Losing Middle America

Abandoned Oklahoma Farm (click to enlarge)

I love driving across the Midwest. Too often I hear people complain that middle America is flat and boring. Flat, yes, but if you get off the interstate (which is boring everywhere) and take the back roads you’ll see a fascinating landscape and a different kind of rugged America.

Abandoned Ozarks Cabin & Carnival Ride

Driving across the Midwest this past spring on my trek from Maine to New Mexico, I crossed all of Arkansas and Oklahoma without ever hitting a major highway. As I cruised the back country roads through millions of acres of farmland, I was struck by the number of abandoned houses and farms. Many of these weren’t shacks, but lovely grand farmhouses gone to waste, rife with weeds and broken windows.

Overgrown Ozarks Farmhouse

As agriculture becomes more and more industrialized, farms are no longer worked or owned by families. Farmhouses that have seen generations come and go now sit empty and are quickly falling to pieces.

I walked all around many of these places, peering in empty windows and through open doorways but never crossing the thresholds; every place was full of broken furniture, rusty nails and shattered glass. Such desperate messes gave me the impression that people didn’t leave these homes quietly, although I’m sure vandalism has been rampant too.

Touring these ruins, I caught glimpses of once loved homes: overgrown gardens, empty bird feeders, rusting backyard grills. Next to one Ozarks cabin, inexplicably, part of a carnival ride. Pieces of countless country lives, left behind.

Abandoned Oklahoma Schoolhouse

Texas Shack & Silos

Kansas Cow & Dog House (click to enlarge)

Not everything was ruin and decay. It was mid-April and large lilac bushes in full bloom perfumed many of the properties. Each time I stopped, I picked a few fragrant sprigs for my car’s cup holder. Driving across the Midwest may be flat and at times, depressing, but by my recollection, it smells glorious.

Road Trip Lilac

Click here to see more photos of America’s dying Heartland and here for my Rules of the Great American Road Trip.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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13 Responses to Losing Middle America

  1. Your rural decay shot are epic, keep it up!

  2. mewithmycamera says:

    love the red houses

  3. This post reminds me of Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. You are a wonderful writer…I enjoy your blog!

  4. Beautiful photos! Abandoned houses have been a longtime interest of mine as well as my favorite photo subject. I’ve dreamed of doing a middle America road trip looking for these forgotten farm houses. I love that you find Lilac bushes, I always admired the daffodils in the backyards of abandoned houses back east that not only survived neglect but continued to thrive, spread, and bloom every spring 🙂

    • Sounds like an awesome road trip! You don’t need to go all the way to the midwest though- lots of abandoned farms and buildings here in New Mexico. I’ve also thought about doing a series on rural gas stations. There are so many, lots with vintage pumps, and the abandoned gas station graffiti is usually pretty wild too.

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