Abandoned Towns and Cities of the United States
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Abandoned Towns and Cities of the United States

If you stray from the beaten path while traversing America, you’ll undoubtedly come across one of the country’s thousands of deserted communities, what many call “ghost towns,” hidden within the forgotten fabric of the land. An especially prominent feature of the American West, deserted towns constitute abandoned ideas and ideals, misguided ventures and adventures, natural disasters, and the end result of changing times and shifting timelines. Indeed, these ghostly remains of what once was serve as stark reminders of the physical realities of our not-to-distant past, while directing us to the future.

If you stray from the beaten path while traversing America, you’ll undoubtedly come across one of the country’s thousands of abandoned towns and cities, what many call “ghost towns,” hidden within the forgotten fabric of the land.

An especially prominent feature of the American Westabandoned towns constitute forsaken ideas and ideals, misguided ventures and adventures, natural disasters, and the end result of changing times and shifting timelines.

Indeed, these ghostly remains of what once was serve as stark reminders of the physical realities of our not-to-distant past, while directing us to consider the future.

Here are just ten of the many abandoned towns and cities of the United States, along with a little insight as to why they now stand silent.

> Bodie, California: Abandoned early 1960s

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Bodie, California, now a State Historic Park, was one of the many gold-mining  towns of the American West. Once a “boom town” with more than 10,000 residents, Bodie set 8,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevadas and is said to have once been one of the largest cities in California, with numerous saloons, churches, hospitals, four fire departments, and even a Chinatown along the dusty mile long main street.  While the majority of residents left the dying city by the late 1940s, some held on until the early 60s, it then becoming a National Historic Site in 1962. Only a small part of the town still stands today, but what remains has been well preserved with some remaining structures still containing goods from various periods which draw a good number of tourists each year–although there are no commercial facilities in the area.

> Fort Jefferson, Florida: Abandoned 1874

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A C-class military fort at the far western tip of the Florida Keys, 70 miles west of Key West, Fort Jefferson is only accessible by boat or seaplane.  Designed to hold 1500 soldiers, construction began in 1846 but was never completed. Covering almost the entire island, Fort Jefferson’s 50' high brick walls had three levels of firing platforms that would hold 450 cannons. During the Civil War, however, the incompleted and unarmed fort was captured by Union troops.  After the war ended, the fort was turned into a prison, eventually housing a total of 2400 inmates. In 1874 it was abandoned after a hurricane did major damage.

> Ruby, Arizona: Abandoned 1950s

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One of the best preserved ghost towns in Arizona, Ruby was founded as a mining camp, producing mostly copper, lead, and zinc. At its peak in the mid 1930s, Ruby’s population reached 1,200 but quickly diminished after the mine was closed in the mid-1950s. The few buildings that remain include the jail, a schoolhouse, mine offices, and a handful of homes.

> Centralia, Pennsylvania: All but abandoned since 1981/officially declared uninhabitable in 2002

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A thriving community of several thousand until 1962, the city experienced a devastating blow when a fire broke out in a landfill near the Odd Fellows cemetery and quickly spread through a hole in the earth to the coal mine beneath the city. Fueled by the rich vein of coal, the fire was unable to be extinguished and has been burning for over 45 years now (some estimate that the available coal will keep the fire going for perhaps 250 years). The massive fire continues to produce sinkholes, smoke and toxic vapors, and the buckling of streets. Beginning in 1984, residents of the town were bought out of their homes with Congressional funds so that they could relocated to safer places. (Some residents [about ten] have chosen to stay, believing that the evacuation is a conspiracy by the state to obtain their mineral rights to the anthracite coal reserves beneath their homes.

> Time Beach, Missouri: Abandoned late 1970s

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Once home to 2200 residents, the town of Times Beach, Missouri is the site of one of the worst pollution disasters in American history. From 1972 to 1976, city officials sprayed waste oil on the unpaved roads to alleviate an ongoing dust problem; waste oil that contained dioxin, a toxic carcinogen and component of Agent Orange. The dioxin permeated the soil and flooding further spread it through the town. After a ten-year long cleanup effort (during which all remaining residents evacuated), the town was transformed into Route 66 State park.

> Gary, Indiana: Abandoned late 1960s

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About 30 minutes south of Chicago, Illinois, Gary, Indiana was established as a company town for U.S. Steel in 1906 specifically for its employees. When the steel industry took a major downturn in the 1960s, however, residents began to seek employment elsewhere, with Gary being abandoned and never recovering.  Now the murder capital of the US, Gary remains home to thousands of people, with a growing homeless and indigent sector.

> St. Joseph, Florida: Abandoned 1841

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The seaport of St. Joseph was about 15 miles west of Apalachiola, on St. Joseph Bay, just south of Port St. Joe, and east of Panama City. The largest town in Florida in the early 1800s (even the site of the state's first Constitutional Convention), St Joseph had a population of approximately 6000. The town suffered a tremendous shock, however, in 1841 when a ship carrying victims of Yellow Fever docked, which spread rapidly and killed upwards of 75% of the population. Survivors fled the town leaving it to the elements, which quickly buried the sick city beneath a layer of sand following a hurricane. The site is marked only by an historical marker.

> Council, Alaska: Abandoned around 1900

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Once having upwards of 15, 000 residents, Council, Alaska, was built between 1897 and 1898 after gold was discovered near the Ophir Creek.  Following the gold, however, residents abandoned the city after larger discoveries of gold near Nome around 1900. Following a failed re-habitation effort in the 1970s, the telephone lines were finally removed by the utility company in the fall of 2004--with utility poles remaining in place, wires connecting to a defunct power plant from the same period. A present, Council has about 25 old buildings and much old mining equipment including a dredge.  During the summer, Council is used as a fish camp and a recreational location for residents of near-by Nome and White Mountain.

> Bara Hack, Connecticut: Abandoned 1890

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First settled in 1780 by a pair of Welsh families, Bara Hack (often referred to as the "Haunted Village of Lost Voices”) was abandoned immediately following the close of the Civil War, with the last residents leaving by 1890. The remnants of the town include foundations and walls of deteriorating buildings, a cemetery, and an overgrown cow path that may have once been a carriage road. Today the land where the town once stood is privately owned

> Baltimore, Indiana: Abandoned 1880s

Built on the western banks of the Wabash River in Mound Township, Warren County, Baltimore was conceived in November of 1829 by William Willmeth and Samuel Hill.  Flourishing for several years (and reaching a population of 70), Samuel Hill and Samuel Wetzel invested heavily in the fledgling town, but when the Wabash and Erie Canal was completed on the opposite side of the river in the 1840s, the community dwindled. With the exception of a single brick house built in the 1880s, no trace of Baltimore now remains.





Thumb via:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_town

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Comments (21)

Excellent presentation. I like these old cities and towns, which should be well preserved as part of American's heritage. This subject reminds me with Jane Jacob's 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities'. Thanks James for this important post

I welcome your insightful comment, Abdel-moniem. As a field archaeologist, these sites are often more revealing than historically-designated archaeological sites.

Thanks James, and yes you are true that these sites are more revealing because you know that they were inhabited and full of life almost 70 years ago and you can still feel and imagin people's life and the circumstances that surrounded their life as well as forced them to leave. Very interesting......thanks again.

When we were kids mom and dad took us to some abandoned towns years ago.. they are really cool

this was truly interesting, thank you James

Great article. Actually, ghost towns are all over the U.S. Bodie, California, was an especially raucous boom town during its heyday. Times Beach and Centralia, Pennsylvania, are infamous. PBS once did a documentary on Ruby, Arizona.

A fascinating article. Ghost towns are really neat to visit. I didn’t know that about Gary, Indiana either. I went to a web site that lists all the ghost towns by state, I was amazed to find so many new ghost towns in eastern Colorado and western Kansas. Towns I remember as being populated just 30 years ago.

And in addition to all those known, there are countless town shells with forgotten histories.

A fascinating phenomenon. We don't really have an equivalent in Britain, except for mining villages that fall into near dereliction, but even these are never completely abandoned.

Interesting insight, Michael.

I knew of some of these, but not all. I would enjoy reading follow up articles on this.

These amazing places are almost like museums, but without the gift shop or entrance fees.

Quite true, Peter. But as regards many of the US Southwest, most are now surrounded by private property, meaning you do, in essence, have to pay to reach them (at least trade a story or promise to credit them if you make an interesting find), and the gift shops always offer what artifacts or pieces of history you find buried in the dust, sand, and cobwebs that others have missed..

very nice article

Thank you, Arthur.

Very interesting! I am heading to Texas tomorrow and was just thinking about some of the many old abandoned remains of towns that can be found there, they would be interesting to visit during my trip. Also, I am a Missouri native but somehow I've never heard about Time Beach! I'll have to check it out on my next trip to St. Louis. Thanks for the great read!

My pleasure, Bella. St. Louis? Abandoned towns are certainly cool, but Cahokia has way more cool history!

Very nice article, it was an sxciting read. do you think any of these towns will comeback?

Thanks, Francina. With the general sociological trend for people to slowly gravitate towards cities, comeback seems unlikely. But with human nature as it is, you can never really know. In the bigger scheme, it seems likely that more outlying towns will be abandoned in favor of suburban, then urban life.

Very interesting places, James. I couldn't imagine how some of these places became the center of attraction in the past only to be abandoned.

Seems that being a "throw away" society isn't such a new phenomenon after all.