This weekend’s Saturday morning wake up call was brutal, but it was completely worth it. I set my alarm for 4:30am and was on the road by 5:15am driving the 2.5-3 hours it takes to get from the D.C. metro region up into Maryland near the West Virginia border on I-68. Why so early and why such an odd location? As part of my push to do more local exploring and find micro adventures during the times when I’m not flying to destinations around the world, I was going to photograph one of the Mid-Atlantic’s best abandoned places, the Lonaconing silk mill, and I was meeting people at 8am.
This old factory was once a part of the Klotz Throwing Company, and it is three floors of machines, bobbins, silk thread, left personal effects, and other remnants of 1957 when the mill closed its doors for a final time. Decreased demand for silk thread and other synthetic threads like rayon after WWII, in addition to shrinking margins from increased prices for raw materials and lower prices for finished goods, put a lot of pressure on the owner of the mill. It was, ultimately, a strike in 1957 for increased wages to match other regional textile mills that was the final nail in the coffin for the operation. The employees who left on strike never got the chance to come back. In July 1957, only 4 employees remained to maintain the building and equipment.
Throwing silk is the process of transforming raw silk into silk thread that could be used to weave textiles. I couldn’t tell you what each of the machines did, but there was definitely one step in the throwing process that was isolated to the top floor and its machines, as see in the photo with the calendar above, and then there were what looked like bobbin winding machines on the main floor with additional bobbin winding machines in the basement.
This factory, from a photography standpoint, is a place to go wild with HDR techniques! There are also plenty of opportunities for macro and wide angle shots. The light is primarily low light scenarios, so a tripod is required and a wired shutter release is ideal. Sometimes there are some great shadows to play with as well as standing pools of water for reflections. Of course, there is an abundance of peeling (lead?) paint for all those abstract photos you may want to take.
You don’t need to search hard to find great objects to photograph. The workers left not realizing they would never be coming back. Magazines, shoes, candy bar boxes, notes, paperwork, etc. can be found everywhere. It’s like a mini treasure hunt. In the basement, there are boxes of stored goods including thread, bobbins, and other parts.
And don’t forget black and white scenes!
The mill has been owned for the past 40+ years by a local man, Herb. He allows people to come in and shoot for a fee that helps him with his restoration and maintenance efforts. I have been getting more engaged with Meetup.com photography groups to find new and interesting things to shoot in the D.C. area, and this is one of the more popular outings that is offered by several groups.
Going back to equipment: in addition to the obvious need to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes because of the broken glass and rusted metal, you will also want to consider a jacket even in the spring because it is in the shade of the woods and can be quite cold in the morning hours. I shot 100% that morning with my 16-35mm wide angle lens, but as I mentioned before there are opportunities for other prime lenses, a fisheye lens, and macro lenses. Bring extra batteries if you will be shooting for a long time, and extra SD cards if you are shooting HDR. I like to bracket my HDR photos with at least 5 or 7 frames, if not more. Shooting in RAW format, that takes up a lot of card space.
I’m looking forward to several other fun day trips to abandoned places around me in Washington D.C. in the upcoming months. I’ll be sure to share those photos with you as well!