The stones speak silently of hope, of love, of potential, even perhaps of sadness and tragedy, but always, ultimately, of finality.
Roam the outdoors long enough and you will eventually come across ruins. Rock walls, foundations, old chimneys, rotting cabins, they dot the landscape, tucked here and there into pockets of forest and field, the last remnants of dreams.
I have a few favorites. Some are well known, located on or alongside well-trod trails. Others are hidden, overgrown with briars and brambles and woods and grass, as nature slowly reclaims what once was taken from it, hard-earned, sweatybrowed, callus-handed bit by bit.
Don’t ask me where those ones are. I won’t tell you.
Others know of them, I’m sure. But I claim them as my own, the more so the more hidden they are.
All represent plans achieved, if only temporarily.
I like to wander around them, to linger, to touch and feel and imagine. At times I’ll take others with me when visiting.
Often, though, they’re best experienced in stillness. Memories never lived but fancied come to mind then, stories happy and sad.
Some of the ruins you come across are small, others industrial in size. All have histories, sometimes documented, sometimes lost to time.
Walk the Sunset Rocks Trail in Pennsylvania and you’ll find an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp, for example.
The CCC boys, as the young men behind such projects were known, worked all across the country in the days of the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt put them to work restoring America’s public lands, all for $30 a month, $25 of which they were required to send home.
Their camps played host to dances and dinners and jokes and games.
Yet along Sunset Rocks, one of the buildings they crafted — which still stands, if only partially — later housed German and Japanese prisoners of war. How different the emotions inside its walls were likely then.
To the west, North Chagrin Reservation in Ohio, one of Cleveland’s Metro Parks, is home to an unfinished castle.
Feargus B. Squire, who achieved wealth by helping to found Standard Oil Co., put crews to work building it for his wife in 1890. It’s a massive structure, meant to mimic castles of English barons.
His wife died before it was finished, however, so the project was abandoned. Yet hikers make their way to it today and wander inside its unfinished skeleton.
It’s possible to have a similar experience in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.
There, in 1908, Little River Lumber Co. built the town of Elkmont as a place for its workers to live. The community had a post office, church, school and hotel in addition to “set off” homes, prefabricated dwellings meant to be offloaded from a train as is and set up immediately.
In time, after the lumbermen left, the Appalachian Club crafted a vacation community there, with people building and occupying cabins to play rather than work. And then, it faded away. The National Park Service quit renewing leases for Elkmont’s cabins and cottages in 1994. Their owners disappeared. The town remains, however. Hikers who walk to the old ghost town can wander among some of the buildings, 18 of which remain standing. Some are rehabilitated enough that it’s possible to even walk through them.
Similar ruins — from entire towns to bits and pieces of individual buildings — exist all around the country. Each state has its share. Each site has its story.
Not all are known. The people and lives behind them are, in cases, lost to the ages.
But often, that uncertainty, that mystery, that past shrouded in impenetrable mist, makes them all the more appealing.
Hike ruins and you can feel echoes of drama long gone.
Ruins of old cabins, industrial buildings and even entire villages dot forests and fields all around the country.