Friday, September 28, 2012

Abandoned in Harpers Ferry

Emily and I had a girls day out on Sunday and drove towards Harpers Ferry to do some ground work for a possible bike ride the following week. We were chugging along and chatting when I spotted a sign highlighting hiking trails and decided to investigate. Down a bumpy dirt track we came to a farm like place with a small park incorporated.  There was hardly anyone there and we got out to read a billboard. Behind that we saw a field with pigs and goats and had to walk over.
There were a few baby pigs who were adorable and the whole herd trotted over to be petted and fussed, immensely enjoying scratches behind the ear and hugs. The goats had to be cuddled too and everybody was very happy. In fact, the pigs were so contented that after a while a couple of them laid down, shut their eyes and proceeded to take a nap regardless of my presence. The others followed suit and soon only myself and the goats were standing. so not wanting to disturb the pigs' blissful slumber I slowly backed away and joined Emily again, and we both walked away quietly so see what else was around. The place was so quiet it seemed that maybe everyone except the insects were taking a siesta but we came across a man walking his dog and he suggested a nice little hike through the woods.
It was a serenely peaceful hike and we never saw another soul as we followed the paths. We came across a couple of old houses and a wonderfully wobbly bridge spanning a small creek. We ended up strolling a couple of miles until we came back to the beginning and were amazed at how the hours had flown by in this quiet little haven.
Soon we were on the road again barreling towards Harpers Ferry driving straight for the Hilltop Hotel to check out its condition. It had been closed for a few years now and had never been developed as had been originally planned into a restored version of its old self.
Above are images of how it was in its glory and how it was supposed to look by now.
This was the sad scene that greeted us. I was deeply dismayed to see the demise of this once majestic building that held fond memories for me.
 The view from out the back and the front. I don't know of many hotels that can boast of such beautiful unspoilt vistas as these, which could also be seen from huge open windows in the dining area that perched above the gorge.
We walked through the open front door and looked around. It was sad, and immediately I felt an anger towards the company who had purchased this property and left it to rot.
The once welcoming foyer which I remember as feeling so cozy and inviting with large comfy old chairs and a fire flickering in the stone fireplace. I so hope they save this old mirror before vandals destroy it.
My parents had come to visit me in 2005 and I'd brought them here to show them the hotel. They'd announced a day later that they'd booked 3 nights out of their visit in the hotel because they'd been charmed by the building, the staff and the views. I heard of quiet summer evenings spent on the paved patio with fellow guests, sharing drinks and stories, and of comfortable rooms that didn't let the neighbors activities penetrate through the walls. I'd never stayed here myself but had been for lunches a few times with friends, always wanting to return to that fabulous terrace where the windows would be opened wide and a sweet breeze would waft across the table as we ate lunch and laughed over drinks, and if you leaned a little out over the low ledges you could peer straight down into the steep valley immediately below. The views were marvelous here and always talked of. I don't remember that the food was fabulous but the hotel's atmosphere itself, created by the building and the staff, was always the main feature, it could hold its own court.
As we walked slowly around I could feel that the place had still retained its charm which made its demise even sadder. Even in its decay the individually decorated bedrooms still held some appeal. I had once marveled at how many different kinds of wallpaer had been used n the rooms, rooms that didn't have the continuous boring floor plan or stamp of chain hotels, but which individually held their own character. I could imagine folks coming back here year after year wanting the same much loved room or requesting a different room to try, because they were all so individual.
The dining terrace windows were still in place but the ivy was battling its way inside, prising the glass away from the frames, and creeping along the walls towards floor and ceiling.
I found a couple of articles on line, learning how the hotel will have to be torn down because it is now too unsafe to restore,  and have posted them below.,0,4692407.story,0,4692407.story

I wonder if eventually someone will build another Hilltop Hotel or will the hill be pinaccled with a boring, spiritless Hyatt or similar chain hotel. I sincerely hope not, Harpers Ferry deserves better than that. This is a prime beauty spot which commands respect.
We left and met some people outside looking wistfully up at the crumbly walls and we shared memories, some funny, some poignant. All were upset at the decay and abandonment. As yet, there have been few vandals or scrappers inside but surely that will soon occur, and the thought of that upset me tremendously as I looked back over my shoulder, feeling protective as though the hotel were an old friend.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Long Time, No See, Forest Haven

I've been hankering to see an old haunt for some time now. We'd been hearing on the grapevine that because of a lot of unwelcome attention security had been stepped up, but we decided to look in on our old friend for ourselves, so on Saturday morning Emily, Kelly and I strolled into the grounds of Forest Haven for a scout around. It's been well over a year, maybe longer since I was last here and I was shocked at how overgrown the site was. The buildings looked sadder standing as though with sagging shoulders and the trees had spurted upward and out,  reaching across the long uncut grass as though attempting to hide the skeletal remains of the once grand structures.
We'd heard rumors that a lot of the buildings had been emptied so decided to check out the main building first. A lot had gone, it was true, I noticed that the paperwork once scattered on the floor had gone and the rooms which had often held interesting little knickknacks or items that had been fun to photograph were now mostly empty.
There were a few items of broken furniture still remaining, and this wonderful retro chair claimed an empty room all for itself..
The lab was a shell of what it had used to be, shelves and counters once cluttered with interesting bottles, jars and other lab equipment were now mainly coated with broken items and thick dust, heavy piles of decay. But the old typewriter, as on my blog header, still held pride of place by a doorway.
The famous Forest Haven chair looked more beat up than I remembered, rain riddled dust streaking its arms. I might have sat in it once but not now.
We strolled around outside for a while, enjoying the vibrant colors of some nearby butterflies and the early fall leaves, then decided to take some photos using the desks that others had staged outside one of the buildings on a previous exploration. Here Emily's looking up instructions on how to use the timer on her camera and then her successful image.
We later went to a building that I'd only been in once before. I remembered specifically some old leather cases and tools on benches, a woodworking room. The building was even more dilapidated than the others, a heavy damp smell creeping along the floors. The leather bags appeared as though ready to disintegrate if I touched them and the tools had long disappeared. The old furniture out the back reminded us of the sad occupants whose miserable days spent here were now just dated articles on the internet and in old papers.
Our last building was one at the back of the premises where the old school bus is parked. There had been more piles of discarded rubbish added here so now the area resembled a tip, a depressing sight. A sudden flash of metallic sapphire glinted on an old plastic mattress as a lizard darted into hiding, refusing to reappear and shine amongst the trash.
Inside we walked in silence through the corridors past cells which had once held the more unstable patients. The old piano was a welcome sight and looked no different from my last visit.
What we called 'the hanging wall' had slipped a few more inches but was still managing to remain in one piece.
We peered into the courtyard and was amazed to see trees growing there. I'm sure on our last visit I'd only been aware of some weeds and small bushes growing in the cracks of the broken concrete.
The last stop of our tour was the chapel.
A few more panes of the jewel colored glass had been broken but for the most part the place was intact. We sat and rested for a while reflecting quietly on past trips here.
I've always been drawn to the windows of abandoned buildings and Forest Haven has a wonderful collection,  old eyes looking out onto the world while shielding their secrets from the outside.
I found this article, mentioning a couple of my friends who've also visited this asylum.  Click here.
I'd like to go back once the cooler weather settles in and the bugs have either perished or scooted off to warmer climes, a couple of days after our visit I started scratching furiously, the chiggers had got me again.