Thursday, August 25, 2011

Abandonment Issues: Col. Walter E. Van Steenburgh Farm

Col. Walter E. Vansheenburgh Farm

The Colonel, that is what we call this old abandoned farm in Havelock, Ontario. The TIME magazine from November 1968 that I found on a bedroom floor was addressed to Walter E. VanSheenburgh, but a descendant of The Colonel has informed me that the address label on the Time Magazine misspelled the last name, it is in fact Van Steenburgh. Other memorabilia indicated that he was a Colonel in the Canadian Army. Ohio and Ontario license plates piled and strewn about the garage and barn and field were all dated between 1966 and 1968, denoting a possible abandonment date. The front room of the house was wide open to the elements, and vines were sprawling across the floor at this time in late spring, glowing bright green. Walls were stripped to inner slats, and most of the insulation had fallen. Over an hour passed as we explored and photographed, and talked. The fridge was open and as I stopped to crouch and photograph it a second time, the floor started to crack under my feet. I instinctively jaunted forward, still looking through the lens and narrowly avoided the large hole in the kitchen floor. I laughed, lit a cigarette, and dropped another splash of sauce from my flask, before wandering out back to investigate the barn and walk down to the shores of Belmont Lake with my wife ninja IX. Romance ensued, if I can call it that. We continue to return and visit The Colonel on a regular basis.

outside in
outside in

blinded by the light
blinded by the light

floral patterned wallpaper and decomposing curtains blowing in the breeze for lack of a better title
floral patterned wallpaper and decomposing curtains blowing in the breeze for lack of a better title

frozen in time
frozen in time

the itsy bitsy spider went up the explorers arm
the itsy bitsy spider went up the explorers arm

Strawberry Shortcake umbrella
Strawberry Shortcake Umbrella

brush it off
brush it off

pitfalls and hangers on
pitfalls and hangers on

light it up
light it up

the doors
the doors

the deep dark depths
the deep dark depths

the case of the stairs
the case of the stairs

Never Before Revealed
Never Before Revealed

TIME stood still - November 1968 issue
TIME stood still

chair sledding anyone?
chair sled

innocence is a myth perpetuated by ignorance
innocence is a myth perpetuated by ignorance

the house recognizes the chair
the house recognizes the chair

bottle dreams
bottle dreams

Peterborough Bedding & Upholstery
Peterborough Bedding & Upholstery

the cracking floor and the hole that i almost fell through and the kitchen that contains it
the cracking floor and the hole that i almost fell through and the kitchen that contains it

there were hundreds of license plates scattered about the property, all between 1966-68
there were hundreds of license plates scattered about the property, all between 1966-68.

3 feet high and rising
3 feet high and rising

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***EDIT***

I have returned to visit with The Colonel more times than I can count, often bringing fellow explorers with me. Most recently, we stopped by last week while staying at our cottage around the corner. Since our first visit, all of the license plates have been removed or stolen.

After taking fellow explorer Intrinsic to The Colonel the following spring, he did some research on the Van Steenburgh family and their farm. Here is what he discovered, in his own words...

"Walter 'William' Elgin Van Steenburgh was born on December 24, 1899 in Havelock, Ontario. Mr. Van Steenburgh (who preferred to be called "Van") held high aspirations and attended Greenville College in Illinois where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1923. That same year Mr. Van Steenburgh returned to Ontario and attended Queens University in Kingston where he achieved the equivalent of an Honour standing.

In 1925 Mr. Van Steenburgh attended the University of Toronto in the Graduate School of Zoology where he earned his M.A. and his Doctor of Philosophy in 1931.

Dr. Van Steenburgh began a career as a research biologist for the Department of Agriculture in 1927 while still attending university. Dr. Van Steenburgh held the position until 1940 when he joined the Canadian Active Army. In November of 1943 Dr. Van Steenburgh was promoted to Director of Artillery ando awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Other notable events:

1944 : Dr. Van Steenburgh was promoted to the Director of Armament Development
1947-1949 : Scientific Adviser to the Director of Science Service of the Department of Agriculture
1950-1956 : Associate Director of the Science Service
1956 : Director General of Scientific Services of the Department of Mines
July 6, 1967 - Awarded the Officer of the Order of Canada

Steenburgh married Lydia Miller of Ottumwa, Iowa on December 24, 1921. The couple had two children - Sylvia Joan and William Walter Skipper.

The Steenburgh's returned to Havelock for the summers except during the war years. In the 1970's the family was frequently visited by Dr. Steenburgh's nephew Kermit Shaffer from Avon Lake, Ohio. Mr. Shaffer was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Ohio and travelled to Havelock for fishing and to visit family.

Walter Van Steenburgh was also a member of the Havelock Masonic Lodge. In the spring of 1973 the two lodges decided to start annual Fraternal Visits with one another. This might explain the presence of Ohio license plates in the Mouse House barn that date back to the late 1960's.

A Time magazine found inside the house was dated 1968 addressed to a "Walter Steenburgh". This could be the father or the son.

Dr. Steenburgh passed away on April 14, 1974 in Ottawa.

The road that this house is located on contains seasonal homes still in use by the Steenburgh family today."

-Intrinsic

Thanks for taking the time to explore The Colonel with us. If you are in the area, or want to see what else is in the area, check out the Havelock Horse House, directly to the south, and the Victoria Methodist Church just around the bend. Until next time my friends.

***** UPDATE *****
***June 16, 2014 ***

We have returned to the Colonel on countless occasions over the course of the past few years and not much ever changed but the seasons. This year however, was a different story. The dangerously dilapidated barn that I had so delicately danced through on previous visits succumbed to last winter's ice storm and collapsed in on itself. The hole in the kitchen floor grew wider and wider as the floor beams rotted and collapsed into the dark basement. The fridge and freezer are now gone. Most notably, an excavator parked on the property for the better part of a year was recently used to tear down two rooms on the ground floor (the rear addition and the small nook off of the kitchen). And then the excavator disappeared.

This past weekend, we invited our good friends terapr0, tash.0, and David up to our family cottage around the corner from the Colonel. We swam and kayaked, we smoked and ate, and we explored.

Several locations were explored that weekend, but the highlight was bar none the hours we spent under a dark and cloudy night sky at the Colonel. Repeatedly, flashlights clicked off in unison as cars were heard approaching in the distance, and then light shone upon us all once again. Fireflies zipped in every direction above the long grassy field surrounding the house. Light painting, men in plaid jackets with hatchets, and a unicorn bride, it was all very ominous.

But first we stopped in during the day so everyone could familiarize themselves with the location and it's hazards, including the unstable kitchen floor with the gaping hole and the rusty nails sticking up from wooden slats and beams in the areas where the rooms were demolished.

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And then night fell...

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Jerm IX: Red Dead Redemption

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Heeeeere's Jerm!
Photo courtesy of Lachlan McVie

After these messages we'll be right back.

click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES

10 comments:

Nicole Ertl said...

that fridge is awesome huge!

FromtheUK said...

Awsome awsome photos my friend, where do these people go, if its their property, they just do a moonlight flit. How do you find these derelict places? Absoloutly tremendous

Shannon Ireland said...

The homestead belonged to Walter Van Steenburg --- not Sheenburg --- a TIME subscription error it would seem--- a relation of mine. He and his wife had several children, one of which, nicknamed "Skipper". My father reminisces about how Skipper was a unique individual in the Cordova social landscape: he was born, as it was then-called, an "idiot savant". Skipper, unlike many individuals with this alternative learning style, was the lifelong companion of his parents, who chose not to send him away nor house him in a facility allegedly suited to his needs. They took him everywhere, and he was actively involved in the farming operation. As a boy, my father was fascinated with Skipper's unique ability to recall every license plate he ever saw, verbatim. He knew every person's full name, address, vehicle, make & license plate number by heart. I would imagine much of those license plates you found were among his own personal collection. Thank you for your photographs and your connection to the time and place before.

Anonymous said...

Very nice pictures but I am curious as how you find these particular places and get permission to go on the premises. ?! Because in fact this property is not quite abandoned!! Seeing as you your self stated that you visit quite frequently and with guests wonder why it is ok to trespass and post pics even though well taken of others property.

Anonymous said...

Even if you do not post the comment I am curious of your answer if possible please respond to litl_brat@hotmail.com.

Hayliegh said...

I heard this place wasn't abandoned but vandalized! Nice pix though.

Anonymous said...

Great pics of Walter and Agnes Van Steenburgh's decaying home. I spent time in that home as a child when we rented one of the cottages they owned on Belmont Lake in the late seventies and early eighties.

Thanks for the great documentation and history of these abandonments.

Ruth Mullenax said...

My family spent many summer vacations at this beautiful place. My father, durward, thought very highly of Walter and Agnes and skipper. So many memories I cherish to this day.

Anonymous said...

I spent a good part of my childhood in this house because Agnes Van Steenburgh was my aunt. The last time I was in the house, the attic and second floor were full of bats and Walter, Agnes and Skipper were living on the ground floor. I hate to see the house in this condition but am glad the house will be preserved in pictures. I will try to find pictures of the house as it was back in the day if anyone is interested.

Barb said...

Would be nice to see you get the correct history of the house and the people who lived in it. This was Walter, Agnes and Skips house but the history you have of who Walter was is completely and totally wrong.

While some of the pictures are facsinating to look at- it is funny how you staged the pictures and are trying to pull them off as real. Guess artistic expression is alive and real.

The house was occupied until 1995.