Posted by Debby and Hubert Yoder, DECATUR, GA -- Just off the busy Clairmont Road corridor in Decatur lies Mason Mill Park, a neighborhood green space with a very interesting history. Not far from Emory University, it sits adjacent to a public library and provides playgrounds, tennis courts, and walking trails. The park expanded not too long ago and now includes an expansive paved walkway that winds its way down to what’s known as The Ruins.
The Ruins look like a hybrid between an archaeological dig, a forest, and a hub of interesting art. It represents what's left of Decatur’s first water treatment plant (built in the early 1900s) and has long been a playground for graffiti artists. Until the recent expansion, this area could only be reached by hiking through the overgrown Kudzu-infested woods. Those who knew of it kept the maze-like trail secret because it led to a private oasis where artistic expression went uncensored.
Prior to the construction of the water treatment facility, there was a flour mill there. It operated for about 50 years and survived the Civil War, despite the local rhetoric that all of Georgia had been burned to the ground. Ironically, the mill was a meeting place for two Corps of Union soldiers as they began the drive to eliminate legal slavery. After a fire destroyed the mill in 1898, the owners sold the property to the City of Decatur. During President Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a park around the treatment facility making the dams and man-made lake accessible to residents. However, by the 1940s, Decatur had outgrown the capabilities of the plant and it was abandoned for a more suitable space.
For many years after that the site was left abandoned and unmaintained. Residents considered it a nuisance because the dams that were left behind caused flooding. In the mid-1960s a retired judge got fed up with the situation and took it upon himself to blow up the dams and drain the lake.
Now there's not much left of the facility. There are some brick foundations, part of a water tower, and remains of walls, as well as an informational plaque diagramming what once existed. One particularly compelling brick wall stands alone. It includes a doorway and window that make a great spot for portraits. Nearby is the beautiful walkway built by the PATH Foundation. Graffiti in this area has been legal since walkway expansion and is encouraged. The paintings and writings on the remaining brick structures change frequently resulting in a palimpsest of colors, themes, and words. All of which tangle together with the untamed greenery to create an urban jungle gym of sorts.
Debby Yoder is a Contributor to Social Shutter as well as a student at Georgia State University majoring in Sociology. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hubert Yoder is Debby's father and retired after working in information systems at McDonnell Douglas, EDS, and IBM. Photography is now his work and hobby. He can be contacted at email@example.com.