A Summer of Ghost Towns

Summer vacation plans have changed for many this year. If you’re headed out on a road trip, consider stopping by one of the hundreds of ghost towns across America. Deserted, rickety homes, and public buildings pique our curiosity and leave us wondering what life was like before they were abandoned. Fortunately, historic newspapers help reveal those secrets. We’ve scoured our archives to learn about a few ghost towns, but if your travel plans don’t include one of these, just bring along your device and access Newspapers.com to learn about others!

Bodie, California
Los Angeles Evening Express January 10, 1881

Bodie, California: In 1859, four prospectors discovered gold in the hills north of Mono Lake, 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe. The discovery brought a surge of prospectors but within a few years the gold ran out, and most moved on to seek their fortune elsewhere. In 1875, a mine cave-in revealed large amounts of the precious mineral and Bodie once again became a boomtown. At one point, the population numbered near 10,000. The town had a reputation for being lawless with frequent murders and crime. “Bad Man From Bodie” became a synonym for any rough-edged prospector. By 1881, the mine was running out of gold and the population of Bodie dwindled to just 800. Eventually, the small amount of gold mined couldn’t support the population and the town became a ghost town. In 1960, California announced that Bodie would become a state park, and today visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like in an 1800s California mining town.

Grafton, Utah

Grafton, Utah: The first settlers arrived in Grafton in 1859, sent by Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to cultivate the Southern Utah territory. The town was built along the Virgin River where residents grew cotton and other crops. Grafton was prone to flash floods and irrigation challenges.

Deseret News – Feb. 12, 1862

In 1862, a raging flood destroyed most of Grafton, and the town was rebuilt about a mile upstream. Constant challenges plagued settlers who eventually abandoned Grafton. The picturesque ghost town, complete with adobe schoolhouse that doubled as a church has been the backdrop for numerous movies including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In 2000, a partnership purchased Grafton in order to preserve the historic ghost town.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in 1996

Cahawba, Alabama: Cahawba was an antebellum river town and the capital of Alabama from 1819-1826. When the capital was relocated to Tuscaloosa in 1826, scores of residents left town. A new railroad line brought people back to Cahawba in 1859, but during the Civil War, the Confederate government dismantled the railroad and used the rails to expand an area of track elsewhere. They also turned a cotton warehouse into a Union prison called Castle Morgan.

Union Prisoner describes Castle Morgan – The Racine Advocate April 26, 1865

In 1865, a flood forced many to leave Cahawba, and shortly after the war ended, Cahawba became a ghost town. Within 10 years, many of the buildings were dismantled and moved away. In 1973, Cahawba was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is now an archeological park. Efforts are ongoing to preserve its history.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

Rhyolite, Nevada: In 1904, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a couple of prospectors discovered a hillside covered with greenish rock with chunks of yellow. The rocks resembled the back of a bullfrog, but the metal was in fact gold! The ensuing gold rush brought thousands to the area known as the Bullfrog Mining District and the town of Rhyolite sprung to life overnight. In its heyday, the town had saloons, an ice-cream parlor, hospitals, an opera house, swimming pools, banks, hotels, and schools.

Los Angeles Herald – Oct. 28, 1906

One landmark building is the bottle house. It was built in 1906 utilizing 50,000 bottles. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 restricted capital in the mining industry and within a few years, Rhyolite was on the decline. The lone remaining resident of Rhyolite died in 1924. Rhyolite is maintained by the Bureau of Land Management.

Kennicott, Alaska: In the summer of 1900, prospectors were exploring an area near the Kennicott Glacier when they discovered copper in an outcropping of rock. They staked a claim and opened the Kennecott mine (a worker misspelled the glacier’s name) Between 1911-1935 miners pulled nearly 600,000 tons of copper and 9 million ounces of silver from the mountain. A company-owned town with bright red buildings perched above the rubble field arose.

Daily Sitka Sentinel – October 25, 1989

Nearby, a second town called McCarthy sprung up. By 1938, both towns were abandoned. Many left their furniture and possessions in their homes, creating a sort of time capsule. The same year, the railroad discontinued service to the area. Many of the homes and mining buildings still remain, and in 1986, the mine was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Have you visited an awesome ghost town? Tell us about it in the comments below. Search Newspapers.com today to learn more about the history of ghost towns.  

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57 thoughts on “A Summer of Ghost Towns

  1. We went to Cortez, NV, a former silver mining town. 50 miles from nowhere, all dirt and gravel roads.
    Don’t know if it’s still there. This was in 1968.

    • Berlin NV. It’s part of Berlin-Ichthyosaur state park. It’s in central NV, north of Tonopah. Berlin was an old mining town. The residents found strange oval concave rocks that were useful for dinner plates or building stones. They were actually ichthyosaur (fishlike dinosaur) backbones.

  2. Try the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado.
    It is immediately west of Princeton, CO, and just a three hours drive west of Colorado Springs, CO. Double your enjoyment by visiting Criipple Creek, CO and riding the narrow gauge RR. Additional bonus: Stay overnight in the Princeton Inn (Princeton, CO) and enjoy their outdoor hot springs for relaxation.

  3. Check out ATSION, NEW JERSEY. The town in South NJ was part of the old Wharton Estate. The state has systematically removed private residences in the area to facilitate state park operations based around Atsion Lake.

    • Thanks, Mr. Wainer! Will have to check it out as soon as this heat wave breaks. Julie from NJ

  4. A visit to the old town section in Abilene, Kansas on a cold fall day left us all bewildered when the scent of hyacinth followed us down the boardwalk.

  5. Once a thriving port, Rodney, Mississippi died a swift death when the Mississippi River changed its course. It is probably truly a ghost town now. My great great grandparents are buried in the cemetery on the bluff behind the
    historic Rodney Presbyterian Church.

    • Ooh, nice. Unfortunately I’m grounded in the UK thanks to Ms Corona, but When All This Is Over, this site is definitely going on my list.

      • Ironic, isn’t it , you wish to see ghost towns in US and my son and I are hoping to come back to UK next year. Ms Corona spoilt it for us this year.

  6. In June of 1963, Rhyolite still had an identifiable bank building and the bottle house was very much intact. June in the desert was blistering hot and deserted. Not a soul was to be seen in or around Rhyolite or on the roads through Death Valley where the temperature was 120. It was not the time to visit but we were on the way to other places. Truly ghostly in the heat of summer.

    • Shasta State Historic Park in Northern, California. It is near the beautiful Mt. Shasta near the Oregon border. There are also caverns nearby.

  7. In 2007 we hopped on a bush plane in Chitna that took us to the McCarthy and the Kennecott Cooper Mine and the Kennicott Glacier. We had arranged for a guide tour, but ended up with a private tour for just the two of us and the guide. We put on crampons and hiked out on the glacier and while there had our lunch. On the way back the guide pulled out a key and opened the door at the top level of the copper mine. She gave us a tour from the top of the mine where the ore buckets dropped of the ore, then down through each descending level describing how the ore was proceeded to recover the copper. The operation was so efficient that it even collected the copper dust at the bottom level. The mine workers dropped everything when informed that the last train was leaving McCarthy. The mine and other buildings looked like everyone had just stepped out for lunch. Best $50 tour ever.

  8. We had arranged for a guide tour, but ended up with a private tour for just the two of us and the guide. We put on crampons and hiked out on the glacier and while there had our lunch. On the way back the guide pulled out a key and opened the door at the top level of the copper mine.

      • Kennicott, Alaska: In the summer of 1900, prospectors were exploring an area near the Kennicott Glacier when they discovered copper in an outcropping of rock. They staked a claim and opened the Kennecott mine (a worker misspelled the glacier’s name) Between 1911-1935 miners pulled nearly 600,000 tons of copper and 9 million ounces of silver from the mountain. A company-owned town with bright red buildings perched above the rubble field arose.

  9. Check out Animas Forks in the mountains between Silverton and Telluride in Colorado. You’ll need 4-wheel drive and hopefully you don’t have a fear of heights but the views are breathtaking.

  10. McCarthy Alaska;
    It is possible to stay there. Friends of ours went in July of 2013 and stayed at Ma Johnson’s Hotel on their way to look for a volcano. Sent us a picture because of our last name.https://majohnsonshotel.com/

  11. Hindostan, IN at the time of its pandemic was the same size as Louisville, KY. Historians have differing opinions on what exactly killed residents there in the early to mid 1800s. The only signs of what once was a thriving river community are the mass graves and the holes in the flat rock where the mill was located. There are even rumors that the county treasury was buried and lost in haste to flee the sickness.

  12. Interesting. We visited Marble CO outside Aspen, no longer a ghost town as the quarry has reopene and artists have settled into the abandoned town’s buildings. We tried to visit St Elmo but couldn’t find it on our visit ithat way. There is one in AZ outside of Prescott, but as a ghost town it was bustling with activity, but was interesting, none the less.

  13. I strongly recommend Bannack, the first territorial capitol of Montana. Much of it has been preserved, some of it restored. The old school is quite pristine, and it has a working souvenir shop, similar to the one at Bodie. Bannack was the capitol from 1864-1865. It is a little out of the way, but well worth the visit. Virginia City is another ghost town in southwest Montana.
    Lee Brown

    • Went there (Bannack) in 2015. Highly recommend going there. Since it is part of a state park it is well preserved.
      There is also a reasonable fee to enter unless you are a Montana resident (free). My tee shirt says “The First Best Place” because it was the location of the first major gold discovery in MT, the first territorial capital for MT, first governor lived there, and they community had the first jail in MT. You are free to roam the town on your own or take a tour. Full access is available on many of the 18 recognized buildings, some of which were business, courthouse, school or residential.

    • We visited the Garnet ghost town in Montana several years ago. It’s very nicely preserved and there are docents on hand.

    • Loved Jerome. Great museum and interesting town configuration. Eat at the Haunted Hamburger.

    • Jerome was a fascinating place to visit. Haunted Hamburger Bloody Mary was great! We stayed at the hotel (formerly an insane asylum) and found it very interesting.

      • My sister lived in Clarkdale, AZ at the foot of the mountain where Jerome is located. I’ve visited Jerome numerous times. Loved the Haunted Burger Restaurant and did a tour of the Haunted Grand Hotel and the Ghost City Inn.

  14. The town of Fayette that is now in Fayette Historic State Park is a well preserved iron smelting village on the Garden Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Michigan. It is well preserved and Park Staff is knowledgeable about the history.

  15. Try Walpack Township, NJ. Believe it or not, the population now is under 10 unless you visit, then it might go to 11 for a few hours! There are small “ruins” of early Dutch settlements scattered all over the place. It’s rough country – hiking boots recommended. Bear country.

      • My Great Grandfather was a foreman for Silver King Mine at Calico. I visited in 2010 for Old Caico Days and it was very interesting and a bit of dejavu walking where my relatives lived. It was a real mining time. Can ride RR around the mountain as well as visit a mine. The Lane House and Store were owned by Georgia relative who married Lucy Belle King of Calico. Great place to visit and take children. Check their site for info re happenings. Now run by Nat’l Park Service.

  16. Are there any ghost towns or places in the Southeast i.e, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee?

  17. Eureka, UT, a once thriving mining town, is being restored. A motorcycle museum is being developed too.

    • Smoke/steam seeps up through the ground in Centralia due to a mine fire underneath the town that has burned for years. An old frame church remains, maybe one or two other buildings.

  18. My great-grandfather, W.L. Pritchard, built the Eureka and Palisades (E&P) railroad, a narrow gauge that went between the two towns.
    Actually, the RR he built, traveled between Palisades and a town he built called Alpha, a sort of way-station. From Alpha to Eureka, both freight and passengers traveled via his 20 mule teams.
    W.L. had the largest freighting company in Nevada with his mule teams. He could see railroads were the way of the future, but he was reluctant to give up his beloved mules.
    Alpha has disappeared, with maybe only a few depressions left in the earth. W.L. sold his shares, and the rail line got finished.

  19. Jerome, Arizona a famous ghost town of the old Arizona Territory from the 18802 up to 1922. Just northeast of Prescott on Ruote 89A going up to Flagstaff….

  20. Bodie in CA is wonderful! Well run, rangers are very informative. We can’t wait to go back. I took tons of beautiful pictures.

  21. My Mother was born in Pierce Florida. NOT FORT PIERCE. Pierce was in Polk County.
    After she died, I searched and searched for Pierce and it just was not there! Oh, but it was….. a phosphite mining town with a library, school, hospital, etc. When Mr. Pierce moved on, he told everyone to leave and take their house with them.

  22. The ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado. An old mining town outside of Central City, Colorado [another old mining town, now a going concern because of the casinos]. Nevadaville was filled up with folks coming for the Gregory Gulch find, back in the mid 1800’s. Nevadaville was settled primarily by Cornish and Irish miners and their families. There was a fairly large population there by the 1870’s. Sometimes, after an evening of revelry at the local bars, there would be fights that broke out between the Paddies and the Cousin Jacks. See, the Irish lived on one side of the town and the Cornish lived on the other. And the two did not mix…

  23. Another ghost town is Thurber, Texas, a boom town in the early 1900’s. The whole town was owned by the brick company. In its heyday it even had a baseball team. Still two occupied houses and two restaurants, both of which have photos of the town a hundred years ago in its prime. A museum tells the story of Thurber which is about 70 miles west of Fort Worth.

  24. Once went on a 4wdrive poker run to New Idria CA. It was once the site of a mercury mine. The mine closed in 1973 and the town quickly died out. It is very remote in the San Benito mountains in San Benito county. There’s only 2 ways in, Clear Creek Rd from Coalinga rd, or New Idria rd from Panoche.

  25. On the Outer Banks of N.C. as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore one may find the vacated village of Portsmouth Island. You can hire someone from Ocracoke Island to take you over and drop you off. On the Island in the village one can find many of the old houses, some restored, others fallen into ruins along with many family cemeteries. There are signs telling you about who lived there. There is also a Baptist Church. Allow for all day and enjoy the beach also. Go in early spring or late fall because of the mosquitoes. Last resident left in the 1970’s.

  26. Virginia City, Montana is a well-preserved gold mining town near Yellowstone. It includes an old-fashioned steam engine-drawn train ride.

  27. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 restricted capital in the mining industry and within a few years, Rhyolite was on the decline. The lone remaining resident of Rhyolite died in 1924.

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