Bucket List September 28, 2021
These 18 American Ghost Towns Will Chill You To The Bone
Contrary to their name,
ghost towns are not locales filled with unsettled spirits. They are something completely different… and far eerier. Ghost towns are places that were once filled with busy, bustling streets, thriving businesses, and lively residents; then, over the course of months and years, these towns were all but abandoned, leaving many to wonder if they ever really existed at all. The U.S. is full of ghost towns: in the West, abandoned areas remain from the days of the Gold Rush; in the Pacific Northwest, evidence of old homesteads exists along the Oregon Trail; the Midwest is full of towns that once thrived during the Great Migration; while the South and Mid-Atlantic regions have their own ghost towns which harken back to the very first days of America. This fall as we enter the season of frightening and fun fantasies, trade the haunted houses for a real-life ghost hunt in these 18 American ghost towns.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
With its deep pioneer roots and history with the Gold Rush and Western expansion (and of course, the eponymous Oregon Trail), there are quite a few ghost towns hiding in Oregon. Shaniko is one of the most intriguing. Once known as the
Wool Capital of the World
, Shaniko was established in 1901 as a manufacturing hub and business boomed; at their peak, the town's wool producers collectively raked in $3 million a year. Shaniko's population grew in step with its industries, hitting 500 by 1910. But just a decade later, nearly all of these ambitious souls would be gone. The year of 1911 was a devastating one for Shaniko; in the span of these 12 months, the mayor was shot and killed, and the Columbia Southern Railroad Line relocated, taking the town’s thriving economy with it. Today, Shaniko is a place full of old relics; here you'll find the weathered structures of a historic hotel, a jail, and a schoolhouse. The town's remaining residents are a proud bunch, however, hosting several popular annual events and festivals. So Shaniko, it seems, has managed to rewrite its history to an ultimately happy ending.
Nevada City, Montana
Nevada City is an oxymoron; it's Montana's
ghost town and a delight of a place to visit. Nevada City, Montana, was destined to become yet another casualty of the Gold Rush, until an ambitious family restored it between 1945 and 1978. Today, the entire town of Nevada City is a living history museum, and it's a place that really comes alive during the summer months.
is the most vivacious and wholly alive ghost town in the country, and it's a must-visit for all curious history buffs.
Bannack State Park, Montana
For a real, live history lesson about the Gold Rush, visit Bannack State Park. This
Montana ghost town
is a National Historic Landmark and the site of the state's first major gold discovery on July 28, 1862. This event set off an epic gold rush that caused Bannack's population to boom to over 3,000 by 1863. But as the value of gold declined, so too did Bannack's burgeoning population. Today, over 50 buildings line Main Street; their historic log and frame structures reference Montana's formative years, giving visitors an authentic Old West experience.
Wyoming is a wild, wondrous place, and Cody captures the mystery and intrigue of the Cowboy State. The former stomping grounds of Buffalo Bill, Cody is full of historic sites frequented by the man, the myth, the legend himself. The most famous and iconic building in town is the Irma Hotel, built by Buffalo Bill -- the cherry bar was actually gifted to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria! Cody is
proud of its storied past
; today, visitors can see historical reenactments and take tours all throughout this celebrated ghost town.
South Pass City, Wyoming
South Pass, Wyoming 82520, USA
Once upon a time, Carissa Mine was the lifeblood of Wyoming's South Pass City, a short-lived mining community that boomed during the state's 1860s Gold Rush.
By the late 1800s, the gold had diminished, but Carissa Mine stayed open and running through 1949. The mine and mill then sat abandoned for decades, until a major restoration project was organized by South Pass City. Today, curious visitors can
tour the historic mine
, and experience a proud part of American history.
One of the
best-known ghost towns in the country
, Bodie is a place frozen in time. This California community is your classic boomtown, with the promise of gold attracting nearly 10,000 residents by 1880. But by 1900, enthusiasm for this elusive metal had begun to wane, so when two fires in the early 1930s destroyed most of the town, the remaining residents up and left. Today, visitors can come and explore this California state park, with its abandoned buildings and cemetery making for an eerie and unsettling experience.
Calico Ghost Town, 36600 Ghost Town Rd, Yermo, CA 92398, USA
It wasn't just gold that sent prospectors West; silver was another dazzling carrot for those looking to strike big. Calico is an Old West mining town in California that has been around since 1881, and was abandoned in the mid-1890s after silver lost its value. Today, Calico is a place that offers an immersive historical experience; visitors can tour the town and also
in this historic locale. The camping facilities are clean, quiet, and offer lots of modern-day amenities for guests. But the main appeal of this campsite is its access to one of the most intriguing ghost towns in SoCal.
Goldfield Ghost Town and Mine Tours Inc., 4650 N Mammoth Mine Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119, USA
If you've ever wondered what life was like in the Old West, visit Apache Junction, Arizona. Because it's here you'll find Goldfield, a historic settlement that was very much a thriving town in its day. High-grade gold ore was discovered here in 1892, and the town received an official post office the following year. The community boomed for five years, eventually boasting a population of 1,500. But Goldfield was not built to last, and the town's population dwindled as this precious commodity inevitably ran out. When the post office was decommissioned in 1898, Goldfield officially became a ghost town.
Today, however, it's a
popular tourist attraction
where visitors can relive a romantic time in American history.
Arizona has quite a few places that are notoriously haunted or just plain creepy, but none can compare to the
gruesome history of Ruby
. In its heyday, Ruby led the state in zinc and lead production; however, its close proximity to the border made it, and its residents, vulnerable to attack. In the early 1920s, bandits from Mexico came in and took control of this small mining town, robbing its general store and murdering some of its residents. Though the gunmen were eventually captured, it was too late: the residents had fled, leaving Ruby to become yet another Old West ghost town.
You'd never know it today, but
, was once a bustling and busy place boasting some 6,000 residents. Gold, silver, zinc, and copper were all found here, and Frisco's mine was one of the most profitable in the region. By 1885, over $60 million worth had been hauled out of Frisco, and people were making some serious money. Because of this, numerous saloons, brothels, and gambling halls popped up to entertain off-duty miners; this created a volatile environment steeped in money and alcohol -- and Frisco became a place fraught with tension and violence. Fights broke out (at one point, a murder was reportedly committed here
), law enforcement was summoned, and by the 1920s, Frisco was deserted. Today, all that remains are the abandoned mines and mills of this once-booming town; Frisco is a shadow of its former self and one of the West's most haunting ghost towns.
St. Elmo, Colorado
Saint Elmo, St Elmo, CO 81236, USA
About an hour outside the picturesque town of Aspen, Colorado, is one of the West's best-preserved ghost towns. Established in 1880 as a gold and silver mining town, Aspen's precious metals -- and residents -- had all but dried up by the 1920s. Today, St. Elmo is a well-preserved, off-the-beaten-path ghost town that's a time capsule of a historical moment, complete with still-standing wooden storefronts and an
original general store
. Opened in 1888, the St. Elmo General Store was once the old Miners Exchange, which served the miners who lived in or frequented the area, as well as local families. Today, St. Elmo is a delightful day trip destination that offers visitors unique souvenirs with which to remember this Colorado ghost town.
White Oaks, New Mexico
White Oaks, NM 88301, USA
Don't let the peace and serenity of White Oaks fool you: this New Mexico mining town has quite a tumultuous history. At one point, White Oaks was the second-largest city in New Mexico, booming when a pure vein of gold was discovered inside Baxter Mountain. The town's population flourished following this dazzling discovery, with numerous saloons, gambling dens, and brothels popping up, too. A place of high drama, White Oaks was a favorite stomping ground of Billy the Kid. When the gold ran out, the town faded, although one business does remain in White Oaks: the
iconic No Scum Allowed Saloon
The story of Orla is one with which we're all familiar: like the hundreds of
now-deserted Texas towns
, it was built for one reason and one reason alone: to pan for gold. Orla was established in 1890 as a section house for the Pecos River Railroad; it was a place where opportunistic prospectors flocked in hopes of striking big. Unlike many of the ghost towns in America, Orla experienced a second population pop in the mid-1900s, as Texas experienced another, oil-related boom. Today, Orla remains an equipment-shipping point; however, most of the buildings and homes sit abandoned, making this Texas town a popular destination for inquisitive photographers and ghost hunters.
Old Cahawba, Alabama
Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL 36767, USA
Deep in the American South,
is a place of unrealized hopes and dreams. Alabama's most famous ghost town, in 1819, Cahawba was
creatio ex nihilo
to be the state's first capital. From 1820 to 1825, it was Alabama's star city, before flooding so many times that most of its residents left for greener (and drier) pastures. Today, the town is used as an archaeological park, with its former slave quarters and 20th-century structures attracting visitors from all over the country.
Blue Heron, Kentucky
Blue Heron, KY 42647, USA
The mining boom was not limited to the American West; Kentucky has a long and interesting prospecting history all its own. Get a dose of this unexplored history in
Blue Heron, Kentucky
, an abandoned mining community along the Big South Fork River. The mine, which operated from 1937 until 1962, features historically accurate replicas of those originally found on-site. There is an audio tour here that takes visitors through an aural adventure of the Blue Heron's mining camp, making this ghost town a popular day trip destination for history buffs. For a truly bucket-list-worthy experience, hop aboard the Big South Fork Blue Heron Ghost Train to visit the town's abandoned camp and hear tales about its storied history.
Thurmond, West Virginia
In the early 1900s, the Western expansion put Thurmond on the map. A major stop on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, this West Virginia town produced more than 20 percent of the company's revenue in 1910. And then The Great Depression happened, creating a chain of events that inevitably led to Thurmond's descent into ghost town status. Today, the town sits all but abandoned, save for a few folks who still call it home; visitors can come and explore the town's old train depot, which now serves as a
museum and information center
for curious travelers.
The story of Centralia, Pennsylvania, is one that's both incredibly perplexing and profoundly sad. By far the most well-known ghost town in the state, a fire in Centralia's underground mine broke out in 1962, and then
burned continuously for half a century
. During this 50-year period, fiery sinkholes opened up beneath backyards, roads, and homes all across town, driving out all of the town's remaining residents -- and attracting curious ghost hunters and spray paint-wielding vandals. In 2017,
Centralia was officially closed to visitors
, with law enforcement slapping down citations for any and all trespassers.
Batsto Village, New Jersey
Batsto Village Road, Batsto Village Rd, Washington, NJ 08037, USA
Batsto Village, New Jersey, is a place with deep roots: its story begins in 1766, when it was established as a prosperous iron- and glass-producing town. The iron furnace was started by Charles Read and was the largest in the region; during the American Revolution, Batsto was a top producer of iron and casting housewares, as well as ammunition for the Continental Army. In 1874, a fire all but sealed Batsto's fate, razing the glass-making facilities, remaining iron furnaces, and 17 houses. Residents fled, and the town was sold at an auction for $14,000 to businessman Joseph Wharton, who reincarnated Batsto as a successful farming community. When Wharton died in 1909, Batsto began its second descent into desolation, until the mid-century when it was rebuilt (again) as a
for curious adventures and historians, and that's where it remains today.
Ghost towns hold an irresistible attraction for explorers. Confronting the remnants of these once-thriving towns is a harrowing and haunting experience that will undoubtedly leave you grateful for the here and now. Many were abandoned over time due to economic hardships; others were immediately evacuated due to external circumstances; while some leave little evidence as to why they were deserted. Nobody wants to be erased from history, and that’s precisely what time has tried — unsuccessfully — to do with these 18 locales. So visit, honor, and remember what these American ghost towns once were; and then leave with a sense of pride and purpose for your own place in history.
Fall is the season of spooky American adventures. Here are
19 of the most fascinating abandoned places in America you’ll definitely want to add to your autumn bucket list!