Abandoned Hudson Valley (AHV) is the avocation of Liz Cooke and Andy Milford, who are dedicated to sharing ideas and images of the abandoned, imperiled and forgotten places in the Hudson Valley. AHV is also an online community of photographers and writers who shoot pictures and gather history and anecdotal accounts about these extraordinary local places. Some subjects are well-known and accessible (Bennett College and Bannerman Castle, for example) and others are hidden and dangerous to explore. AHV members seek to record the condition of crumbling structures on their website, abandonedhudsonvalley.com, before they’re demolished by the ravages of time or the wrecking ball.
In many ways, AHV is similar to the long established local history hunters’ website hudsonvalleyruins.org, created by Robert Yasinsac and Thomas Rinaldi, authors of Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape. There are a lot of people who do this, Cooke says: people whom you can trust, who are ethical and will respect the places and not disclose locations (some places are fragile and vulnerable). “We just want to photograph something unique and beautiful in its own tragic way. There are some places about which we really want to know more.” She mentions an old stone house in Kingston that was scheduled for demolition, but after AHV photographed it, some preservationists came in to save it. “It was an important house, but was completely invisible.”
Cooke started out 2013 with a Facebook page that featured photos of the Hudson River State Hospital and Letchworth Village, work she did with her iPhone. “I was completely energized by being in this place,” she says of the abandoned psychiatric hospital, “this massive, Gothic building. I was really moved, and it looked like people were interested, as well. Within three or four days, I had 5,000 ‘likes.’ These places captured people’s imaginations.”
She cites Richard Nickel’s Kingston Lounge as an inspiring website filled with photographs of abandoned and deteriorating buildings in the New York metropolitan area. “I would go to Kingston Lounge and see his work, and after moving up here from Brooklyn, I stumbled into this treasure-trove of amazing places. I was a photographer for many years. I’ve always been interested in subcultures and unseen things. It’s crazy, how much there is to shoot here.”
At some point, the Facebook page stopped being only about Cooke’s work. Others have stepped in and expanded both the historical data and the photographic archives. AHV is open to new members to participate by writing about and photographing new locations, or by working at more administrative tasks, such as marketing, curating and event planning. The organization invites the submission of photographs to be added to the archives or written work in the form of story ideas, features about abandoned locations and guest columns.
Of particular interest are the real-life memories someone might have of working in, owning or visiting these now-derelict places. Video recordings and interviews are welcome, too, and scouting services are available through AHV. That last option is one to consider before you tromp into a structure that might be unsound or could contain high levels of lead, asbestos or other carcinogens. AHV members do not condone reckless or illegal activities. Best check with local authorities before embarking on a visit to an unmanaged site.
Cooke and Milford will be speaking at the Staatsburg Library on Friday, March 24 at 7 p.m. New photographs of abandoned churches, convents and cemeteries will be presented, along with other structures on the verge of being torn down. The library is located at 10 Old Post Road in Staatsburg. Admission is free. Learn about their passion, and check out the AHV website at http://abandonedhudsonvalley.com to see photos of the many fascinating places falling into one stage of decrepitude or another right here in our own backyards. For more information, call (917) 856-2791 or contact Abandoned Hudson Valley at PO Box 419, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.