Holy Land USA


Waterbury is the fifth-largest city in Connecticut and is often called the “Brass City,” an homage to its centuries-old roots as a producer of the alloy. It is the birthplace of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, the original Mickey Mouse watch, and Timex. The city is also home to Holy Land USA, a defunct interactive Bible scene set across eighteen acres in the center of town. For the last sixty years its lighted “Peace Cross” on top of the mountain has stood as a beacon for Waterbury and I-84 motorists.

Construction of the attraction began in 1957, the work of a devout Catholic lawyer with help from an army of volunteers. During the 1960s and 70s the 200-piece Holy Land USA was a popular attraction, drawing 40,000 visitors per year at its peak. When its founder and chief caretaker became frail in the 1980s, so did the park. It was closed in 1984 and left in the hands of under-equipped nuns, who for the next thirty years watched over the site as its features became overgrown and vandals hastened its demise. 

BTI: An Alaskan Town in a Tower


In the 1950s the United States government built a bunker of a residential skyscraper in the Alaskan wilderness. The purpose of the bomb-proof mid-century Hodge Building was to support a remote logistics station in Whittier, Alaska. It was part of a completely self-sufficient complex designed to allow its residents to stay indoors for months at a time during the harsh coastal Alaskan winters.

The military eventually withdrew from Whittier before the Cold War facilities were fully utilized, leaving the mostly vacant buildings to the town. When the second largest earthquake in recorded history leveled much of southern Alaska in 1964, the 14-story Cold War relic was one of few structures to survive. Most in Whittier eventually found their way to the building, which was renamed Begich Towers (or BTI) after a missing Congressman. Today all but a handful of the town’s residents live inside.

Inn of Insolvency: The Skinburness Hotel

Skinburness Hotel

Welcome to northwestern England’s Skinburness Leisure Hotel, known for generations in Cumbria as a Skinburness landmark. During its 130 years of operation, the classic Victorian inn assembled an impressive track record of bankrupting its owners.

Known as the Skinburness Marine Hotel when it opened in the 1880s, it enjoyed a brief, opulent period until its first owner went bankrupt after several years. The hotel changed hands and later spent nearly sixty years in government service as part of a liquor control program. Later it re-entered the private sector and proceeded to bankrupt its next two owners. For ten years it enjoyed a brief Renaissance under an experienced hand, but after it sold the hotel bankrupted its next owner.

Since the Skinburness Hotel closed for good in 2006, two attempts to redevelop the property have failed. Now vacated for the last ten years, the old inn has deteriorated significantly. Today it remains for sale, awaiting an impending future of being demolished.

Blue Ridge Blight on Afton Mountain


In the 1950s and 60s the motor court rest stop at Rockfish Gap on Afton Mountain was a motoring mecca, offering Virginia motorists a scenic respite in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first of this roadside collection of buildings was erected in 1948, and for more than twenty years Afton Mountain offered dining, gasoline, and lodging to weary travelers along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Business started to decline in the 1970s when Interstate 64 was constructed to the North, bypassing the small outcrop of buildings. For the next two decades the businesses were allowed to deteriorate before they started shutting down in the late 1990s. Less than a decade later, all but one business on Afton Mountain was closed. Some of the buildings have been set on fire and several have already been demolished, but all have been vandalized. The remaining dilapidated structures are unsafe with a combination of asbestos, broken windows, and collapsing roofs.

Swannanoa: Deconstructing an American Palace


With its Carrara marble, terraced English gardens, and Tiffany stained glass, Swannanoa is one of the few Virginia estates that can rival the Gilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island. It was a love song built by a successful railroad baron as a gift for his wife. The Italianate palace was later leased to a convent and then a university for fifty years, before eventually returning to the family who has owned it for three generations.

Recent years have not been kind to Swannanoa. The owners’ resources have been spread thin after millions were spent on upkeep. But it wasn’t enough, and the once-proud estate continues to deteriorate. Today the mansion serves out its life hosting paranormal sleepovers and weekend weddings. Fortunately tours are available, which offers explorers a rare opportunity to legally visit a decaying piece of history before it is lost. 

Romanian Treasure: Cazinoul din Constanţa


Founded in 600 BC, the city of Constanţa (historically known as “Tomis”) is the oldest continually inhabited city in Romania. Its port is the largest on the Black Sea and one of the most capacious in Europe. The city’s coastline is guarded by the empty Cazinoul din Constanţa, a rare and eye-catching example of Romanian Art Nouveau design.

One hundred years ago this former casino was Romania’s most magnificent building, hosting world leaders and Europe’s elite. It survived two bombings during two world wars before gambling laws extirpated its profitability. The building was later forced into civic duty, which it served until it eventually closed in 1990. Attempts to renovate the waterfront site have been defeated by a financial crisis, delicate renovation constraints, gambling restrictions, and political indecision.

Meanwhile, the estimate to repair the building grows. Will this Romanian treasure be saved before it succumbs to vandals and the elements? 

Glenn Dale Hospital: Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Asbestos Asylum

Glenn Dale Hospital Adult Building Rear

Thirty minutes east of Washington D.C., a collection of brick buildings are deteriorating on a sixty-acre campus buried in a residential pocket of Glenn Dale, Maryland. A foreboding appearance supports local lore of ghosts haunting a former insane asylum, although the truth is more benign. The Glenn Dale Sanatorium was the government’s post-Depression answer to fighting tuberculosis among the working class in the nation’s capital. The hospital’s service life was cut short by advancements in medicine, which eventually forced the facility to close its doors before its fiftieth birthday.

Multiple attempts to sell the remaining tract to a developer have been thwarted by a well-meaning law designed to protect the buildings and preserve Glenn Dale’s quiet, pastoral landscape. Some of the structures are still salvageable, but asbestos abatement alone could approach $5 million dollars.

If the former hospital is to be saved, its rescuer must have deep pockets, and certification to operate a continuing care retirement community. 

Morristown College: School of Freedom

Morristown College

Morristown, Tennessee, is rich in history. It was first settled in 1787, almost a decade before Tennessee became a state. The town played host to both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. It was also home to Morristown College, established in 1881 to offer former slaves opportunity for higher education. The school was fueled by donations and operated on a shoestring budget, yet managed to stick around for 113 years until it closed in 1994.

The buildings never found re-use and eventually landed in the lap of an unmotivated owner, who ignored redevelopment and rescue efforts. More than twenty years after closing, Morristown College’s brick husks are still standing – albeit slowly crumbling – just blocks from the city center. A new owner hopes to change that, but development partners are needed before the plans can turn into a reality.

Are these decaying buildings significant and an important part of Morristown history, or are they merely blight? Are they worth saving, and if so, what can be salvaged?