alec Soth talks about in this interview. I feel I’m living ‘on purpose’ and intimately connected with the subject when photographing in this way, being involved with and making the pictures of the things that fascinate and compel me. 

And there’s more to this conceptual foundation that I’ve now discovered…

206 bypass looking south
The north section of the bypass looking south at Amwell Road, July 2017

Clarity

Walking this freeway is a lot like when I’m out sailing on a river or the bay—you’re separated from the traffic and the mad rush of daily life. The sound of tires whirring over bridges becomes muffled to the point that it’s a distant thought…another world that I have escaped temporarily. You become a lone explorer where all is quiet, serene and devoid of any other human presence. There is essentially nothing as far as the eye can see and you feel a hugeness in that space. I feel acutely aware and alive, yet calm. This state of being is addressed in the Tao Te Ching, which I have been reading and studying recently. Most importantly, being in this ‘space’ adds to my ability to think clearly and creatively. As the same verse in the Tao says, when your mind is still the muddied waters will become clear.

Moving forward I will be returning regularly to the bypass to make more pictures and I’m especially excited for the Fall. It’s my favorite time of year and I’ll be out there on the unfinished roadway and also at the south end where they have yet to pave. Walking and photographing it with the trees in bright fall colors, the sun lower in the sky and the days getting shorter, with the serene isolation…that’s where I’ll want to be.

unpaved south section
The unpaved south section of the bypass at Hillsborough Road, July 2017.

Look for my next post on photographing decay and abandonment, and other posts I have forthcoming on a range of interesting subjects.

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The William Gulick House – Saving a Lawrenceville Icon

My first encounter with the William Gulick House was several years ago, around 2011. My wife and I used to drive her son down to Cherry Hill to see his friends who had moved there from Hillsborough. Our route took us down US 206 through Lawrenceville where the house sits at the intersection with Provinceline Road. In the 19th century this crossing was known as Cox’s Corner. The house caught my eye one trip as we drove just south of the intersection where it comes into view. Obviously abandoned, the house looked forlorn yet beckoned me as a perfect subject. My radar is always “on” for large Victorians; especially those in a state of distress…it means there’s lots of exploration, photography and preservation work to be done. As a photographer these houses are some of my most foremost subject matter. You can see them on my website under Fine Art/19th Century House Project. It’s an interest I’ve had since late childhood and seeking them out, exploring and researching them is a big part of my work.

Gulick House
The William Gulick House in December 2012

My photography of The Gulick House, then, began in December of 2012, with the photo above being the first formal picture I made of it.

A Big House for a Large Farming Family

Second floor hall
Second floor hall and door (at left) to the service wing hallway

William Gulick was a prosperous local farmer whose family name is synonymous with the area, including Hillsborough where I live. Even streets bear the name. Gulick is a Dutch name, having originally been Van Gulick and the Gulicks were not unlike other farming families who owned large tracts of land in New Jersey during the 18th and 19th centuries, like the Craigs of Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. William Gulick was preceded by Dirck Gulick whose house is 100 years older and sits on Route 601 several miles north in Montgomery.

The house has been designated as one of the few large ‘high style’ houses built in the area in the 19th century.

William built his house in 1855 for his growing family. It’s a large 5-bay Victorian in the Italianate style, which had become very popular by the mid-nineteenth century. Even by today’s standards this is a big house and it has been designated as one of the few large ‘high style’ houses built in the area in the 19th century. By 1860 Mr. Gulick had fathered 7 children—Almyra, Lewis, Franklin, William, Jacob, James and John. An eighth child, Fannie Belle, came along later but she died in infancy. In fact, the other youngest three didn’t live to see age 30. There were also single servants who lived in the house over the years. According to the census records, they were typically young adults in their late teens. There is one named Elizabeth in the 1860 census, and another in the 1870 or ’80 record, a young man from New York State listed as a farmhand. That 4 of the children died so young is strange; perhaps it was tuberculosis, a big killer in the 1800’s. I learned all of this information through census and online research.

William died in December 1890, and his wife Mary (known as Fannie, a popular name of the day) 4 years later. It is not known who the house passed to after the 1890’s; there isn’t any information on the family members after the 1880 census. More research is still needed.

Architectural Style Changes

Front gable and pediments
Front gable and pediments

Around 1920 the house underwent some major stylistic alterations. The Colonial Revival style was then in vogue and whoever owned the fine large house decided that they needed to keep current with architectural style trends. Luckily, most of the Italianate details were retained except for the front porch, which was removed. Pediments were added (right) above the arched window in the front gable and over the front entry. The mantels in the upstairs bedrooms also reflect the Colonial style. The existing mantels on the first floor have been removed by vandals.

The blending of the two styles was articulated so well that they manifest in a unique blending of architectural styles, and that is the criterion—architectural significance—that earned The Gulick House its certification of eligibility (COE) for the historic registers. More on that below.

The Present and Certification for the Historic Registers

front entrance
The front entrance of The Gulick House in 2013

After 1920 there is nothing of note in the house’s history until the mid-1990’s. That’s when it was sold out of its last private ownership and into the hands of a corporate entity, E.R. Squibb and Son, which soon after became Bristol Meyers Squibb. They, in turn, sold the property in short order to Care One, LLC, an assisted living company. To make a long and complicated story short, two plans were submitted that called for incorporating the house into the proposed facility; and then finally one for demolishing it after the pervious two went to court over disagreements on the size of the proposed new facility. That 3rd use-variance plan was submitted in 2005 with no hearing ever held on it, and the house languished again until I discovered it around 2010-2011.

I wondered if anyone had done anything toward its preservation and thought that the historic registers would be a good place to start. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in Trenton said they did indeed know of the house and its saga but that nothing had ever been submitted. I thought that was an incredible stroke of good luck for me, so I obtained the pre-application packet and began preparing the materials in June 2013. Since my graduate school semester had just ended I had some time to work on it. By mid-July, after a lot of work visiting the property, writing descriptions and making photographs, I had completed the necessary materials and mailed the packet in. A couple of weeks later I got the certification of eligibility from SHPO (dated July 26, 2013) saying that the state recognized my assertion that the house was eligible for a historic registers nomination under criterion ‘C’ for architectural significance. This was a major positive milestone in the recent history of The Gulick House.

My radar is always “on” for large Victorians…

Not much happened for the next couple years except for the occasional contact from someone who had seen my press release on obtaining the COE. Eventually, about two and a half years later, I was contacted by Anthony Pizzutillo, a public relations consultant who is active in historic preservation and politically connected in the Princeton-Lawrenceville area. He expressed great interest in my work and we discussed our hopes of preserving the Gulick House in detail. He informed me that the Lawrence Planning Board would be hearing renewed arguments from the owner for a demolition permit application; this was in 2015. The application was first denied by the Lawrence Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) and was appealed to the Planning Board. Those hearings ended with the permit again being denied in 2016.

During the time when the hearings were being held, Mr. Pizzutillo, Pamela Frank, also a historic preservation advocate, and I formed Friends of The Gulick House, a non-profit organization whose mission is to effect the preservation and restoration of the house. I also got my good friend Max Hayden involved as architecural consultant. Max is an architect in Hopewell who specializes in historic preservation.

A Brighter Future

With The Friends of The Gulick House assembled we began working in earnest towards a solution to the demolition threat problem. We were able to get the beginnings of a very promising proposal on the table that provides for 100% preservation. At present, the negotiations appear to have have been shelved while other more important matters are being pursued. So far it’s been another 2 years but hopefully things will get moving again soon.

For access to the historic registers pre-application files and updates on the house you can email me at james@jamestcallahanphotographer.com.

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Down The Road To A New Pinnacle with Kansas

It’s been a long strange trip, to borrow a phrase from another legendary group, but to see the band Kansas in their current iteration four times in the last year is something I never would have expected to do. Certainly not back when I was spending hours on end listening to their albums ‘Song For America’ and ‘Masque’ in my youth. The current lineup has a very strong chemistry and has gelled into a powerful touring band. Their performnaces, which sometimes go for 2-hours, are inspiring, and hearing all those great songs delivered so perfectly and with such passion is an uplifting experience.

Kansas band
Kansas performs at The Plaza Live in Orlando, Florida on March 17, 2017.

Just to back up a little, with the end of the 1970s and the release of ‘Point of Know Return’ my interest in the band waned. I did like the early 80’s era with John Elefante and songs like “Fire With Fire” and “Play The Game.” I was impressed that the band was able to transition successfully and update their sound. But after that I didn’t listen to them for a long time, even with Steve Morse on board. Not until recently when my wife’s undying devotion to their music, particularly from those ensuing years when I wasn’t listening, rekindled my interest. And then she got us tickets for a show in Atlantic City in early 2016.

rich_williams_photo
Richard Williams

I’m not typically into bands from my youth that are now in some reconstituted form with maybe one or two original members. But…Kansas is very different...THIS Kansas is a still viable and living band.

A New Found Enthusiasm

Seeing them perform at the Trump Taj Mahal in February 2016 was a pleasant surprise… they were amazing! And the attendance was more than respectable…it was a full house and an enthusiastic audience. The three other shows we’ve seen in the past year were no less impressive and coincided with me getting back into regular practice on the drum set. I’ve wanted to improve certain aspects of my playing that I feel have been neglected despite regular performance for almost 40 years and these guys kicked my butt to do it.

From L-R: Billy Greer, Ronnie Platt, David Ragsdale.

I’m not typically into bands from my youth that are now in some reconstituted form with maybe one or two original members. But this current Kansas is very different. True, there are only two members from the original lineup – drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams – but bassist Billy Greer replaced original bassist Dave Hope in 1985 so he’s virtually an original member by now. He brings so much to the table with great bass playing and vocals, plus he was a member of Steve Walsh’s band Streets. The other members, violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale, keybordist David Manion, and vocalist/keyboardist Ronnie Platt are all virtuosos in their own right and complete a stellar lineup. It’s my honest opinion that Ronnie is the best choice the band could have made to replace original vocalist Steve Walsh. Mr. Ragsdale is not only a brilliant violinist but also an incredible guitar player, ripping some of the best Kansas guitar solos. And David Manion is worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of progressive keyboardmen like Emerson and Wakeman.
 

I highly recommend seeing Kansas in all their polished and powerful presence.

And of course, drummer Phil Ehart is nothing short of amazing, pounding out the best of Kansas’ repertoire on the drums for two hours straight each night. I know what kind of stamina this requires. His uique self-taught style has always been a big influence in my own playing. I’ve been performing “Down The Road” from Song For America in different cover bands for many years, and Phil’s intricate parts are always a challenge to pull off right.

New Blood

Zak Rizvi

Of particular note is the inclusion in the lineup (as a pemanent member) of good friend Zak Rizvi on guitar. Zak is a fellow New Jersey musician and has the disticntion of co-producing and co-writing the new album, The Prelude Implicit. It’s great to see him reach this level of accomplishment in his career and I’m looking forward to the band’s future creative efforts with him involved.

I highly recommend seeing Kansas in all of their polished and powerful presence. Each performance has been flawless. This is not a retread act just going through the motions…these guys truly love what they do and the music is as fresh, intricate and passionate as ever. It shines through in every performance.

You can visit the band’s official website at Kansasband.com

A Note About The Pictures

The photos in this post were made with my iPhone 7 Plus smartphone. This goes against my core belief regarding how I choose to practice photography. I am not a proponent nor a practitioner of smartphone ‘photography.’ But it was the option I chose for the show because I didn’t want to worry about my camera all night and I didn’t know if they would let me in with it. Getting good pictures with the phone was difficult at best, what with zooming in, having to deal with resulting shake and shutter lag, and the harsh JPEG artifacts caused by the poor quality of light (intensity). I made a lot of pictures anyway but found myself wishing for my Fujifilm X-T10. But the problem with that is it’s currently fitted with a fixed focal length 35mm lens, which would’ve been too wide for getting closeup photos from where I was sitting. So I used the phone…it was just more convenient.

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