Alumnus finds passion in photography of abandoned, demolished schools

Aaron Turner turned his project for a master’s degree in education into a “hobby and a passion.”

Between 2008 and 2011 Turner, a 2005 University graduate, traveled to every school district in Ohio and photographed remaining old school buildings as a way to document and preserve their history. The project is found on http://www.oldohioschools.com/.

The site is hosted by Meancode Media, owned by Ken Edwards.

The first stop in the project was the former Fostoria High School [Emerson Junior High] on High Street in Fostoria, Ohio, which was demolished in 2005.

“The first school I photographed was in fall of 2004 during my senior year at Bowling Green,” Turner said. “I remember driving from Toledo— where I was doing my student teaching— to Fostoria after school to take pictures as the building came down.”

Turner wanted to record any buildings built for public school use that were demolished, closed or abandoned. He also documents historical buildings that have been 100 percent gutted and renovated and restored for ongoing use.

The only schools Turner excluded were Catholic schools, religious schools and colleges.

His journey consisted of mostly day trips. He very seldom had to stay overnight, except for in the bigger cities such as Cleveland and Cincinnati. In those cases he would stay at a friend or family’s home.

“It wasn’t too much of a social visit,” he said.

Most times he would wake up at 5 a.m. to get the best sunlight for the photos and would be out for about 12-14 hours until the sun went down.

Life long friend of Aaron Turner, Rosemary Sutter, has always been amazed at Turner’s commitment to the project.

“I was tremendously impressed when he told me about his trips. It takes a lot of traveling and dedication to pursue such a task,” she said.

Turner did not have much training in photography, but he taught himself how to capture the best photo.

A challenge arrived when he found that some schools had trees, playgrounds or modular trailers blocking the view.

The key to capturing a good photo is to plan based upon the sun, Turner said.

“I would capture all the photos of buildings facing east first, and so forth,” he said.

Although traveling across Ohio to obtain the photos of old schools became a hobby for Turner, he still maintained a job during his journey.

Turner taught second grade from 2005 to 2011. He quit to pursue his second master’s degree in library & information science, which he earned August 2013 from Kent State University.

Turner is now a self-employed private researcher and genealogist and part-time yearbook librarian at the Ohio Genealogical Society in Bellville, Ohio. He still updates the site as frequently as he can.

“My dream job would be to have someone pay me to make a site like this in a different state,” Turner said.

A job like this would be ideal for Turner.

“He’s one of the only people I know that could give a place of learning such life,” Sutter said.

But as for now he has no plans to shut down the website any time soon.

“I would love to return to places and take new photos to regain that great loss of beautiful architecture,” Turner said.

University student, Yvonne Johnson, has been victim to a school closing.

Her old high school building in Cleveland was torn down. She loved the idea of capturing photos to preserve the school’s history.

“I wasn’t able to attend the demolition to get photos of my own, so to have those moments back would be nice,” she said.

Turner said he loves to get updates from individuals about things that he may have missed or updates on schools. People can send photos to [email protected]