There are many reasons why you should go out of your way to visit America’s historic abandoned towns. These once vibrant, now deserted town sites are an example of America’s ability to prosper, expand, yet change direction just as quickly. US Ghost towns can be spooky, yes, but they can also be historically interesting, eerily beautiful and a great playground for anyone with an active imagination. Here are some of the most interesting ghost towns to check out on your next US road trip.
One of the most famous ghost towns in American history, Bodie is an easy 75-mile drive from Lake Tahoe. The once booming mining town was at one time home to over 10,000 people at the height of the Gold Rush in the 1870’s. It slowly dwindled into oblivion in the 1940’s, but many of the buildings still stand, including stores with fully stocked shelves. If you do visit Bodie, beware! Remember to leave everything exactly as you found it. Bad fortune is said to fall on anyone who steals anything from the town site.
Calico is more kitschy than many ghost towns, but still worth a visit. A former silver mining boom town, it was abandoned in 1907, then lovingly restored in the 1950’s as a tourist attraction. While other ghost towns are decaying and dilapidated, Calico gives visitors the opportunity to revisit the Old West’s glory days. Not everything here is accurate though; some buildings have been replaced with photogenic fakes, but some, like the Lil Saloon and the General Store are originals. Visitors to Calico can take part in a variety of activities including mine tours, fake gunfights and ghost walks.
Generally ghost towns are associated with the Wild West, but even New England has a handful of once bustling, now abandoned places. Flagstaff in Maine is particularly well known for its current location- underneath the (aptly named) Dead River. The town was abandoned in 1950 due to construction of a large hydroelectric dam, which flooded the area. While many of the buildings are completely submerged underwater, at least a few poke up from the river’s depths.
Virginia City went from a tiny settlement to a boomtown of thousands within weeks of the discovery of gold in a nearby creek. It was a place of great notoriety for its lawless ways, and even served as the capital of Montana for 10 years. When the capital was moved to Helena, and the gold supply dried up, the city declined just as rapidly as it had first sprung up. It is now a National Historic Landmark and has been carefully restored for visitors. It’s one of the few ghost towns in America with an operating hotel, along with several restaurants and even a theater that features variety shows.
Garnet is named for the ruby-colored stones that were once mined, along with gold, in its heyday. Now it’s one of Montana’s most well preserved ghost towns and attracts 16,000 visitors annually. Unlike other ghost towns there is no commercialization here, just the opportunity to quietly discover an abandoned town that once held 1,000 people. Some of the buildings have been restored and can be explored from the inside out, including Dahl’s Saloon and Kelly’s Bar.
During its peak coal-mining days Thurmond was an important stop on the C&O Railway. Now the Thurmond Historic District (population 5) is on the register of National Historic Places and is maintained by the National Park Service. Amtrak trains still pass by the Thurmond Depot, which has been thoughtfully furnished and restored. Visitors must arrive by car today however, and can pay homage to the once-boom town along the New River and visit landmarks like the National Bank of Thurmond building which closed back in 1931.