Western Pennsylvania has more than its share of historic buildings flocked to by visitors, as well as abandoned structures often ignored.
For an Elizabeth couple, seeking out and photographing such places has turned from a simple hobby into a viral local phenomenon.
Holly Harris and Jim Percy began taking trips around the area to find interesting structures in early 2011 and soon after started the Facebook page “Abandoned, Old & Interesting Places – Western PA,” which now has more than 96,000 followers.
Harris isn’t sure why the page has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, but she thinks it may have something to do with the stories behind each structure.
“A lot of people like it because they can remember when they used to go to these places,” said Harris, whose parents live on a farm near California Borough.
Acting as a sort of digital community for uncovering history, the page has become a forum for people to share their knowledge and experiences, not just place to gawk at “ruin porn” – the term for the genre of photography that’s gained recent notoriety for images of crumbling areas of Detroit and other hard-luck cities.
Additionally, the page showcases photos of historical structures that have been restored and are still in use, including courthouses and other buildings constructed in bygone times.
The pair has traveled from top to bottom across the western side of the state – from Erie County to Greene County – in search of interesting places. Occasionally, they post pictures from outside the area, including a few well-composed photos taken in Virginia. The adventures provide Harris and Percy with some reprieve from running the Vocelli Pizza shop they own together in Pleasant Hills.
“It’s something completely different from everyday work,” Harris said. “It’s like a little vacation somewhere.”
In Washington County, the couple has photographed a number of places, including the former Flexicore Concrete plant in Monongahela, abandoned mining buildings near New Eagle, the former Roxy Theatre in Richeyville and a supposedly haunted house in Finleyville. The latter was the page’s most popular post, earning more than 2,700 “likes.”
“There’s a lot of rumor and conjecture about the haunting there,” Harris said.
Some have reported flying tools and spirits walking through walls at the Victorian-style house, which has a scissor lift holding up a portion of the porch, she said.
“There’s at least one person on every post who asks, ‘Is that haunted?’” Harris added.
While paranormal speculations tend to pique a lot of people’s interest in the places, Harris explained that they’re not there to ghost hunt and usually don’t enter the structures.
“We don’t ever go in and trespass. Plus, it’s dangerous,” she said.
More recently, the couple photographed Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church, which was at the epicenter of the Whiskey Rebellion, and an empty area inside Washington Mall that wasn’t roped off when they stumbled upon it.
In Greene County, they’ve visited places such as the Rush Schoolhouse along Route 21 near Rogersville and the county’s first courthouse, which was built in 1797 and is now part of Cornerstone Genealogy Society in Waynesburg.
While Harris and Percy post only their own photos to the web, they do encourage others to share images on the page, as well as add to the discussion by leaving comments.