Once, the air was filled with noises – from the shoveling of coal and the hiss of steam, to the voices of teams of men going about their work. Today, there is only silence. Hulking metal machinery silently corrodes, and water, which once bubbled through boilers and cooling equipment, is left to pool on the floor or in underground chambers. These empty buildings were once mighty symbols of the industrialized world and, in many places, icons of their localities. Now abandoned and dilapidated, the power stations can merely wait to be remodeled or demolished.
Whether they burn coal, oil or gas or rely on water or nuclear energy, power stations require large structures to house their equipment. These buildings can either be plain, utilitarian blocks or else lovingly designed masterpieces. But, be they elegant or boxy, these deserted places – with their giant defunct machines and echoing chambers – can be fascinating places to explore. Here’s a list of seven abandoned power stations that blew us away.
7. Yonkers Power Plant, New York, USA
The imposing abandoned smokestacks and roof gables of Yonkers Power Station have become Hudson River icons; after all, they’ve been here since 1906. Originally built to power locomotives, the plant continued to generate electricity until 1963, when it was finally shut down.
The architecture inside the ‘turbine hall’ is surprisingly stylized for a power station. Despite the signs of creeping decay and encroaching vegetation, the arched windows and glass ceiling bring to mind a high-end shopping mall. “It wasn’t really built with a particular style in mind,” says Erin Tobin, a regional director for the Preservation League of New York. “It has Romanesque Revival elements.”
The turbine hall is a large, light-filled chamber with galleries running down the length of one side. And, ignoring the graffiti and sense of neglect, it’s quite easy to imagine this space being converted and used for a new purpose. In fact, the building is on New York’s ‘Seven to Save’ list of endangered historic buildings, and there are hopes that any future remodeling and reuse will retain the main features of the historic plant. We think it would make a great art gallery – like London’s Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside Power Station.
The steel and brickwork of this early 20th-century edifice have stood the test of time, and despite its rundown appearance, the building is actually still structurally sound. “The Yonkers Power Station is one of the most architecturally beautiful of those left to us,” says Mary Habstritt, from the Society for Industrial Archeology. “It is a worthy reminder of the New York Central Railroad, once called ‘The Greatest Highway in the World’ and the ‘Life Line of New York.’”
6. Hydroelectricity Plant, Central Italy
A long, dimly lit passage leads off somewhere dark and spooky. This creepy looking abandoned hydroelectric plant in Italy clearly hasn’t been used for a long time. And, adding to the allure of the place, photographer Pietromassimo Pasqui asked us not to reveal the exact location of the plant. These urban explorers are a secretive bunch.
Glass windows filter light into this desolate seeming section of the plant... It’s tapping into the gravitational force of falling or flowing water that generates hydroelectricity, so large sources of water, like dams and reservoirs, are required. Hydroelectricity is the most prolific form of renewable energy, even though the construction of dams and the changing of river courses may negatively affect the local ecology.
Some of the machinery in this plant still looks like it’s in reasonable condition. Check out the patch of sun streaming through on the right-hand side. It almost seems to have created a ghostly figure. A long departed engineer, perhaps?
Of course, much of the machinery here is extremely corroded, like the equipment in this high-ceilinged room. Given the fact that some of the panels in the roof are missing, opening the space up to the elements, it’s no wonder the walls are covered in mold and the metal is rusted. On the plus side, the sunlight filtering into the room in this shot is a nice touch.
5. Unnamed Power Plant, France
These twin snaking tubes look as much like sculpture as they do machinery parts. The abandoned station in these pictures is in France, where nowadays most of the country’s energy needs are met by nuclear power. That said, in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, nuclear power stations could actually be at least partially phased out in France.
Like most of the plants on this list, this one also has large windows that let in the light. Illuminated yet also bathed in shadow, there is an air of majesty to these forgotten machines, which look like relics of a different age. Meanwhile, the long, receding corridor in the left of the shot gives you an idea of the scale of this place.
Who says power plants have to be dull? The bright yellow and blue of this neglected equipment shines through, even with the thick layer of dust in which it is coated. Again, massive glass windows flood the hall with light, which was presumably appreciated by the plant’s employees.
This retro looking control panel must have been a hub of activity when the station was operational. Energy in fossil fuel power stations is produced either by steam turbines, gas turbines or, in some cases, internal combustion engines. But whichever method is used, a team of well-trained employees has to oversee all operations – and that doesn’t include Homer Simpson!
4. Market Street Power Plant, New Orleans, USA
The Market Street Power Plant in New Orleans shares at least two features in common with the Yonkers plant in New York: its twin smoke stacks have become icons in the area and it sits on a famous waterway. In this case, the plant is situated on the Mississippi River, and as you can see from the control room pictured, the building has been falling apart since it was abandoned in 1973.
This panel seems to be in pretty good shape, considering. The power plant, built in 1905, is currently part of a political corruption scandal involving the ex-mayor of New Orleans. There were development plans to turn it into a riverfront attraction for tourists and shoppers; now, though, its fate is uncertain.
Stagnant green water has pooled at the bottom of this section of the power plant, no doubt hastening the decay of the machinery. In this photograph, you can see that rust has covered almost all of the metal parts.
This photo shows another section of the flooded ground floor. Active fossil fuel and nuclear power stations use water to produce the steam that powers their turbines. Many plants source this water from the river systems and oceans closest to them and then discharge the water back where it came from. This is, of course, a hazard for animals and fish living in these areas, which may be sucked into the plant and killed or suffer the effects of the released hot water.
3. Unnamed Power Plant, USA
Urban explorer Gregoire C was pretty cagey when it came to revealing the exact location of this power plant. According to him, “When abandoned places become public, they never last more than a few months before they get completely destroyed by vandals and metal thieves.” So when we pressed him for specifics, in order to protect the site, he simply replied, “It is somewhere in the United States.” What we do know is that the plant was built in 1925 and hasn’t been used since 1985. And as grimy as the machines in this shot appear, we still like the rather artistic way they’ve been captured.
A huge, hollow space and high ceilings frame the derelict looking equipment perfectly in this shot, offering a stark example of eerily beautiful urban decay. And with temperatures well below freezing when photographer Gregoire C visited, it must have been an even creepier scene to take in.
“This is probably the most impressive power station ever,” Gregoire declares. “A true neoclassical temple with massive open spaces.” Based on these photographs, we certainly can’t disagree with him. With its arched ceiling, hulking abandoned turbines and other rusting equipment, this amazing place looks like it would make a pretty epic movie set.
The old, corroding coal-fired machinery in this shot looks like some kind of colossal industrial dinosaur, rusting away with dignity. It’s interesting to note that as we try to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels in view of climate change, power stations like this may become a thing of the past worldwide.
2. PECO Power Station, Delaware, USA
As far as abandoned power plants go, this has to be one of the creepiest. Stripped of the machinery they would have once been filled with, the abandoned halls and tunnels create an unsettling atmosphere. So it’s no wonder the makers of Hollywood films 12 Monkeys, Transformers 2 and The Last Airbender chose to film here.
After its closure in 2004, part of the PECO Power Station continued to operate when peak electrical usage required it. This was slated to stop in 2012, however, and most of the plant has been abandoned since the initial closure. “The turbines are all gone, but the massive shell proved to be quite a fun explore, one of my favorites in recent memories,” says photographer Steven Bley, who provided these fantastic images.
Large windows allow light into this empty chamber, where only the bases of the massive machinery that must have once stood here remain. While the power station was operational, up to 325 tons of coal per hour was burnt in its boilers. And back in the day, enough electricity was produced at the plant to power most of northeast Philadelphia.
The building was designed in 1917 by architects John T. Windrim and W.C.L. Eglin. The classical façade is the work of Windrim, who believed that large, utilitarian buildings should reflect the glory and industrial power of America in the early 20th century. Whether the abandoned plant will remain as is, be remodeled or be demolished completely is yet to be decided.
1. Thorpe Marsh Power Station, Doncaster, UK
These crumbling cooling towers are part of the remains of a power station in Doncaster, England. When construction began in 1959, the Thorpe Power Plant was expected to be a prototype for all future large-scale power stations in the UK. It remained operational until 1994.
Before its demise, Thorpe Marsh was a 1-gigawatt, primarily coal-powered plant. There was also a gas turbine, and natural gas was a secondary source of fuel. Coal would arrive on these rails and get dropped into the large underground space beneath. As you can see in this photograph, that cavity is now flooded.
Standing like a concrete forest, these pillars were integral to the cooling process inside the huge towers. “The steam was fed upwards to a set of spray pipes, condensing within the chimney and falling down like rain over a vast series of these concrete beams,” explains photographer Tom Blackwell. “The surface area provided by this internal concrete framework at the base of the tower was the final key in the cooling process.”
Staring up at the sky from the inside of a cooling tower is a lot like gazing up from the bottom of a deep well. “It's one of the more intriguing abandoned places that I've visited,” says Blackwell. However, don’t make any plans to visit the abandoned plant yourself. Recently, these magnificent towers were demolished, and only the railway station and the electricity switching station are still standing.
With fossil fuel losing popularity and the world searching for greener alternatives, perhaps there will be many more abandoned power stations in the future. And like these ruins, they will no doubt be explored by a new wave of adventurous urban explorers. Since fossil fuels pollute and are non-renewable, and even hydroelectric stations still cause damage to surrounding ecosystems, we can’t help but look forward to that time.