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Inside the Abandoned Vacuum Oil Refinery

November 10th, 2015

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
By Snoop Junkie

Welcome to the old Vacuum Oil plant on the west bank of the Genesee River in Rochester’s Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. Abandoned for nearly a century, there has been very little desire to re-develop this 26-acre site due to contamination. Now, the City of Rochester is aiming to use New York State’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas program external link to clean it up and plan for its future redevelopment. But as of today, this property is still highly toxic. And you guessed it—we’re going inside…

57,000 oil barrels are neatly stacked off Plymouth Avenue South, near the tracks of the Pennsylvania and Erie Railroads. The barrels are at the Rochester plant of the Vacuum Oil Company. February 24, 1918. [IMAGE: From the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY.]
Vacuum Oil Company external link was founded in 1866 by Matthew Ewing and Hiram Bond Everest, of Rochester. “Their lubrication oil was an accidental discovery while attempting to distill kerosene. Everest noted that the residue from the extraction was suitable as a lubricant. Soon after, the product became popular for use by steam engines and the internal-combustion engines.”

In 1879 Vacuum Oil became a division of Standard Oil. In 1934 it became the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, then changed to the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company, and then again to Socony Mobil Oil Company. By 1981 the corporation was known as the Mobil Oil Company. And today it is part of ExxonMobil.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
This particular site external link was closed sometime in the 1930s, then reopened for various purposes for a short while after. Recently, much discussion has been going on regarding future possibilities including a park, a scenic river-walk landscape, apartments, shops, etc. This would be a huge win for Rochester’s blighted southwest quadrant. Ideas are now being discussed, and major tax breaks could benefit whomever decides to take on this dirty job.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
I had ventured to this factory a few months back, and was unsuccessful gaining entry. Two steel doorways—really the only options for getting inside—had been welded shut. Prior to this I had heard there was an opening, but sometimes that window of opportunity comes and goes quickly. This time, unfortunately, was too quick for me.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
Although a tad bit discouraged, I knew that eventually some other curious mind would take it upon him or herself to pop those welds, and let this building breathe once more. It’s always only a matter of patience and time with places such as this.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
About a month later, one rainy Sunday morning I decided to take a drive out and see if in fact someone had provided us with that opportunity. I brought all my “life sustaining” exploration gear, but really my initial plan was only to see if it was open. Then if it was, I’d go back with the rest of my crew. This wasn’t the sort of facility that I wanted to explore alone.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
Upon arriving at a nearby parking lot, I grabbed my gear and began my march toward the building. The walk from the parking lot took about fifteen minutes and included beautiful views of the Genesee River. The rain picked up momentum as I got closer. Not necessarily a bad thing. Being out early along with the precipitation lessened my chances of running into anyone who might thwart my objective.

And finally, there I was!

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
As I scanned the building from a distance, I could see that my morning was about to become much more interesting! Someone, using something, had popped the upper welds and bent one of the steel doors down from the top. The bottom was still welded, but it was bent just enough to be able to prop myself up on some bricks and squeeze myself through the top opening.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
I stuck my head inside to have a listen… The rain was sifting through this building onto large puddles consuming most of the entire 1st floor, or what I could see of it. There was not much daylight to be found inside the first floor. That, compounded with the sound of interior rainfall, had me second guessing any idea of going in alone. I very much appreciate the ability to hear what’s going on around me while exploring, especially while I’m solo. After listening for about 5 minutes, I thought about that whole “window of opportunity” thing that I previously mentioned. I had my shot here, and I decided to take it. Soooo, up and over with a squeeze, one deep breath, sucking in my gut… and I was in!

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
The 1st floor had a familiar dank musty smell that I’ve grown accustomed to from previous explorations. Definitely could use a little Febreze in here.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
I decided to take the staircase to the top, then slowly work my way down from there as you’ll see in the progression of these photos.

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
Pardon the quality of some of these shots, as the humidity was high inside and my camera lens was continuously fogging up…

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]

Abandoned Vacuum Oil building. Flint Street, Rochester, NY. [IMAGE: Snoop Junkie]
Not once did I feel safe or comfortable being inside this building. It was risky, and not a chance that I would normally take. But in the end it was a success. And I had never been happier to get back outside to stand in the rain again.

Snoop Junkie

• • •

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 at 9:22 pm and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Development, Urban Exploration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Inside the Abandoned Vacuum Oil Refinery”

  1. Nick R says:

    I ride by there nearly every day going to and from work, now I finally know what’s inside!

  2. Powers says:

    Nice view from up top!

  3. This place looks very similar to how it was in 2012 when I got a chance to shoot in there. Good to see its open again. Used to be you could walk right in the rear.

    We have a couple photos that are almost exactly the same!

    March 2013
    https://flic.kr/p/ecs6AV

    November 2012
    https://flic.kr/p/drUNk2

    November 2012
    https://flic.kr/p/ecxLAw

    Rest of the album:
    https://www.flickr.com/gp/puddlejumperphotography/M2bS97

  4. L. DeWert says:

    The pictures are incredible. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Joel says:

    I ride by there often, but violent crimes occur in the area. I’d assumed the big bird graffiti was part of Wall Therapy but I guess I was wrong. Who owns this building now? Who is responsible for it?

  6. Tim O'Connell says:

    A while back,1980’s, a man named Ray Neu was attempting to bring the building back to life. I believe he died in the attempt. In the center of Exchange Boulevard in Corn Hill there is a monument, the Elwood Building Griffins, placed there by the Corn Hill Neighbors for the sesquicentennial celebration. On the river side of this monument is a dedication to Ray Neu by the Neighbors.

  7. John says:

    I hope it gets cleaned up and rehabbed and not just leveled and the soil/debris trucked away. So much of Rochester’s industrial past is gone.

  8. R. Nash-Shannon says:

    I lived in this building with my family off, and on from 85-2008.
    We were the last tenants to leave.
    It was a fantastic adventure.

  9. eric says:

    I have gone in there many times, the most recent was nine months ago. A lot of the things in there are from my friends family who lived there for about twenty years up until a few years back. It was a photography studio and a home. Squatters have been living there since.

  10. R. Nash-Shannon says:

    We lived in there until Oct 2008.
    So it hasn’t been abandoned for a century.

  11. Znarf says:

    Virtually nothing of the Vacuum Oil years remained there in the 1960s when most of the building was used as the Parts warehouse and distribution center for Sears Roebuck.

    The vacuum building is possibly the last poured concrete buildings left of a group that extended from Court St South along the West bank of the river.

  12. Tom Burke says:

    A piece of the history of this building can be tagged with the name Newel White. An artist, urban activist and woodworker, this building claimed his life in a fatal accident while attempting to repair the roof. Affinity Woodworks was his enterprise but his life was more about the dynamic he inspired between places and the people with whom he shared community. Occasionally I drive down to this monolithic monster, ostensibly to see the beautiful creature painted on the wall but actually to pay homage to my dear friend.

  13. Trevor John says:

    Windows of opportunity for entering that place really do come and go. Haven’t been able to find an entrance back in since my initial entrance last summer nice pics!

  14. Pete says:

    Great Read! A must read & looking forward to seeing how bad the ground is. Exxon Mobil could man up anytime! Time is running out for State Funding! Lets “Revive Rochester”

  15. Max says:

    Someone asked who owns/controls this building currently. It is owned by One Flint St LLC. If you dig around enough (as I just did) you find it to be the same guys behind DHD Ventues (i.e Tom Masaschi):

    http://www.dhdventures.com/

    He/They own much of the East End as well as the Button lofts. They have made luxury lofts out of some interesting buildings, but this one would probably be the gnarliest turnaround (though I’d rather see a more creative use than residential)

  16. Dennis B. says:

    Great read, I’ve seen some urban infiltration pics of the property some years ago. Interesting that one of the East End developers owns it, now.

    I’d imagine it’s contaminated similar to the old Taylor Instruments property on West Ave. That’s been a brownfield site for many years, and the state never got around to cleaning it up. Lots of mercury and silver in the ground, there.

  17. Alan says:

    I used to poke around that property years ago. I think that it’s a wonderful setting but preserving poured concrete buildings is probably effort better spent elsewhere.

  18. Jack Lamphier says:

    When I was a child in the 30’s I lived with my grandparents on So. Plymouth Ave. just south of Flint St. I don’t remember the specific year but it had to be prior to 1937,there was a period of probably 3 to 6 weeks when I watched large flatbed trucks haul gigantic rusty old tanks up Flint and turn south down Plymouth. They all leaked oil as they made their way out of site. My Grandfather told me they were being taken from the oil company on Exchange St.

  19. Aadi says:

    Visited the location last week. There is a small hole in the front which is accessible. Beautiful from the inside, some crazy graffiti on the building and the insides. Didnt know it was contaminated. But thanks for sharing, interesting history lesson.

  20. Kali says:

    I went here with my friend today and it’s amazing. Still easy to get into, we made it all the way up to the roof. The smells very moldy but that’s to be expected. Definitely still amazing.

  21. disownedjester says:

    Just got caught by undercover police officer in black chevy sudan, politely asked us to leave. He came in the building afterwards.


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