John B Gordon School

The John B. Gordon School in East Atlanta was named after John Brown Gordon, who was the son of a preacher man, a University of Georgia student and a brigadier general during the Civil War. He was a senator from 1873 to 1880, and went on to become Governor of Georgia in 1886. He’s buried in Oakland Cemetery, and there’s a statue of him riding a horse at the Georgia State Capitol.

John B. Gordon School class play photo, 1936.

JBG School class play photo, 1936. The kids are dressed in costumes representing people from different countries. Credit: Georgia Archives

But this post isn’t about General Gordon, it’s about the elementary school, which was built in 1909 as the East Atlanta School by Battle & Barili. At some point, I suspect around 1925, the school was renamed for John B. Gordon, but I haven’t found a source for that yet. There was an addition built in 1934.

JBG School, 1958. Credit: Jerry L. Bowen

According to a related Facebook group, in the 1950s there was an A&W Root Beer drive-in across the street. In the 60s, local kids liked to stop at Charlie’s Hamburgers and the East Atlanta Pharmacy’s soda fountain, where you could get cherry Cokes (5 cents), lime sours, and hot dogs (10 cents). Mayberry, anyone?

The John B. Gordon school closed in 1995. Two years later, the property was purchased for $200,000 by Inman Park Properties, who intended to convert it to the J. B. Gordon Lofts, to begin leasing in 2006. Then, as with many IPP properties in Atlanta, it sat empty and forgotten for more than ten years. The loft conversion never happened, and the property was foreclosed on in early 2009, under a debt load of more than $4 million. The building is currently for sale, listed as a “Premium Development Opportunity” or “Flex Space” at $1.65 million for 41,000 square feet.

I don’t know whether the school will eventually be renovated or torn down, but in the meantime, this old brick building once filled with children quietly decays. Despite the likely presence of asbestos and other chemicals, the earth is beginning to reclaim her. Here’s how she looks today.

April 2015 update:
The John B. Gordon school was purchased about a year after I took these photos by Paces Properties, who planned a $15 million project to demolish the building and build high-end rental units. In April 2014, a fire broke out in the upper floor of the west wing and burned much of the wing and the roof. Demolition began in January of 2015. Paces Properties reportedly plans to use some reclaimed brick from the original building in the new construction, and word is that the new Old Fourth Distillery is repurposing some of the school’s marble, so some parts of this historic East Atlanta landmark will live on. As disappointing as it is that the building couldn’t be preserved, I feel very fortunate that I was able to capture these photographs before the school was gone forever.

More Atlanta Prison Farm

Went back to the old Atlanta Prison Farm (with a fully-charged camera battery this time) and checked out the prison buildings, which were in operation from 1945 to 1995. The roof caught fire in 2009 and the building was left to burn since it was long since abandoned by then. The lower floors are still pretty much intact but are hard to photograph due to lack of light.

I was particularly impressed by some of the graffiti we found. It was a cloudy day so the light wasn’t ideal, and I still need a decent camera, but here’s what I have so far.

Atlanta Prison Farm – just a glimpse

The Atlanta Prison Farm has a rich but largely undocumented history, and its future is uncertain at this time. I’ll write more about both of those later, as I learn more. Currently, it’s about 400 acres of woods and pasture with some beautiful rolling open spaces, ponds and streams. There is a wide variety of manmade stuff here as well, from loads of junk dumped by the city, to old barracks and work buildings left over from the prison farm, all in various stages of decay.

I love the way the earth takes back abandoned buildings and makes them wild again over a relatively short period of time. Even a place with toxic risks (such as asbestos and rat poison) eventually becomes a natural habitat again. We saw a number of deer on the hike out there, and I heard the call of a redtail hawk but never saw him. I’m sure there was much more wildlife out there that we didn’t see.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to photograph the natural beauty of this place. My first trip there, I broke the first rule of UrbEx and neglected to charge my camera battery. My camera died after only a few shots, but here’s what I got.

Old MDC water tower in Lexington, MA

Photo credit:

This is not abandoned, nor is it in Atlanta, but this is the site of my first exploration. This monster was almost in my back yard when I was a kid, so big that its shadow appeared on our old black-and-white 1970s TV when tuned to certain UHF channels. Climbing this was a rite of passage for teenagers in the area, and it wasn’t hard to crawl through the already-cut hole in the chain-link fence and up the existing rope ladder hanging from the steel catwalk.

It’s hard to tell from this pic, but climbing the ladder from the band around the outside of the tower and up to the very top was pretty scary, even when I was 15 and bulletproof. I remember huddling around a giant steel mushroom at the top of the tower and wishing I’d brought a harness for climbing back down. The view over Boston in the distance was breathtaking though.

30 years later, I still haven’t told my Mom. Shhhh!

Atlanta Tornado, March 2008

Here are some images from the days following the tornado in Atlanta, in the spring of 2008. These were taken downtown near Centennial Olympic Park, using my little unimpressive pocket camera, a Canon PowerShot Elph SD1100. While these places aren’t abandoned, they are shattered and twisted and in need of repair, and thus appeal to my sense of orderly disorder.