The Old Crow Distillery in Frankfort hasn’t produced a drop of its original bourbon since 1987. But for photographer Sherman Cahal, the magic in the facility comes from those decades of neglect.
Cahal runs the a website called Abandoned at abandonedonline.net, where he documents deteriorating architecture ranging from old churches and hospitals to shuttered malls and power stations. He brought the Kentucky Life crew along on his visit to Old Crow, and explained why abandoned buildings are his favorite subject.
“I get kind of a rush and a thrill out of exploring abandoned buildings,” says Cahal. “We’re here in Old Crow Distillery, and this place closed down back in 1987. Until that point, because of its remote location and its security, no one really had gone inside and photographed it or documented it.”
Cahal’s vocation grew out of a hobby he picked up as a teenager.
“I grew up along the Ohio River in the rust belt,” he says. “There were lots of closed factories, cement silos, old steel mills, and on top of that there were a lot of houses. When I started back when I was 16 years old, I just had a little pocket camera.”
Later, Cahal upgraded to a film SLR camera and his photography improved, but there was still a lot to learn. He read books and honed his skills by shooting and reshooting the same locations to improve his results.
Abandoned locations like Old Crow are a treasure trove of interesting light and scenery for a photographer, and accessing these places isn’t as hard as one might expect.
“Typically getting access into buildings can be as simple as asking the landowner next door,” says Cahal. “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. About 10 percent of those cases we’re going to have to do some legwork and some research, digging through some county records.
“We don’t condone breaking and entering,” Cahal adds. “We’ve never done that.”
Since Kentucky Life’s visit with Cahal to the Old Crow Distillery, new owners have launched operations on the site under the name Glenn’s Creek Distilling. Restoration of the old buildings is a continuing project for the new owners, who aim to preserve the history of the property. But thanks to Cahal’s efforts, the less-glamorous, but still fascinating, period of the Frankfort distillery’s history has been carefully documented.
“The whole premise behind Abandoned was to document and record as much of these places as I possibly can, whether it’s just a house down the road or an old factory or asylum or school,” says Cahal. “So much hasn’t been documented, or if it has been documented, it’s stored away where people can’t easily access it. Part of the mission of abandoned is document it and preserve it and also make it accessible for people to go out there and check it out for themselves.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2009, which originally aired on February 7, 2015. Watch the full episode.