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Sherman Cahal and Abandoned Kentucky

Photographer Sherman Cahal is fond of places most people have forgotten. An urban explorer, historian, and blogger, he documents historic structures across the country that are abandoned or endangered.

“I get kind of a rush and a thrill out of exploring abandoned buildings,” said Cahal, “especially if it’s a place that no one else has gone to, or is really an amazing find.”

One such place is the Old Crow Distillery in Woodford County, which was founded in 1872 and closed in 1987. A Kentucky Life crew followed him as he photographed the stark interiors of the old distillery located in Millville.

The old fermenting tanks and springhouses at Old Crow “are things you’re not going to see in most places,” he said.

Cahal himself grew up in what he calls a “Rust Belt” situation along the Ohio River. “There were a lot of closed factories, cement silos, old steel mills, and coke plants. On top of that there were a lot of old houses,” he recalled.
He started taking photographs with a pocket camera when he was 16. His photography took off, he said, when he got his first 35mm camera. He studied his photographs and read about how to improve his pictures.

How does he gain access to abandoned properties? “Typically, getting access into buildings can be as simple as asking the landowner next door. Most of the time, about 90 percent of the cases are places that we can easily get access to. People are going to be pretty receptive to things like that.” In the other 10 percent of cases, Cahal said he has to do some legwork and research into county records, for example. “Breaking and entering, we’ve never done that.”

He maintains four websites to display his varied photographic interests:

“What I go for when I explore these abandoned buildings, from a photography standpoint, is more of the texture, and more of the architecture,” he said. “I’m an architecture buff. I really love old buildings. … So when we go to a place like Old Crow, things I really appreciate, outside the obvious, like peeling paint and the grime on the floor, are the things like the old water fountains, and the old pipes that are vertical and horizontal. Things like that make me gravitate towards them because they provide really interesting vantage points.”

He also enjoys what he can find in old rural settlements, like the old Union church in Cannel City in Morgan County. “Coming across old pianos, Bibles, and things like that, really make the location much more interesting,” he said.

The premise behind the website Abandoned was to document these abandoned places. “Whether it’s just a house down the road or an old factory or an old asylum or a school … so much of this hasn’t been documented. “Or if it has been documented, it’s stored away where people can’t easily access it. And so part of the mission of Abandoned is to document it and preserve it and also make it accessible for people to go out there and check out for themselves.”