The Last Days - Treece, Kansas
Treece was a small community in rural, southeastern Kansas that sat atop a labyrinth of abandoned mines. During both World Wars this region was abuzz with mining activities that supported the war effort. The lead, zinc, and iron ore that miners brought out of the ground were primarily used for making ammunition. Treece was once a city with 991 people, and the area produced $20 billion worth of ore. The mining stopped in 1967 and the population eventually dwindled to 109 individuals. By 1973 the mines began to fill with water. On the surface, 70 million tons of waste tailings and 36 million tons of mill sand and sludge sit like small mountains that are both hazardous and beautiful.
As the heavy metals found their way into the topsoil and water supply, residents struggled with developing health problems. Cancer and lead poisoning forced the community to leave their homes. The slogan “Miners Do Our Part For Victory” has given way to “We Survived The Lead.” In 1983 the tri-state area surrounding Treece, Kansas, became part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Site program. Environmental cleanup and resident relocation have become a monumental and heartbreaking task for what is now the number one Superfund Site in America.
Treece was considered home for a few folks, but it steadily became a ghost town. In 2009, one local business, one Pentecostal church, a well-worn city hall and 59 households served as city landmarks. When I made photographs of this place I felt like I was attending a wake for a lost loved one. The citizens were a grieving family that was preparing to bury the departed. The mineshafts that once facilitated much growth and prosperity are now tombs. Remnants of life and inhabitance are placed within the landscape as nature slowly reclaims the space. My photographs represent some of the relics I found as families gradually left their homes, their land, and the dangers of occupying this space.
Beginning in 2009, I had the opportunity to work on a collaborative photography project about the town of Treece. Several photographers and historians have a shared interest in this place and have developed distinct bodies of work based on what they have learned and experienced. The website, www.treecekansas.com, was created to bring former residents together, and create an online resource of information about the area. Ultimately, the purpose of this work is to bring awareness to the environmental issues that trouble the people in this region.