The lone building that still stands at the main intersection in the abandoned
town of Eliasville.
you look at these pictures, the question you’re probably asking is... why?
Why would someone want to drive hundreds of miles across the state of Texas
to an old, abandoned ghost town, risking encounters with rattlesnakes, scorpions,
hostile locals, and buildings that might collapse at the drop of a hat, all just
to take photographs of these forgotten places?
And on top of that, why on earth would you want to do it all at night?
Most folks don’t understand the appeal, but for me, there’s a special beauty
and mystery to these places that just can’t be captured at any other time of day.
The long exposure times required to let the moonlight take the picture brings
out a whole new range of colors and textures you just don’t see during daylight
hours. An old jailhouse by day becomes a surreal icon on the open plains after
dark; a river flowing by an abandoned mill becomes a smooth ribbon of velvet winding
through the Texas night.
The clear fork of the Brazos River flows gently by the remains of
the old Donnell Mill, built in
1895 in Eliasville.
there’s the solitude…standing in the middle of a virtually empty field of cactus,
scrub trees, and sagebrush and knowing that, a hundred years ago, you would have
been standing in downtown Belle
Plain, Texas. Literally no lights to be seen in any direction… only the full
moon above, so bright you could read a newspaper by it. You start to wonder what
life must have been like for these people, who lived out in the middle of nowhere…
back when “nowhere” was the middle of town.
The deteriorating home of the dean of Belle
Plain college, the ruins of which still stand some 200 yards behind this structure…a
distance I was not willing to venture without snake boots.
often ask if it’s “spooky,” poking around in ghost
towns in the middle of the night. It can be, for sure. Standing in front of
an abandoned old house in a remote Texas
ghost town, all alone… or at least you think you are…
you hear a noise, and you wonder, “Was that the wind, or perhaps an animal…maybe
just the creaking of one of these old buildings… surely that’s all it was…”
Your mind, as they say, can start to play tricks on you.
fears notwithstanding, there is plenty to be wary of when exploring these places.
As I mentioned before, all manner of wild animals can be found in out-of-the-way
spots like these, including mountain lions and even bears in some parts of the
state; it truly can be a jungle out there!
the buildings themselves are usually in some advanced state of disrepair, just
waiting for the unwary adventurer to step on a decaying floorboard and fall through.
It’s often difficult to see all the potential traps into which you might step
when exploring a ghost town at night.
But staying alert is not as hard as you might imagine; in fact, I find
that all the senses become heightened when exploring these places. Your hearing,
your sight (once it adjusts to the dark), even your smell is more acute than in
Inside the old strap-iron cellblock of the Kent
County Jail in Clairemont.
The jail was pitch black; photo was lit with multiple green-gelled strobe flashes
during the time exposure.
outlined some of what appeals to me about ghost
towns at night, but any explanation would be incomplete without mentioning
the intangible elements: those elusive, often indescribable details that irreversibly
brand the experience into your memory. I come from a quiet little community in
the northeast part of the state called Dallas,
so for me, the sense of isolation in these forgotten places is rare and refreshing.
Standing alone in total darkness and total silence, only to suddenly realize that
the “silence” is in fact a near-deafening chorus of crickets. Hearing a lonesome
pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Seeing a thin layer of wispy clouds blaze
bright as they glide past the moon. All of this contributes to a remarkable sense
of place, a vivid awareness, an awakening to the beauty and tranquility of a Texas
You need a place to think? Get in your car and drive
to Eskota, Texas, pull off the
road, get out, and lie down on the hood of your car. Look up at the moon and stars.
Whatever’s on your mind will find perspective pretty quickly.
old motel court sits just west of the intersection of SR-67 and FM-701 in Young
ultimately, I suppose I enjoy taking these photographs for a variety of reasons.
On the one hand, I immensely enjoy the creative process associated with night
photography, as well as the experience of simply being in these remote, deserted
places. And while the experience is for me a solitary one, I do want to share
it with others, so these pictures also represent my attempt at conveying the incredible
sense of history, beauty, imagination, and mystery that these ghost
towns conjure up for me. I hope you find these places as interesting as I
do, and that you enjoy my pictures of them.
Copyright Noel Kerns. October 2007
in this essay were shot at night and in total darkness aside from moonlight and,
in some cases, artistic effect lighting. The only exceptions to this are “Eliasville”
and “For Sale,” which were partially illuminated by sodium vapor lamps on nearby
The luminescence and color saturation in these images
are a result of the lengthy exposure times, ranging from one to ten minutes, and
belie how dark the scenes really were.
For the effect lighting in several
pictures, I used hand-held strobes with colored gel filters, and an arsenal of
flashlights varying in intensity from a Mini-Maglite up to a 2,000,000 candlepower
spotlight. All pictures were taken with a Nikon D80 digital SLR camera.
More Photos by Noel Kerns
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