The intriguing ‘Abandoned Virginia’ video project shows off the Commonwealth’s jilted remains

by | Nov 13, 2015 | COMMUNITY

For those of you who have ever had an interest in checking out old buildings but do not know where to start, you can get your pro-tips from Brian Sterowski. He’s been visiting abandoned buildings for a few years now, and he has a YouTube channel up dedicated to sharing his findings.

Sterowski credits his interest in abandoned houses to a trip he took to the Williams Grove Amusement Park in Pennsylvania back in 2011. Sterowski had just finished visiting his father, who originally had a love of documenting abandoned places, and he thought it would be a good place to take a break from driving, not realizing what it was going to cause.

“Little did I know how the beauty of an abandoned amusement park would spark my interest in exploring other places,” he said.

Sterowski has visited almost 50 abandoned locations this year alone, and has about half of them recorded and up on his channel. He has taken to spaces all throughout Virginia for this project including Richmond, NOVA, James City, and Essex.

One might question what draws someone to explore old buildings in their spare time. Sterowski blames his curiosity for his interesting hobby. “I think it’s the history that goes along with the places that draws my interest … sometimes you find a really interesting backstory to a building.” he said.

He credited his decision to record his experiences to a YouTuber named Adam the Woo. Sterowski discovered Woo’s channel during his research of sites to check out, and saw how he travels the country and films abandoned locations.

“His videos inspired me to get out and visit some of these places myself,” he said. “I was already filming this for my YouTube channel, so I figured why not start my own series of ‘abandoned’ videos?”

He said that he wanted to make sure that his videos stood out and that his audience was satisfied. “I wanted it to be different from the majority of what I was seeing on YouTube, that’s why I decided to not talk and just let the locations speak for themselves,” he said.

“A lot of people tell me how they love hearing my footsteps as I walk through the buildings. I think it makes the viewers feel like they are there with me.”

Sterowski regrets not taking more time when he first began his exploration. “The five or six places that I filmed seem very rushed now that I look back at them,” he said. “I moved and didn’t slow down to catch some of the small details.”

He now realizes that it is important to scope out the small things in every location, as they are critical to the history of the building. He has found items like furniture, clothes, pictures, or even documents- all telling a story of what went on prior to his arrival.

“Sometimes you come across belongings that help paint a picture of what it was once like before being left to decay,” said Sterowski.

One of his more emotionally driven trips, however, occurred when he went to visit his childhood home.

“That was an emotional experience,” he said. “Walking through there brought back so many good memories from when I was a kid.”

Sterowski’s family lived there throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and this was the first time he had been back since they had moved out.

He reminisced on holidays growing up, sharing that Christmas in that house was the most memorable. “My earliest memories were all from the time that we lived there and those Christmas mornings were the best.” Sterowski said.

Sterowski’s family went all out for Christmas when it came to decorations for the house, and he recalls how it caught the neighborhood’s attention. “I remember my parents decorating outside the house every year for Christmas – it was a sight to see,” he said. “Buses and cars full of people would show up to take pictures of it.”

A few months after the video was posted, his home was demolished. He shared that though the experience was emotional, the camaraderie he found in other people online proved to be cathartic.

“I’ve had people leave some of the kindest comments and even share similar stories of their own after watching that video,” he said. “I’ve also made some great friends because of the videos and the interest that people have in them.”

The recording that caught our eye to interview Sterowski’s was a tour of the old Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. The interesting thing about this particular video, however, is that he did not shoot it himself, instead his father, who used to work in law enforcement, shot it and had been holding on to footage since 1991.

Seeing as the filming was done over 20 years ago after the building had been shut down, Sterowski’s father had the tape converted to a DVD where Sterowski then edited to fit his style.

As far as the YouTuber’s future with exploration, he plans on expanding his journeys past the boundaries of VA and the solo YouTube career. “I’ve talked with a few other YouTube channels about exploring together and collaborating on a video or two,” he said. “It’s possible that someday I put together a book with the photographs that I take in these places.”

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at BradKutnerNPR@gmail.com




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