Carol Highsmith
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Poignant Vestiges of Simpler Times

As I travel eight to nine months each year, I spend thousands of miles and hundreds of hours on America’s back roads.  When I look out the car window and see old, dilapidated gas stations, sagging wooden barns, and abandoned grain elevators , I think about what life must have been like for those who toiled in these places in their heyday before time, technology, and changing tastes took their toll.  The rise of interstate highways that pulled traffic and customers off two-lane roads — once the nation’s lifeline — took their toll on small towns and rendered their classic structures obsolete, leaving behind what I call “Disappearing America.” There’s a sadness to these weathered, shuttered places, but they certainly make for powerful photo opportunities.

Above: Wide-open spaces, unpaved roads and tidy farmsteads are a common scene in Iowa.  I remember taking this image years ago when we pulled off the road to take a closer look.  The red paint helps to enrich this scenic view, and the early morning sun gives the scene a special glow. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)

The Midwest’s landscape is dotted with historic grain elevators and rusted train tracks such as these in Nebraska.  The routes of some of these corridors have been turned into “rails to trail” hiking and biking paths.  Others lie mostly ignored. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)

It’s been a long time since anyone pumped gas at this forlorn station in Selma, Alabama.  Many such independently owned mom-and-pop operations included a repair shop, a tiny store where snacks and maps and directions from the fellow who pumped your gas could be obtained, and sometimes a family’s side business like a gem shop or miniature-golf layout to lure weary travelers off the road. These were easy small businesses to start but, because of their low profit margins and the voracious spread of corporate chains, hard ones to sustain.. (Carol M. Highsmith Library of Congress America Collection)