Weekly Challenge-Focus (on Milltown’s Old Mill)
“Instead of focusing on how much you can accomplish, focus on how much you can absolutely love what you’re doing.”
This week Cheri has challenged us to focus on FOCUS – a wonderful topic for photographers. Fortunately, my trip to a family wedding in New Jersey last weekend provided me with a perfect subject.
In the town where I grew up there is an old, abandoned mill, after which the town, Milltown, was named. For the first time, after seeing it hundreds of times over the years, I decided finally to photograph some of the long-abandoned site. In the opening shot above, I used Aperture f/2.8 to bring the iron post into focus, blurring the crumbling facade in the background. The second shot above was taken at f/11 to include the elements of the facade. Clearly the effect is quite different between the two captures.
“There are an infinite number of reasons to say no. Instead, try to focus on one good reason to say yes. ”
So what is it about urban decay that is so interesting to photographers? And not just photographers – my post back in July about the Michigan Asylum for the Insane (here) was one of my most-commented, second only to my post on Angkor Wat.
“Focus on remedies, not faults.”
Whatever the reason, I found the abandoned mill most interesting, especially when I researched its history. The first record of its existence was an advertisement for its sale in 1769. It was sold in 1777 and almost immediately raided by British troops who captured two local militiamen that later escaped. Between 1789 and 1812 it changed hands no less than 6 times; in 1812 an ad by the then-owner referred to the settlement around it as Milltown – the town’s name ever since.
“The more choices we have, the greater the need for focus.”
Between 1812 and 1906, the mill burned down twice (once burning the owner’s home as well, thereby driving him into bankruptcy). It was rebuilt each time until finally being taken over by the International Rubber Company around 1900. Soon afterwards the Raritan River Railroad Company made its first run, including Milltown in its route. The biggest change occurred in 1907 when Michelin Tire acquired the company, and with it, the mill. (Duh, it never occurred to me, growing up surrounded by ballgames at Michelin field, and driving along Michelin Avenue, that the names had an obvious heritage!)
Following Michelin’s acquisition of the Mill, streets were paved and electric lights were installed. 200+ bungalows were built by the company to improve living conditions for their employees, which during peak years included almost 3,000 people. Those homes for the most part still stand today and are actively occupied by members of the community.
In 1930, as a result of the Great Depression, Michelin closed their US operations and returned to France. Several firms subsequently used the mill, including a large division of Johnson & Johnson (yep, makers of baby powder and Band-Aids!), a printing company, a knitting mill and a wire company. Since it has fallen into disrepair, there have been attempts to demolish the remaining structures and create a residential and/or retail environment. There is also a historical preservation society focused on saving and restoring the site. Local rumors note the probable existence of toxicity as a complication affecting the potential cost of either effort.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
Whatever its future, I must admit that after years of ignoring the site, which is within easy walking distance of my parents’ home, I was thoroughly captivated by its forlorn appearance and quite impressed with its convoluted history – who knew?! Better late than never though, don’t you think?