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: 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: 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.