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Selma House and History Hunting

I drummed my fingers against the steering wheel, sure that we were close. After several more wrong turns through the housing development, I spotted an elegant white building rising above the uninspiring McMansions.

Bingo.

I’d heard of Selma back in 2013 when a Tumblr-famous photographer caused quite a stir with his gorgeous shots of slim girls reclining among the house’s epic decay. Although he refused to disclose the location (a typical practice to avoid too much damage to an abandoned property), it was easy enough to pinpoint the location.

Now, back in America, I was ready to see the place for myself.

Even in one of the country’s wealthiest counties, historical beauties like Selma Manor continue to fall deeper and deeper into disrepair. Lack of funds, proper authority, and simple interest all ensure that a gorgeous, 113-year-old home will sooner face a collapsed wall than a much-needed restoration process. Worst of all, almost no one knows what’s happening.

And that’s why it’s so important to continue urban exploring. Brush off your fear of snakes wriggling through the tall grass, get used to cruising little-used back roads for a peek of slow decay, and bring attention to the institutions lost to the ravages of time. Otherwise, nature might just swallow up the stunning architecture and thrilling tales of our collective past.

 

A photo posted by Polly (@girlandtravels) on

All of this comes down to the simple fact that, for the most part, urban explorers are not scheming wrong-doers. We are not vandals. We’re more interested in uncovering history and taking a few photos than breaking glass or hosting late night parties. Urban explorers – young people with a little recklessness in their soul – are exactly what our collective, forgotten history needs.

How else would you hear about the soviet monument atop Buzludzha in Bulgaria? Or how time is healing the wounds of Chernobyl? Or even the more close-to-home decline of Detroit?

The inevitable march of progress – whether good or bad – constantly threatens to eradicate history. Any attention brought back to history’s slow decay is culturally important.

So let’s explore.

Selma Estate was once a massive 10,000 acre property overlooking the virgin land around the Catoctin Mountain. Owned by Armistead Thomson Mason (a prolific dueler and incidentally the youngest person to ever serve in the senate a good two years before the legal age), the current Selma house is actually a second home on the property built in 1902 after the early 19th-century original burned down in a fire.

After Mason died at the hands of his cousin in a politically-motivated duel, the house and lands were passed down to Mason’s only son. The harebrained son quickly frittered his fortune away and was forced to sell Selma near the end of the 1800s. The estate was passed through many hands until developers got their hands on it in 1989. The house was never lived in again although it was used as a wedding venue until about 2002.

We did not venture inside, nor should you. Attempts have been made to firmly board up the house; although there are some obvious points of entry, respect the wishes of those attempting to preserve the house. To see the gorgeous interior of the home, check out this wedding shoot or this cool photoset.

With the former owner of Selma (as I understand, the same company that built up the housing development around the estate) bankrupt as of 2009, Selma has been put on the Virginia Endangered Site List and runs the continued risk of going nowhere but down. I think it’s so important to bring attention (and hopefully money!) to places like Selma. Here’s how you can do it respectfully:

abandoned selma

Contact local preservation societies

To not only enter historical places respectfully (and legally) but to get the richest experience possible, it’s always worth reaching out to the organizations associated with the property. Many old buildings of historic note have the backing of preservation societies or maybe even local government.

Getting in touch with people to secure legal entry isn’t always possible, but many time it’s easier than you might think. I’ve tried reaching out to the preservation organization dealing with Selma for ages but have never heard anything so I decided to venture out on my own. For houses, looking up local tax records to find the owners is a breeze – and you’d be surprised how many people are amenable to the idea.

Be aware you may be doing something wrong

Some buildings of true historical value are actually still open to the public, despite their obvious decline. Many are not. Aside from the obvious physical dangers of venturing into an unmaintained building, there is also a large risk of falling onto the wrong side of the law.

Before attempting any exploration, do your research beforehand and remember: seeing those ‘No Trespassing’ signs means that whatever you’re doing – no matter how respectfully – is not legal.

Look – but don’t touch

The simple rule of thumb is this: leave everything exactly as you’ve found it. There’s nothing more disappointing than finding a stately old abandoned building to check out that’s been ruined by graffiti and trash everywhere. Don’t take items out of the buildings and don’t leave anything extra – particularly when there are obvious attempts to save a location from further decline. The shattered windows at Selma were a real disappointment.

Selma Manor Abandoned

Check out this practical urban exploring guide from the master of photographing beautiful abandoned pieces of history, Nate from Yomadic.

Have you ever come across a piece of history on the decline? Is anything done to save pieces of history where you’re from?

  • I always feel so sad when I see this old homes in such a state but I can understand how hard they must be to maintain.

    • No doubt! The amount of money & time that would need to be invested is unimaginable!

  • Wow, this is seriously beautiful! It amazes me there are places like this falling into a decline because no one really knows about them!

    • The weirdest part of all this is that the house is surrounded by those typical McMansions but even people in the town nearby have no idea it’s there. Such a pity!

  • Stunning! And thank you for doing posts like this that bring attention to properties that are falling into disrepair – hopefully this will get some word of mouth flowing for it! x

    • Wish I had the money to throw at it myself 😉

  • I love old houses, but hate seeing them in disrepair! One day when I’m rich and famous, I’m going to buy an old house and fix it up. 😛

    • Oh my gosh, you sound just like me haha. I say that about every beautiful house I drive by 🙂

  • I do enjoy looking at abandoned things, I like seeing history and nature come together like that. We don’t have too many abandoned places here in Belgium, at least not within an easy reach for us without a car, but I’d love to explore some more. Maybe we need to have a road trip 🙂

    • Interesting about Belgium! Moscow & the area I’m in have a ton because they both had big booms and a crash/major culture shakeup which inevitably leaves stuff to fall apart… I’m sure you could find some out in the country if you looked hard enough!

      • Absolutely! I know a few places that I’d like to see, I quite like to make a little road trip out of seeing some of them 🙂

  • Cool house, I *may* have gone inside 😉

    • Ha! I’m sure it was lovely if you were (possibly) there a few years ago. Now everything has really been beaten down by the elements.

  • The place looks amazing. These tips are great, it’s so different to see a post that actually gets into this kind of urban exploration. I feel like nothing around here can escape vandalism. Great post!

  • This estate is just gorgeous! I surely hope someone can save it in some way or another.

    • Wish I had the cash for it, that’s for sure!