old saint francis school

update: Check out Tess and Kristin‘s photos! Also here’s my entire set!

I really should be in bed right now but I really wanted to get some of these photos up.

Today we went to a beautiful old abandoned school called Old Saint Francis de Sales in Powhatan, VA. It was an all girls African American Catholic school that opened in the late 1800’s and closed in the early 1970’s. My friend Erin (from dorm days) had posted some photos of the place on Facebook last week and I knew immediately I needed to get myself to this building. So a few of my girlfriends (and one guy friend) headed out there this afternoon and spent hours wandering and taking photos.

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Walking up to the school

It’s a good 30 miles or so from downtown Richmond and once we were there we totally had to hop a fence to get in. Erin had told me there was a groundskeepers house on the property but I didn’t realize it would be right next to the school itself. There were cars parked in front of it so we assumed they were probably home but decided to go ahead and venture inside. We had to walk around to to the back of the building where the chapel and construction entrance was. There were large pieces of the Tyvek covering the walls where the bell tower once stood that were flapping in the wind. It was definitely making for an eerie feeling before even actually making it inside. The bell tower apparently fell down last spring and the rumble is all laid out behind the school waiting to be rebuilt? Not really sure.

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Facade of the chapel

We went into the little construction door and had to walk across a ladder to get into the actual part of the school. We knew we were in for adventure.

The first floor consisted of a kitchen, cafeteria, parlor rooms, and the entrance to the chapel. There was also a doorway that led into the above ground basement that had the laundry room, locker room and the creepy dark fallout shelter. It was clearly labeled the fallout shelter which made it all the creepier.

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Main downstairs hallway

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Kitchen wall

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Doors to the chapel from the front porch

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Sneaky Bill

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In the chapel

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Scaffolding in the chapel, still amazing.

Up the dark stairs we went to the upper two floors. Despite the age of this building it seemed to be in pretty good structural shape but we were all very careful. The upper floors were mostly dormitory rooms. Some were connected, some not, with all sorts of closets and bathrooms and kitchenettes. Some of the paint was peeling, some not. We were all pretty nervous in opening up doors and closets at first but after awhile were more at ease. Did I mention it was absolutely freezing in the school? Whenever we made our way out onto the balconies and porches it was such a nice relief from the cold air inside.

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First room we came upon complete with creepy bed

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Paint peeling

On the second floor (really third because of above ground basement) was the room I was really excited to see. Erin’s photos had shown this type of auditorium room that looked straight out of the 1960’s. Pastels everywhere and these weird teal vinyl stage curtains. We spent a lot of time in this room using the stage for multiple photo opps.

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A couple of the girls brought some vintage dresses along in case sartorial moments struck. Kristin had made a bright red cape the night before and I’m so glad she decided to try it out today.
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Apparently that was a clock hanging from the ceiling, I didn’t realize at the time because I didn’t spend too much time underneath it while traveling down the hallway.

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One of the mini kitchenettes on the upper floors

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Top floor porch that was covered in bird poop.

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This was my absolute favorite room from the first floor. Beautiful.

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Stoop kids.

The school had countless rooms and I took many more photographs than this. I just wanted to get a small sampling online. Hunter and I realized upon viewing some of the exterior photos of the school there’s an entire section we missed. I think we missed it because we never found a way into it. We think it might be the classrooms because that was something we never ran across.

When we were leaving the groundskeeper did come out and talk to us. He was really nice and told us that if we wanted to come back we should really get in touch with the nuns that owned it and get permission since really we weren’t supposed to be there. He had to have known we were there the entire time just maybe wanted to make sure we were taking anything when we left or anything like that. A bunch of girls in vintage dresses and camera bags (and 1 Bill Chubb) don’t really look like a bunch of punk kids there to vandalize. I think that’s what made this place so beautiful was how little vandalism was present. The building is in need of probably millions of dollars of restoration but it definitely still has that potential to it. I hope the owners don’t give up on it.

I also got to try out my new Rolleicord with some color and black and white film. Excited to see what I get even though it totally needs to be professionally cleaned. Oh well might make for some great graininess.

All in all it was an awesome afternoon and I’m so glad I have friends that are just as excited I am about doing stuff like this. Big props to Erin for the heads up on this place!

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9 thoughts on “old saint francis school

  1. loooooooove these shots. i want to go back with you. when you talk to the nuns, tell them i want to buy some of those amazing chairs from the auditorium!

  2. I know I’m in wedding central mood BUT wedding photos here a few days after would be awesome!

    great work, K. i’m sad I was working and missed it.

  3. Karen this is absolutely stunning work – the room on the first floor and shot of the chapel door are both wonderfully composed – outstanding aperture control and great depth of field – you push the medium – brovo – Tom Herman

  4. I remember in the early seventies this school was occupied by nuns and my youth group stayed here during weekend retreats. I had been trying to hunt down this beautiful memory from my teen age years. I only remember the name (St. Francis de Sales) then last year I found the school via google maps and finally saw pictures. I am pretty sure this is where my youth group stayed on retreats. Your pictures bring back some wonderful memories… 🙂

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