Every town has them: warehouses, mills, and factories of some bygone industrial heyday. Years of abandonment has deteriorated their structures. Often, they are “contaminated.” Some have been met by fire. Overgrown and fenced-off, "keep out" signs keep us protected from them. The cost of remediating these properties far exceeds the reach of most local and state budgets. After so long, the community seems stuck with them, and we ignore them. They’re our neglected history, now ruins.
"Ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and for a return to origins. There has to be an interim of death or rejection before there can be renewal and reform."— J.B. Jackson
In his essay, “The Necessity for Ruins,” J.B. Jackson writes that without ruins, “there is no lesson to learn.” However, if we are kept separated from our ruins—by fences, barbed-wire, or other barriers—are we learning from them? Are we acknowledging the need for their transition? Do those signs really keep us safe? What is a safe distance from a contaminated site? How quickly and cost-effectively can these properties be turned around? Safety, trespassing, and liability concerns aside: shouldn’t we walk among our ruins to form creative ideas for their future?
Plainfield, Connecticut has a textbook example of ruins in the former Inter Royal Mill. Closing in 1985, the mill sat abandoned for twenty years before much of it was destroyed by fire. The sixteen acres of mostly-concrete foundations is fenced off. It sits in the center of town, adjacent to the town hall and the town playground. A brook runs through the property. Over 3,000 people live within a mile of the mill; it is kept poorly hidden from Community Avenue by evergreen and overgrowth. Having trespassed there once or twice, it is my observation that the Inter Royal Site would be the perfect natural extension of the town park, if it could ever be remediated.
Asbestos and lead are abundant within the crumbling structure that remains. Heavy metals have been found in the soil and brook water. “Once we identify what the assets and liabilities of the site are, we can market the property with a clear idea of cleaning up and redeveloping the land,” says Plainfield First Selectman Paul Sweet. My hope is that this will be accomplished via cost-effective means, using technologies such as phytoremediation. Its adjacency to a railway could possibly help keep costs in line, as well as expedite debris removal. However, I hope the town pauses before completing an instinctive, industrial rebuild, taking the time to imagine something ground-breaking. It is my belief that they should keep the concrete ruins public once they’ve been rendered benign. After all, steps and foundations tell a story.
Do you have an "Inter Royal" site near you? Are there fenced off sites in your neighborhood? What is being done about it? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments field below.
Credits: Images by Dan Malo. Data linked to sources.