Making Old Buildings New

My prior post was about the decline of American industry and the remnants of associated buildings left behind. I saw lots of “beauty” in that regard, and decided while making those photos to take a look at how local community developers and elected officials have decided to improve on that situation. I recently began following a blog written by a couple living in Greensboro, NC who live in a renovated textile plant in that city, which is attracting many young people like them. I decided to take a look closer to home here in Martinsville, VA and what follows is what I saw recently.

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For years I drove by a somewhat rundown brick building that once was home to the Martinsville Novelty Company. What’s a “novelty” you ask. Good question and certainly not something we see anymore with that title. Wikipedia defines this as “A novelty item is an object which is specifically designed to serve no practical purpose, and is sold for its uniqueness, humor, or simply as something new.” I remember as a kid seeing ads in comic books that touted many “novelties” each of which captured my attention. Anyway, I digress. Several years ago a developer purchased the building and turned it into a very nice apartment complex with lots of amenities. The adjacent parking lot was crowded the day I visited to make this photo. Success number one!

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Success number two. The historic Henry Hotel sat for years in the center of Martinsville, and served its purpose well. Then it closed years ago. Recently another developer gave the building a new chance in life. Martinsville’s Historic Henry Hotel is now The Henry, a 25-unit downtown loft complex. Small businesses were attracted and that has helped put a bit more vibrancy into the city, previously impacted by closures of many local major industries.

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Lastly, and perhaps most significant is what has happened to the main production facility for Tultex, Inc located here in Martinsville. The city was once referred to as “the sweatshirt capital of the world”, due to Tultex’s production of athletic and other popular lines of clothing. Then along came China to compete, and “boom” Tultex and many companies like it shuttered their facilities. The loss of jobs had a obvious significant impact on Martinsville, but left behind was a very large multi-story brick building. That changed due to forward-looking and wise action on the part of many people. A portion of the plant has been converted to office space with large meeting/conference facilities, that have over the past several years, added a lot to the community. Here’s what it looks like today in its new life.

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I’m proud to have been witness to the transformation processes related to each of the three examples I cited above. I already mentioned one such success in Greensboro, plus I’m aware of many other examples elsewhere in North Carolina and Virginia. It makes me proud to see what’s happening. We Americans are indeed adaptable.

Madison’s Dry Goods Country Store

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We live about fifteen driving minutes away from Madison, NC. The small town of about 2000 is located in the Piedmont Region of Virginia and North Carolina, and its downtown business district is a favorite place for me to visit. Always with my camera. In that regard I offer up Madison’s Dry Goods Country Store.  I love visiting and shopping in stores like this, and believe me I’ve been in many. The unique thing about here is the friendly atmosphere, and quality clothing and other goods sold, at reasonable prices. Here are some photos I made to give you a taste. If you are in Rockingham County NC,  I encourage you to visit Madison, as I did this past week, leaving with a just purchased nice flannel shirt and fleece vest. I’m ready for winter now!

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I’ve seen it … I’ve been there

Long term changes in global weather patterns is a popular topic of discussion today. First, this isn’t some liberal rant about “climate change.” I’m not smart enough to understand whether or not it’s all man-made, whether it’s a natural effect, or whether it’s a combination of both. I do know how it’s affecting those who live in the Bering Sea region and Alaska because I’ve been there (five times since 1999) and seen it first hand. In 2009, for example, my wife and I spent two weeks exploring via small cruise ship the remote Bering Sea region from Kodiak Island, to Dutch Harbor to Eastern Siberia in Russia. It was, to say the least, a trip of a lifetime.

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This is Savoonga, the only town on St. Lawrence Island, located in the northern region of the Bering Sea, and as far as I’m concerned the most remote town in the United States. Below is the U.S. Post Office, Zip Code 99769.

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Below are photos of a few of the Native Americans who live in Savoonga. They were “dressed up” and welcoming of our visit. They shared native foods with us. They also gathered with us in the high school gymnasium to share their joy in song and dance. These are proud and very wise people.

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While there we learned how much these Americans depend on finding and gathering enough sea life annually, as a primary food source. There was a small General Store that sold basic subsistance items, but each was relatively expensive given the need to bring supplies in via air and boat from the Alaska mainland. Seal and Whale meat was hanging in various locations throughout the town, drying to make it less prone to spoiling.

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We were told how it has become increasingly difficult over the past several years to find enough whales, walruses, seals and other sea life to sucessfully hunt. For example, a single whale, captured and killed using harpoon and small outboard motor boats, might result in enough food for 100 people, for one year. Do the math to figure out how many whales must be found to feed a town of 700. Warming ocean water, the hunters said, seems to be the main cause of the reduced numbers of their usual and traditional prey. These are subsistence hunters. They waste nothing and take only what they need.

Another sight I’ve seen since 1999 is relatively rapid glacial melting, again caused by unusually warm temperatures. On our first visit to Portage Glacier south of Anchorage, for example, it was possible to see the glacier face on Portage Lake from the Visitor’s Center. In August 2017 I was there again at the Visitor’s Center, and the glacier had retreated so far back into adjacent mountains, one had to take a lengthy boat ride to see the face. I saw the same thing in Prince William Sound (August 2017 photo below). While many glaciers there are most impressive by their size, I note that they were much more impressive the first time I saw them.

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I recall when it was impossible for us to get as close to this glacier as we did this past August. That was because glacier ice clogged the bay almost to the point where I made this photo. I submit that warming temperatures are causing this.

Maybe we’re now going through another “cycle” that earth has experienced many times before. Large climate swings back and forth that may take decades to document. However, I’m weary of listening to and reading theories by so-called experts, and politically motivated bloggers who’ve never been there to see first hand what’s going on. I submit my “facts” observed over almost twenty years of “being there” are worth much more when discussing this situation. Blaming someone or some “thing” does little to help the Native Americans that live in these remote regions.

Another Reason

We’ve lived in Martinsville-Henry County Virginia for over 15 years. That’s pretty special, considering our 28-year career in the Army when we moved on average every 2-3 years. I love living where we do now, retired fully and enjoying it all the best we can, considering age and health concerns. My cameras help keep me focused (no pun) on what’s around me. This photo essay is about a very nice (and relative new) attraction in Martinsville. Another reason why we love living here.

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The items in the display represent many facets of the diversity of people and activities in Henry County … textiles, furniture, music, faith, farming, recreation, etc. The display shows a high level of creativity in how those items are presented. Thanks to all who designed and put together this creative artwork, and to those officials and others who made its public display possible. It’s great!

Exploring in Alaska

I’m no expert by any means when it comes to locations to visit in Alaska. However, I have been there five times since 1999 (most recently last month) and I’ve seen quite a lot of territory via air, sea and land transportation. I’ve traveled on 1-2 week small ship organized tours, organized land tours; and most recently on my own, unencumbered by departure schedules and limited time to devote to any single destination. We simply flew to Anchorage, rented a car and off we went exploring. Here’s a tip if you decide such an option is for you. Definitely drive about an hour north from Anchorage and visit the Historic Independence Gold Mine. I don’t believe it’s on most organized tour itineraries, and that’s what made it so special to me. The photos below are what we saw, spending a leisurely half-day walking around over marked trails, easy and less so. That afternoon we drove up the winding Hatcher Pass road to Summit Lake (another incredible destination not on your typical organized tour). I’ll post photos from there in a future blog post.

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Waiting for the Train

In the wilds of Alaska, it’s not always a simple matter to “get there.” A primary mode of transportation is via small “bush” and other forms of private aircraft. There are roads for vehicular traffic, but depending on where you’re headed there may be none. Then there’s my favorite form of transportation, Alaska Railroad. Major cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks have large passenger depots, but at many locations, such as Girdwood where I was, with our daughter and grandson, it’s a “depot” in name only. Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea.

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Right on time, the trains Conductor stepped off, checked our tickets, and helped us climb aboard, and we were underway in less than five minutes. My main point here is to note that Alaska Rail stops at many locations much more remote than Girdwood. That says a lot about just how “frontier-like” Alaska is compared to much of the rest of the United States.

Appalachian Life

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I’m fortunate to live in the foothills of the scenic Appalachian Mountains … Virginia and North Carolina variety. For this photo presentation I took two original color images I made last month and processed each to give them an “antique” look, as if I was looking at an old film photo taken long ago. As I travel about this region I always look for signs from the past. Such as the railroad line above, and even more so the cabin located on a stream bank below. That photo depicts the true character of the mountains I love to experience.

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A Blue Ridge Discovery

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I’m thankful living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where in an hour’s drive I can be standing where I made this photo.  If you’re wondering why they are called “Blue Ridge” mountains this image might help. It’s all about the haze on the horizon, some natural some manmade. Today, I’m just a “looker”a short walk away from my car parked off the road, with camera in hand, clicking away. But, there was a time still fresh in my memory when I’d park my car, toss a daypack on and head right down the middle of this location, following marked trails, to experience the joy of discovery. In these high mountains above 3000 feet, hidden in  hollows, there is remarkably well preserved evidence left by those hearty folk who once lived in the wilderness.

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I’d like to say I hiked to this rustic old cabin on a hillside but I didn’t. I spotted it in the woods as I was driving along a narrow mountain road. But, it fits my story, so bear with me. When I discover places like this, either on foot or via car, I always take a few minutes to wonder who lived there and when. I can easily visualize a hound dog barking at me if  I wandered too close. I can see an old woman sitting in the open front door waving at me to come share a cup of coffee, or a biscuit left over from breakfast. It’s easy to get caught up with these type thoughts. In today’s world, many of our poorest city folk live better than did those in remote Blue Ridge Mountain valleys. Every day back then must have been a struggle.  Hunting game from sunrise to sunset, miles away from home. Finding and gathering scarce wild edible plants. Carrying water from nearby streams, and chopping seemingly endless amounts of firewood. So, when I find a place like this I’m thankful for the many blessings we have today.  Still, it would have been an experience I’d love to have had, living in the wilderness back then. Actually, via books I read every day, and through the lens of my camera, I do live that way … in my mind. That’s pretty special.

My Passion

It’s good being older and retired professionally. But, not necessarily enjoyable. Things get in the way. Health issues, lack of resources (like time), and simple laziness. Also, while carrying around an aging body, regardless of the positive motivation provided by health trackers such as Fitbit, we realize we’re just getting old and no matter what we do, our legs ain’t gonna function as they once did. I’ve learned a good way to make things better, however, no matter how creaky old my body is. I’ve found one thing to keep me fresh and motivated every day. It’s photography.

During a second professional career I had to learn how to become a good photographer. I had to learn how to use top level cameras and computer software such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Lightroom. I worked hard and became pretty good, even if I do brag a bit. It was all fun, and I gained a lot of satisfaction when people responded favorably to my graphic design and photo compositions. Over the years I sought better tools and techniques to improve my work. I was quick to upgrade software to the latest version, quick to buy a newer and “better” camera, and spent many hours engaging in online discussion groups seeking the views of others similarly motivated. Slowly I became a “gear freak” and for instance would order a new camera bag right away after reading an enthusiastic review. There always seemed to be an illusive “something” out there I needed, but hadn’t yet clearly defined.

The ultimate result of all my activity back then turned out to be a storage closet full of items either obsolete or no longer used. I never sell anything “old” because I’m a sentimental collector. I’ve gifted some of my old gear to family and friends, but now most sit stored away in their original packaging. That doesn’t mean I’m no longer making photos and sharing them with others. On the contrary, I’m more active photographically today than I was then. The difference is I no longer yearn for a new or  better camera. I have two I’m pleased to say I use daily. What brand/model they are isn’t important, but I’ll say they are fairly small, light, and exceptionally good. My point is that I’ve personally experienced a span of time when we went largely from Nikon or Canon film SLR cameras and professional level lens, to digital models with excellent lens, to lighter and equally good mirrorless cameras with their own smaller lens. Now, we have crazy good “phone” cameras perhaps better in some situations than any of the above. And then there’s the software involved. It’s an “App” world now and I’m thankful for it. I said farewell to Adobe many years ago. You were great for a time and I relied on your products every day. Now, you are no longer relevant. I’ve found much better (for me) computer, tablet and smartphone programs  that get the job done faster, more enjoyably and easier than I could have imagined just a few years ago.

It’s great being fully retired and able to spend most of my time out looking for photo opportunities rather than messing with them digitally, hour after hour, to give me just the “right” look. My stuff winds up only on my Photoblog, and if people don’t like what they see that’s fine with me. I’m no longer getting paid for what I do. But the deal is, I’m feeding my passion and that’s all I seek.

Closed for the Winter

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A very popular location in SW Virginia at which to enjoy yourself is Fairy Stone State Park, with it’s swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing lake, plus many amenities designed especially for younger children. Now, it’s closed for the winter. Heavy rains have muddied the normally clear blue, spring-fed water, while fallen leaves and other debris have cluttered usually clean, white sandy beaches.

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During warm summer days, there would be rental kayaks and canoes lined up along this shoreline, with fees being paid in the shed in the background. A different summer scene would be present below, with more rental boats lined up.

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Fishing in the lake, both from shore (below) and on the water, is very popular; however, in the midst of winter, the lake is mostly deserted. Pedal boats are currently stored under picnic shelters, waiting to again be put in the water in just a few more months.

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Also sitting idle are gymnastic facilities designed for young children. I’ve been there in the midst of summer and this specific place is packed with shouting, suntanned kids, while nearby parents watch happily.

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Distinct contrasts between seasons in many locations all across northern regions of America may appear rather sad and drab when not snow-covered. I don’t look at it that way at all. It’s just a promise of what lies ahead.