Abandoned Iowa: One blogger’s search for the long-forgotten

Image caption --
River Road southeast of old Highway 92. — photo courtesy of Mitch Nicholson

Rural flight is defined as the movement of young people from rural areas to urban areas. This phenomenon has plagued small Iowa towns since the recession during the early 1980s, and it continues to affect small town economies across the state today. The effects of rural flight are widespread and have left rural Iowa with numerous abandoned towns and locations, all in various states of disrepair.

Documenting these locations before they fall down or disappear forever is a service that 24 year-old, Indianola resident Mitch Nicholson happily provides through his blog, Abandoned Iowa. Nicholson travels to towns across Iowa to photograph deserted buildings, mostly throughout central and eastern counties.

The project began in the fall of 2012 when Nicholson wanted a way to escape the hustle of dorm life. He says he began to drive around and noticed several abandoned buildings in rural Iowa towns in Marion county. He began to take his camera along on his leisurely drives and posting the photos of these abandoned buildings on Tumblr, and later a Facebook page. It wasn’t long before he gained a following on the social media sites.

“My audience is mostly in their 40’s or 50’s,” Nicholson said. “Many of them will tell me that they used to go to the abandoned school I took photos of, or they have memories at a particular location. They appreciate that I’m photographing these places how they are now.”

He attributes the success of the blog to his fans, stating that he probably would not be motivated to continue his efforts without the encouragement and support of so many people.

Image caption --
Nicholson also uses his blog to answer questions from Abandoned Iowa enthusiasts. — photo courtesy of Mitch Nicholson

Posts on Abandoned Iowa include several photographs of locations. A historical context to the photographs is usually also provided to educate the reader about a location’s history and significance to its community.

Nicholson is careful not to trespass on private property, though. Hey says he tends to photograph public places or old bridges that are on public land.

“Usually when people see me with a tripod and a camera, they leave me alone,” he said. “Most people don’t mind because I’m not disturbing anything and I’m not trespassing.”

He funds his ventures on his own, saving his money for gas and the occasional hotel when he’s not lodging with relatives in Iowa City. In the future, Nicholson also plans to publish a book with the same name, Abandoned Iowa, that explores the theme of place and how places impact people.

“I think it would be easy for me to create a coffee-table photo book,” Nicholson said. “I also enjoy writing, so I’d like to incorporate that interest as well. I hope to have it done by Christmas of next year.”


  1. Looking for info on Hope, Ia. 15 yrs ago (estimated) Driving down country roads between Eddyvile & Oskaloosa drove by/thru “Hope”? Road turned sharply &
    There stood a general store/post office inside. Looked intact at the time. So must have been Main Street at one time. Don’t know how we got there. I was one of the
    Last to attend the Marysville 2 room Country School. His n Hers outhouses,
    A hand pump for water. There were 3 in my class. At the end of semester, school closed, we were sent to Attica school.vThat site is marked.But both school buildings no longer standing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40 Years Forward:

A Celebration of Empowerment & Hope

Deb Talan of "The Weepies" will begin our night of celebration with a story of survival, empowerment, and hope told through words and song. Join us in remembering our past and envisioning the future at the Coralville Mariott.


Friday, September 20 at 7:30 p.m.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

Little Village's

From Aug. 1-Sept. 30, cast your vote for your favorite places, people, eats and entertainment around the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area.

Don't forget to explain your picks! The best answers will be published in LV's Best of the CRANDIC issue, out Dec. 3, 2019.