Today’s post continues my meandering series digging through old photos and sharing some that have good memories, or interesting subjects.
These photos, all at the bottom of the post, are from the hydroelectric plant at Belle Isle. Seven years ago, I saw this building for the first time. It’s mostly obscured by trees, a little ugly, and easy to walk past. But once I climbed down some stairs and through a few trees, I was captivated.
Where I grew up, nothing was run down. My childhood home in Newport News was surrounded by clean, suburban homes. Anything historic was well-maintained, and anything dilapidated was sure to reside in poor neighborhoods or industrial areas, out of sight and out of mind.
The messy, cobblestone alleys of Richmond were striking and fascinating to me. Side streets teeming with disorder and quirky buildings, renovations stacked upon each other decade after decade, were so far removed from the wide streets I grew up on that I looked around wide-eyed most days walking to class, wondering if I had time to take a detour down a different block or two.
Belle Isle too felt like a novelty. I had never been somewhere where I could hike and see skyscrapers at the same time. There were rocks to climb, woods to explore, and old buildings to discover, none cordoned off by guardrails or fences. Except one.
At the back side of the power plant, there was a thin concrete path surrounded by a 10 or 15 foot drop off. At the end of the path was a gate topped with a square chain-link fencing. Some determined soul had cut a hole in the chain-link and, thinking it unfair to ignore their ingenuity, my friends and I followed in their footsteps and climbed up the gate, through the chain-link, and onto the roof of the power plant to look at graffiti, rusted metal, and crumbling stone.
Today, that gate has been covered with a solid sheet of metal that I’m not bold enough to try and climb around. The interior of the building is now inaccessible as well at ground level thanks to a new grid of rebar and a padlock. Still though, new graffiti appears and fresh cigarette butts litter the floor. Somehow, people still get through late at night or early in the morning to explore and leave their mark.