End in Sight

End in Sight

A photo essay. To view all 17 photos, check out the email edition.

Several years ago, I spied something tantalizing behind the Winchester Lofts parking lot: an opening. The gate that usually restricted access to the grounds of the crumbling old Winchester Arms factory, an iconic and increasingly rare relic of New Havenโ€™s industrial past, was thrown wide open. The photographer in me couldnโ€™t resist the chance to capture what remained, and, soon enough, off a weedy courtyard past the gate, I found what I was hoping for: a cracked factory door I could wrench with my boot.

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What I found inside was considerably less hopeful: an infernal-looking expanse of raspy, jagged, twisted things steeped mostly in shadow, with scattered daylight spilling through gashes in the ceiling. As my eyes adjusted, I realized with a jolt of primal terror that the floor, for as far as I could see, was caked in something the color of blood.

Stifling the impulse to flee, I ventured inward and stumbled onto a stairwell, whose brightness and solidity encouraged me to climb. Across three stories, I found large and small rooms branching off in two directions, one side built in concrete, the other in wood. I didnโ€™t dare try to cross the latter, where tangles of planks and debris glowed beneath the accidental skylights theyโ€™d created while plunging through successive floors. Years of untended rain and snow had clearly rotted the wood from roof to ground, so in these rooms, I stuck to the edges and tested every step.

Much less caution was needed in the concrete rooms, where water had pooled, not absorbed, eating mostly at the paint. Curls of it climbed pillars like barnacles, while rust, dirt and moss took turns coloring the floors. Here my biggest practical fear was getting tainted water in my boots, although my psyche was much more tested, on that primal level, by a succession of single pitch-black doorways looming in the distance.

In the end, it was the looming darkness of night that persuaded me to leave. I retraced my steps, back down and out, snapping a few more photos and wondering whether Iโ€™d ever have a reason to publish them. Now that the very section of the factory I was exploring has been slated for demolition, it seems that reason has arrived: the chance to publicly document and share this historic, alluring, unsettling setting before itโ€™s gone forever.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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