15 American Ghost Towns

By  | 


With the world population being in the billions, you would think that every corner of the earth would be covered by people. It is hard to imagine that their are some towns and small cities that have no one to occupy them. They’re called ghost towns. Towns become abandoned for multiple reasons. It could be due to a radiation from a near by nuclear plant, or a lack of resources. Whatever the reason is there are a few ghost towns in America with a story to tell. Here are some of the most known ghost towns in the country.

Rhyolite, Nevada Just northeast of Death Valley National Park sits Rhyolite. It was a short-lived boom-town from the late Gold Rush era. Founded in 1904 after gold was discovered amongst quartz in local mines, the town grew so quickly that by 1906, it had the largest population of any settlement nearby. Buildings sprung up quickly in town, including several hotels, a stock exchange and Board of Trade, a school, ice plant, two electric plants and even a miner’s union hospital. The town fell apart almost just as quickly as it had grown. The mine closed in 1911 and by 1920, the town was abandoned.

Goldfield, Arizona  Goldfield is one of the most popular and touristy ghost towns in the southwest. Located just outside Phoenix at the foothills of the Superstition Mountains, this mining town dates back to the 1890’s when gold was first discovered in the area, hence the name of the town. Goldfield sported three saloons, a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, post office, and school. It was home to about 4000 residents in its prime. The town was abandoned in the mid 1920’s after the gold vein faulted and the grade of ore dropped.

Bodie, California  In 1859, two gold seekers came upon a huge strike in the Bodie Hills that amounted to millions in gold and silver. In the same year during the winter one of the miners froze to death in a blizzard. His death perhaps was foreshadowing the future of the mines. A gold rush in the 1870’s led to the town of Bodie growing to 8,500 people and more than 2,000 buildings. But by 1881 the mines were depleted and the population was shrinking. In 1892, a fire destroyed part of the town, and another fire in 1932 destroyed almost everything left, leaving only about 10 percent of Bodie still standing.

Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Chesapeake Bay is speckled with small islands, and for years Holland Island had one of the largest populations, with more than 360 people in 1910. there were more than 60 homes and other buildings, but for decades the island has been sinking into the surrounding waters. Holland Island was made of silt and clay, not rock, so it was bound to be consumed by the water around it sooner or later. The last remaining house on the disintegrating island crumbled into the water in 2010, leaving little evidence behind of the fishermen that once lived there.

Terlingua, Texas During the early 20th century this town was a hotbed for mercury, but production dwindled and the town basically died out by the 1940’s. In the 1970’s, the lightly populated town found a new kind of heat. It became the home of a now famous chili cook-off. Still not a lot of people can be found here, but it’s not uncommon to see a small group roaming around from time to time. The favorite activity here is sitting on the porch of the Terlingua Trading Company, have a cold refreshment, visit with people, and watch the sunset. If you’re inspired to spend the night, the Big Bend Hotel is the only place in town to get a room.

Thurmond, West Virginia This coal town from the late 1800’s went from several hundred residents to 7 by the year 2000. Once a big stop on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, its depot has been turned into a museum, and the town is now part of the New River Gorge National River. In 2005, 6 of its 7 residents reportedly ran for public office. That had to be a hell of an election. You can check out the restored train depot and museum, but most people come here for river rafting.

Santa Claus, Arizona Some would say that the little desert town of Santa Claus, Arizona was never more than a marketing gimmick. With a name like Santa Claus it does sound a little gimmicky. Launched in the 1930’s to draw tourists and sell real estate, all of the inns and restaurants had a Christmas theme, and tourists could meet Chris Kringle, any time of year. The four-acre site has been for sale since 1983. But even if you’re not on the market for your own town, it makes a good detour on the way to Kingman or the Hoover Dam. You can see some vandalized buildings, an old wishing well, and the remnants of “Old 1225”, a derailed, pink children’s train.

Flagstaff, Maine Lake Flagstaff got its name from an interesting historical event. Benedict Arnold’s troops once planted a flag here. But back then, Flagstaff was above water. In 1950, plans for a hydroelectric dam meant the whole town would be submerged. While most buildings were moved or destroyed, some sites like an occasional chimney, can still be visible from the water’s surface. You can get a map of the site from the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, or take a tour in a pontoon boat. You can also see artifacts and more about the lost town at the nearby Dead River Area Historical Society.

Calico, California Calico, California was a former silver mining town in Southern California. It peaked in the 1880’s, but started declining when the price of silver dropped in the 1890’s. It was a ghost town by 1907. The town’s restoration began in the 50’s, under the direction of Walter Knott, the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm. Today, Calico is a San Bernardino County Park, but you can still see one-third of Calico’s original buildings. To get a glimpse of the old days you can tour one mine, or wander the old post office and schoolhouse.

Virginia City, Montana Founded on gold mining in 1863, Virginia City, Montana once had about 10,000 residents including Calamity Jane, the famous frontierswoman. Virginia City was even briefly the capital of the Montana Territory. Maybe it was bad karma having your capital share the name of another state, or just the fact that gold ran out, but the city has been frozen in time since the late 19th century. Virginia City is now owned mostly by the state.

Cahawba, AL Cahawba was a river town and the capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1826. By 1825 the bad choice of settling that close to a river was clear. The place was a flood magnet. Even so, it was later the home of a Civil War prison for Union soldiers and then, during Reconstruction, a meeting place for freed slaves. The floods eventually prevented anyone form coming here now the ruins left in Cahawba are managed by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Dogtown, Massachusetts The last building in Dogtown, Massachusetts was torn down in 1845, but the stories of this town have given it a legendary appeal. The town supposedly got its named either because the poor residents lived like dogs, or because the local war widows kept canines for protection. During the Great Depression, Roger Babson, an entrepreneur who foretold the stock market crash and later ran for President, erected about two dozen boulders within Dogtown’s mostly forested ruins. When hiking through now, you can see the boulders, with messages such as “Prosperity Follows Service,” “Get a Job,” and “If  Work Stops Values Decay.”

Glenrio, Texas and New Mexico Glenrio is a small town straddling the Texas–New Mexico border. It was a busy road stop during the heyday of Route 66, offering gas, restaurants, and motels. The movie crew for The Grapes of Wrath even spent some time filming here in 1939. In the 1970’s business came to a halt when I-40 was built and literally passed by Glenrio. There are supposedly a few people who live in Glenrio now, but otherwise the empty, largely intact little town is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Gleeson, Courtland, and Pearce, Arizona This trio of towns just west of Tombstone, Arizona had ups and downs and intertwined fates. Gleeson used to be called Turquoise when the stone was its main draw, but everyone left when gold was found in Pearce. Pancho Villa, a prominent Mexican revolutionary general, is said to have fought in Courtland. Much of these three towns are now on private land, but you can wander the cemeteries or visit the Gleeson Jail. Up the road you can also see the “jail tree,” where they used to tie up criminals before the jail was built.

Kennecott, Alaska After producing $200 million worth of copper ore between 1911 and 1938, the mill town of Kennecott, Alaska was tapped out and too remote for anyone to survive. You’ll find it at the end of a 60-mile dirt road in the middle of Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, the biggest national park in the U.S. Back when Kennecott had seen better days, the company town had its own hospital and school as well as a skating rink and a tennis court. The original mill buildings are still there, but you’ll get the best access if you go with a guide from the NPS or a tour operator.

St. Elmo, Colorado The few residents left near St. Elmo, a onetime mining village and railroad stop, joke that the original residents left on the last train out and never came back. After developing in the 1870’s with hotels, dance halls, a school, and a telegraph office, the town faded by the 1930’s, after the railroad closed. You can still shop in the seasonal, antiques-filled General Store, rent four-wheelers, and stay in a rustic cabin in town.


18 of 18