According to Wikipedia, “A ghost town is an abandoned village, town or city, usually one which contains substantial visible remains. A town often becomes a ghost town because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as floods, government actions, uncontrolled lawlessness, war, or nuclear disasters. The term can sometimes refer to cities, towns, and neighborhoods which are still populated, but significantly less so than in years past; for example those affected by high levels of unemployment and dereliction.” The following creepy ghost towns in Missouri all fit that definition.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
Arlington is a former town in western Phelps County along a county road that was once U.S. Route 66. It was established as a township in 1867 and is named for the Robert E. Lee plantation in Arlington, Virginia that is now the renowned Arlington Cemetery. In the 1930’s and 40’s, Arlington’s Stony Dell Resort thrived due to the Pacific Railroad, Route 66 and the nearby Fort Leonard Wood military base, starting as a small group of tourist cabins and later growing into a huge resort featuring a stream-fed swimming pool, a restaurant, a service station, a bus stop, tennis, dancing, boating and fishing.
The re-routing of Route 66 in the mid-40’s caused a major decline in the town. The original 1923 bridge for Route 66 was bypassed when the road was widened to four lanes in 1952, and then was eventually demolished when Interstate 44 bypassed the town in 1966-1967. This left the original two-lane Route 66 a dead-end, and the once thriving Stony Dell Resort was lost to demolition with the restaurant and a handful of cabins, the only remaining buildings, left abandoned. For a long time the only remaining business was a caravan park, Arlington River Resort, but it too closed permanently in 2008. A small group of private residences remain, but only around 20 people live there, and it is no longer its own township, but part of the town of Newburg.
2. Far West
Far West was a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) settlement in Caldwell County, founded by two Missouri Mormon leaders in 1836. It was based on the design for the City of Zion, a town planned by Mormon founder and prophet Joseph Smith Jr. in the town of Independence in Jackson County. Disputes between Mormon and Missourian settlers in Independence eventually led to the expulsion of the Mormons from Jackson County in 1833 and as a result, many Mormons temporarily settled in Clay County. Caldwell County was created in 1836 specifically for Mormon settlement, with Far West being named the county seat. In 1838, Far West became the headquarters of the Latter-day Saint movement when Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon relocated to the town from the previous church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio.
Escalating conflicts with their neighboring counties eventually led the Governor of Missouri to send 2,500 militiamen to quash what he alleged to be a “Mormon rebellion”. Joseph Smith Jr., Sidney Rigdon and others surrendered at the end of October, 1838, and were put on trial by the state for treason. The Mormons were then forced to sign over their property in Far West and Caldwell County to pay for the rebellion and then leave the state. The main body of the church later settled in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Far West became a ghost town soon after and the county seat was moved to Kingston. Far West is now a historic site maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the cornerstones of the planned temple.
A historic village operated by the Far West Historical Society was constructed in 2004 in order to promote tourism, and the Country Store has been in operation since 2006. Future growth is planned including overnight accommodations and conference facilities, and the Church confirmed the purchase of 6,000 acres of farmland and three historic sites in 2012.
Joel Garber was a preacher and public speaker who moved with his family to Roark Creek in the early 1890’s, and soon became a leader in a growing settlement nearby. The Garber Post Office was established by Joel Garber near the Taney and Stone County line in 1895. He served as postmaster until November 1901, and the town is named for him. Although the Garber family left in 1904, the town continued to grow, with a school building being added that same year, and a railroad by 1905. Growth and prosperity continued well into the 1920’s. For the next several years, no improvements were made in the town, and trains rarely stopped.
In January 1928, Cornelius and Ada Clodfelter moved to Garber in 1928 and purchased much of the town with the intention of restoring it, but in September of that same year the historic general store and post office were burned to the ground by a postal assistant who had been stealing money orders in order to destroy all evidence of his crimes. Over time, the town faded away and today only a stone post office and school building remain.
Jollification is a village at Berwick Township in Newton County, and it is the site of Jolly Mill which was built by Thomas Isbell and his son in 1848 to serve as a whiskey distillery. The success of the mill led to the establishment and growth of the town, named for the unnaturally jovial disposition of the people who worked in and around the distillery. During the Civil War, the town was burned, but the mill survived. Athough rebuilding was attempted, the town’s ultimate dissolution began when the railroad bypassed it in 1870.
The mill also served as a grist mill, and continued to operate in that capacity until 1975. The Friends of Jolly Mill purchased the mill in 1983 and it was ultimately listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the mill and the surrounding land have been restored and turned into a park, and many period buildings have been moved in from other locations in order to recreate the town of Jollification's past look and feel. The mill is currently also a primary trout-fishing location managed by the Missouri Department of Conversation as Capps Creek White Ribbon Trout Area.
Avilla is a rural village in Jasper County with a population of about 125 residents. Avilla is considered one of the living "Ghost Towns of Historic Route 66", never completely being abandoned and still retaining its village status. Founded in 1856, it is the fourth oldest settlement in Jasper County. In this photo from the year 2000, you can see The Avilla House, built in 1868 (far right) an early Route 66-era Auto Shop, and Tom Barbado's Garage (second stone structure from left). These buildings have since been demolished. The white building, Old Flo's Tavern, still stands today next to the abandoned stone IOOF Lodge and grocery store (center).
Avilla started to decline in the 1940's after World War II, when greater numbers of people began moving to larger industrial cities for job opportunities. When Route 66 was bypassed with I-44 in the 1960’s, the town lost a significant amount of commerce due to the diverted traffic. As a result, many of the remaining businesses either failed and closed or relocated in the 1970’s. A large fire in 1971 at the Avilla lumberyard destroyed several of the buildings including most of the lumber company.
The lumberyard was rebuilt, but the town continued to decline. Most of the earliest buildings are now gone, replaced by empty spaces and vacant lots. A few examples of period architecture can still be seen such as the 19th Century Methodist Church, a civil war-era mercantile edifice, and the 1915 bank building, now serving as Avilla’s post office. In addition, a few abandoned structures remain as silent reminders of what once was.
Whether completely abandoned or still inhabited, these towns demonstrate a unique history that should be treasured and preserved. Have you lived in, been to, or currently reside in any of these towns? Share your comments below.