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Oatland Island – Wandering through its history (Photos)

Broken tile, peeling paint, old letters, rusted metal...


There is something about history battered by age. It appeals to me more than shiny classic cars and restorate structures of times past. Broken tile, peeling paint, old letters, rusted metal… To me, history isn’t supposed to be prestine. It involves wrinkles and scars. It stands against time and says, “I might be battered but damnit I’m still here.”

I had a chance to document one such place in the form of the 2nd and 3rd floors of Oatland Island Wildlife Center’s main building. Next week (June 15th, 2009) these floors will be renovated into offices and classrooms.

The main building was built in the 20’s as a retirement home for railroad conductors. From there it became a hospital, a laboratory for the CDC and finally purchased by the school system. The structure, for now, has each phase of it’s history on display.

Heather Merbs, one of Oatland’s teachers and host of the “Walk on the Wild Side” show, gave me a tour of the top two floors. I then was allowed to wander the halls to take pictures and sweat. Did I mention it was hot? Below are the photos and I hope you enjoy.

Stairs to the 3rd floor



The 3rd floor was the storehouse for all glassware and office supplies during the laboratory era. Scientists would take the elevator up and check out what they needed.












The 2nd floor. Here I find offices, labs, classrooms, bedrooms and medical facilities.







The metal room. The walls are metal from the laboratory era. Heather wasn’t sure about the experiments performed here. She calls it their “Lost” room because of the metal and army loud speaker.










The “Chemosterilant Studies” room. The large machine in the last few photos was used to sterilize equipment.




I had a great time walking around, taking photos, and exploring this space. The renovations will update these curious rooms making them functional spaces and that is good thing. I’m just a sucker for dust.

Philip Joyner

Not only can the man stare down CSS code until it writes itself in sheer terror, but he is famous around 220 E. Hall St for what we like to call his “happy dance”. Few have seen it, and those who have can’t get enough.


4 thoughts on “Oatland Island – Wandering through its history (Photos)

  1. Crimson and Rogue says:

    we totally agree with ya on loving the history of buildings, seeing where time has not been the kindest. its a whole different kind of appeal. Beautiful in its own wa, adding a story and personality. Heck Rogue likes driving through the run down areas on the way to downtown and seeing the un-restored turn of the century homes.

  2. Those buildings are amazing. I understand revitalization is necessary and I’m not arguing against it. I just can’t help but feel we’re polishing the past instead of letting it stand as it is, warts and all.

  3. Robert Wilson says:

    My father, Clyde W. Wilson, was employed here from WW2 until his retirement in about 1973. As well as I remember he was the cheif electrican and an operating enginer. I visited this site in May 2011 and had the privilege of seeing the inside of the old power house wher my dad spent a lot of time. The boiler and elec. generator had been removed. I did not have the time to visit any of the other places in the main building but will do so at a later date.

    1. Phil says:

      That’s really cool you were able to see the power house. The entire facility has a rich and fascinating history.

      The main building has been fully restored and the previously unused floor is office space, I believe, for educators.

      Before the restoration, it felt as if you could walk around and see the history written on the walls. I was worried that character would be lost once construction was finished but it’s actually charming in a different way. Now it feels like preserved instead of forgotten history. Congrats to the Oatland Island folks!

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