There isn’t much out there that invokes a greater sense of mystery, eeriness and wonder more than ghost towns. As it turns out, the United States is full of them. Every state has a location people no longer call home for a variety of reasons—places where a lingering presence is still felt. Here is a short list of five ghost towns that are sure to keep history and curiosity alive.
1) Cahaba, AL (1818 – ca. 1903)
Originally the state capital of Alabama and located where two rivers converge, Cahaba was destined to fail due to its location. Flooding knocked out a section of the statehouse in 1825 and a year later the capital was officially moved to Tuscaloosa. But the town persevered, albeit temporarily, and growth continued due trade on the rivers and a railroad line that came through the town in 1859. During the Civil War, a cotton warehouse was used as a prison for roughly 3,000 Union soldiers, but the rivers flooded again and made times even harder for the prisoners and the town’s people.
In 1866 people began to leave Cahaba and took with them a number of the buildings. The vacant courthouse was used by freedmen as a meeting place and soon freed slaves brought their families to the town and made it their own, turning the empty lots into gardens. However, the free slave settlement didn’t last either, and several of the buildings were demolished so their parts could be used elsewhere. Today, the town is a state historic site and on the National Registrar of Historic Places. Tourists can wander the streets and peek in windows of the remaining forgotten buildings.
2) Bodie, CA (1859 – ca. 1942)
Borne out of the glory of the American gold rush, Bodie was a booming mining town for decades. But once the mines began to lose their value and the get-rich-quick people moved on to the next hot spot, Bodie began to decline in the early 20th century. By 1915 it was considered a ghost town, although people still regularly visited with their new automobiles. A few brave souls remained until the post office officially closed in 1942.
Today, the town is in a state of arrested decay, sustained by California’s commitment to keeping the buildings exactly as they were in 1962 when it was declared the Bodie State Historic Park. 110 structures remain, including a mill, and shelves are still stocked and mostly untouched. What keeps the shelves stocked? An alleged curse that anyone who removes an object from the town which suffer endless bad luck until it is returned.
3) Glenrio, TX/NM (ca. 1913- ca. 1975)
Originally a railroad stop, Glenrio boomed when the Ozark Trail began connecting states during a push to build highways for America’s greatest new invention—the automobile. A dusty no man’s land between Amarillo and Tucumcari until 1926, Glenrio became a temporary travel Mecca when when the Ozark Trail was transformed into the iconic Route 66. Several gas stations, a motel, a restaurant and welcome station became a needed rest stop for travelers. Cars would get in line for gas and a diner was built to feed the increasing masses passing through. Glenrio thrived straddling the border of Texas and New Mexico until Interstate 40 bypassed the town in 1975. Today it remains a tourist attraction for anyone interested in seeing a true American ghost town, with its mid-century architecture and historic highway setting left almost untouched.
4) Flagstaff, ME (early 19th century- 1950)
According to legend, Benedict Arnold camped here and planted a flagstaff, ultimately leading to the town and its name. Flagstaff was a normal, small New England town until 1950 when plans for a hydroelectric dam forced the residents to move. Many took their homes with them, literally deconstructing and re-locating them to other towns. Other buildings met their fate as the water rose. If out on a boat with either a guide or a map, chimneys and roofs can still be seen just below the surface.
5) Thurmond, WV (1900- present)
While there was still a population of five as of 2010 in Thurmond, West Virginia, this town still seems to fit the bill of ghost town. Originally settled in the mid 1800’s, it wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1900 due to the lack of full-time residents. Once a railroad was built, however, part of the town went dry and the other part boasted a red light district and the world’s longest running poker game— fourteen years. In 1901 a 100-room, popular resort opened but burned down in 1930, leaving no reason for travelers to stay anymore. By the 1950’s nearly everyone had left. Because the railroad was so successful in bringing people in and making Thurmond a rather bustling town, no road was ever constructed. Today, it is most popular for white water rafters, hikers, fishing and triathlon competitions.