Urbex: Camp Pellston in Northern Michigan

Back in 2008 we were vacationing “Up North” which here in Michigan pretty much means north of the Zilwalkee bridge. In this case it was way north up in Cross Village, Michigan. My wife went for a drive to get some things at the store and drove past an abandoned building on the way back. It was on the corner of Camp rd and Pleasant View Rd.

Camp Pellston bunk room
Camp Pellston bunk room. Click for link to print

I had just started getting into urbex photography and was super interested. She told me it looked like a compound of some sort with fences and barbed wire. At that time she didn’t want to go explore it with me, but my sister in law and nephew did.

We rolled up and it was just as she described. Kind of low, flat, sprawling with a tower, lots of fencing and razor wire. Turns out it was Camp Pellston. Before it was abandoned it was a minimum security work prison.

camp pellston
Camp Pellston Click for link to print

There was no way in immediately noticeable. There was however an over grow two track that went around the perimeter. It was a good thing we brought the 4×4 Jeep. We took the two track around and found a small hole in the fence. We parked the Jeep behind a hedgerow and pushed through the hole.

We traversed an overgrown field with basketball hoops and some very fracked asphalt through which wild flowers grew. The doors to the primary structure were all open; as in swinging open. This often makes me a little nervous as sometimes animals like to make homes in such buildings.


Camp Pellston velvia 50
Camp Pellston velvia 50

The building was what you’d expect from a run down prison. Empty bunkhouses with fenced windows, peeling paint, a few random things scattered about but most everything was gone. My nephew was terrified. He asked “What if there’s a murderer here?” I told him the last place a murderer would want to be was in a prison! I was more worried about finding a raccoon that didn’t appreciate our company. Luckily we didn’t find any wildlife.

After going through the main facility there was a small guard tower. It was mainly empty, not much there and somewhat cramped which doesn’t make for good pictures.

I went back there with groups of people from Photostock until they knocked it down in 2011. Originally it was built in 1957 and housed up to 140 inmates. It was decommissioned in 2001 and emptied the next year. There was brief interest in turning it into a rehab facility but it fell through.

I went back to this location so many times I have almost identical shots on the same frames numbers on different rolls of film. I really enjoyed this building. I especially appreciated the irony of breaking into a prison. I primarily shot this location with two different cameras. Initially it was my Bronica SQa and later a Fuji GW690.

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