There's an interesting thing about walking around with a camera and taking pictures of abandoned homes and buildings. And it's that people will watch you. Always.
And let's be honest – People watching you at a distance in an unknown part of town is slightly terrifying.
Perhaps my anxiousness comes from the second day of this project, when Craig confronted me with a few "choice words" about my activity. Or perhaps there's just a strangeness about abandoned places that puts me on edge.
Whatever the case may be, I wish I could say to you that I'm super cool, calm, detailed, and infinitely inquisitive about these places that I find. But more often than not, I'll snap a few pictures, then rush away. I'm far too uneasy to stay and explore these old buildings for long.
But my goodness, it's fun.
And then came 1434 Hickory Street.
Besides the sheer size and obvious condition, there was nothing initially special about this house. Trash had been thrown about everywhere, the yard was disheveled and overgrown, and it featured the classic boarded-up windows and peeling paint of the standard abandoned home.
But while taking pictures of this old house, the man next door came out and firmly asked what I was doing. I, like the time before with Craig, quickly introduced myself and told him about my personal project of taking pictures of "vintage" and abandoned structures in town.
He introduced himself simply as "Junior," and then told me that his parents used to own the home before moving out a last year and giving the property to his brother. His parents, who bought the home from "Mr. Merle," had lived there from 1987-2014 until they became too old to maintain the large home. We stood in the front yard for a few minutes as I listened to him tell stories of a large beautiful quad-plex building that his parents converted into a single home for his family, and his frustration that his brother had now let the house go to waste.
We parted ways, and I received Junior's blessing to keep taking pictures of his childhood home. But my interest was now piqued. Who else lived here? How old is this house? And, frankly, was anything Junior just told me actually true?
And so I went home and began my research on 1434 Hickory Street.
Here's what I found:
The earliest record I could find of the house is of a woman named Miss Velma Evans who lived in the house in 1926. At the time, Miss Velma worked as the office assistant to Dr. W.H. Barnett. The next resident was a man named Gray Wooten (whose name some Abilenians may recognize), who lived in the home from 1926-1929.
And before I bore you with the entire list of residents of this home, I do want to point out one more resident in particular – a man named Earl M. Collier.
Collier, who lived with his family at 1434 Hickory Street from 1934-35, was the head administrator (basically CEO) of Abilene's first regional hospital, the West Texas Baptist Sanitarium. In 1936, the West Texas Baptist Sanitarium was renamed to Hendrick Memorial Hospital after a generous donation from a local family. Collier remained the CEO of Hendrick Memorial Hospital for 41 years, until retiring in 1970.
Now I'll admit, to any normal and reasonable human, this is useless and dull information. But it was especially interesting to me for this particular reason: I am an employee at Hendrick Medical Center - the same hospital that Earl M. Collier ran for 41 years.
And so here I was, 80 years after Earl M. Collier moved out, standing in his front yard, snapping pictures of this once majestic home. And once more, I was flooded with questions of what daily life used to look like within these old walls.
In total, I was able to find the names and occupations of 45 people who lived in this house between 1926-1963.
Each one with a family, a story, and a home at 1434 Hickory Street.