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Summer 2014

Finding Beauty in the Forgotten

What happens when the beautiful is abandoned? Sometimes it’s demolished, and sometimes it decays beyond recognition. But if we’re lucky, sometimes just enough of the beauty remains for us to see why we thought it was beautiful in the first place.

While communities have spent time and money repairing and renovating old structures, some of the most beautiful places in the United States are still forgotten and lie off the beaten path.

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station (MCS) opened for the first time in 1913, after the old train depot burned. It was supposed to have a grand unveiling, but the fire expedited the MCS’s debut, and the station never received the official dedication it deserved. The railroad invested a total of $16 million (nearly $332 million today) on the entire project.

The main waiting room, inspired by the public baths of ancient Rome, features marble floors, a 54½-foot ceiling, bronze chandeliers, 68-foot Corinthian columns, and three arched 21-by-40-foot windows. The MCS was used for 75 years before its doors were shut.

Currently, MCS is closed to the public, but its listing on the National Register of Historic Places helps save the MCS from being torn down. Located off Vernor Highway near Roosevelt Park, the best way to see MCS is to drive by, park your car, and snap a few photos of the relic’s amazing architecture.

Terrible Tilly: Oregon

Terrible Tilly was one of the most expensive and dangerous lighthouses that the US ever built.

Tillamook Head, located in Ecola State Park in Oregon, is your best bet for catching a glimpse of the abandoned Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Nicknamed “Terrible Tilly” because of the dangers of operating it, the lighthouse lies about a mile off the coast. Access to the lighthouse is extremely limited (even its owners are unable to visit during certain times of the year due to seabird nesting), so you’ll have to bring your binoculars if you want to catch a glimpse of it. But the lighthouse’s history is what marks it as a place to see.

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was one of the most expensive lighthouses built by the US government. It was lit for the first time on January 21, 1881, but was abandoned in 1957 because of the dangers involved and the cost of operation. The island’s highest cliffs reach up to 240 feet above the water, and large swells crash against the rocks, making it extremely dangerous to land there.

The landmark’s unique features also make it beautiful. The lighthouse tower jets 62 feet into the sky, and its white structure makes it stand out against the dark rock and blue surf. Although described as “dangerous” and “expensive,” Terrible Tilly has also earned the description of “stunning.” It deserves a spot on America’s list of most beautiful abandoned places.

Rhyolite: Nevada

The bank pictured here stands as one of Rhyolite’s few remaining structures.

In 1904, 23 years after the construction of Terrible Tilly, the discovery of gold near the eastern edge of Death Valley (about 115 miles outside of Las Vegas) sparked the beginning of Rhyolite, Nevada. At its peak, Rhyolite was home to hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, and a miner’s union hospital. Unfortunately, the town died almost as soon as it started. By 1910 only 611 residents remained, and in 1916 the town’s power supply was finally turned off.

Today, the town is open to the public, and guests can still see the remains of some of Rhyolite’s most popular buildings, including the bank and the jail. The Bottle House (restored by Paramount Pictures) and the train depot (privately owned) present a more complete picture of what Rhyolite might have looked like in its heyday.

These three structures and places epitomize beauty despite abandonment. In their own way, they reflect pieces of United States history and personify the times in which they were built. Each place pushes past the “abandoned” label and defines beauty in its own way. These sites are proof that “forgotten” does not mean “insignificant.”

Check out these other beautiful but abandoned places online:

Bannerman Castle: New YorkOrpheum Theatre: New Bedford, MassachusettsCity Hall Stop: New York Subway Station

—Kaylee Ficklin
Photo credits (from top):Kate SumblerCharles W. BashFlickr user Sea Turtle