Top Eerie Ghost Towns Across The USA

Helen Armitage

From former prosperous gold rush towns that fell into decline or condemned modern communities, the USA is home to many deserted ghost towns. Whether it be North Brother Island, a ghost town in the middle of New York City, or Alabama’s old state capital Cahawba, we round up 10 of America’s eeriest ghost towns.

Thurmond, West Virginia

Back in the 1920s, Thurmond was a bustling, thriving coal town and an important stop on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. Hard times struck with the advent of diesel locomotives, and the town was beset with further woes when two major fires damaged much of its infrastructure. Today, Thurmond’s population has a total of five residents, though its location on the picturesque New River Gorge ensures the town sees plenty of white water rafters. A visitor center at Thurmond’s historic train depot, and a starring role in director John Sayles’ 1987 film Matewan also gives the near ghost town life after its decline.

Kennecott, Alaska

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains in the beautiful Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Reserve, Kennecott is a former copper mining town first settled in the early 20th century that, after depleting copper resources, was all but abandoned by the late 1930s. A fascinating testament to America’s westward expansion, the town is now on the National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark. It is overseen by the National Park Service, which has worked to preserve the town’s historic buildings, including the looming 14-storey Kennecott Concentration Mill and the recently renovated Kennecott Power Plant.

Cahawba, Alabama

Wandering the abandoned streets and eerily beautiful ruins of Cahawba today, it’s hard to believe that the ghost town was once the state capital of Alabama – from 1819 to 1826, before problems with frequent flooding saw state capital status re-conferred to Tuscaloosa. By the end of the American Civil War, the formerly prosperous antebellum river town’s population had dwindled considerably, and by the early 1900s much of the town had been abandoned and fell to ruin. Remnants of Cahawba’s past can still be seen today including the Carpenter Gothic-style St. Luke’s Episcopal Church built in 1854 and the slave quarters of the long-gone Kirkpatrick Mansion.

North Brother Island, New York

While a ghost town in the heart of New York City may beggar belief, the abandoned North Brother Island – located smack-bang in the middle of the East River between the Bronx and Queens – is all the more eerie in its close proximity to the bustling metropolis. Home to the ruins of Riverside Hospital where patients – including Typhoid Mary who died on the island in 1938 – with quarantinable diseases were treated, North Brother Island was later the site of war veteran housing and a drug rehabilitation center before being abandoned in the 1960s and is today a designated bird sanctuary off limits to the public.

Rhyolite, Nevada

Film buffs may recognize Nevada ghost town Rhyolite from moves including the 1965 western The Return and Michael Bay’s 2005 science fiction thriller The Island, but the town is more than a mere movie set. Part of the Bullfrog Hills gold rush, Rhyolite’s fall was almost as rapid as its rise: settled in early 1905, at its zenith the town was a bustling community home to a lively social scene and even its own symphony. But by 1912, following the 1907 financial panic and closure of several local businesses, Rhyolite was a ghost town, though its ruins – including the former Cook Bank building and the town jail – are reminders of its former glory.

Picher, Oklahoma

One of the USA’s more modern ghost towns, Picher in Oklahoma was all but abandoned in 2009 – with around 10 residents remaining today – following the discovery that lead and zinc mines around the town had caused considerable damage to the local environment and residents’ health, including land subsidence and lead poisoning. Declared a Superfund site in 2006, the fact that Picher is such a recent ghost town and still full of modern relics – including structures like the town’s water tower and school mascot, which withstood a violent tornado that ripped through Picher in 2008 – makes it all the more spooky.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Another of America’s modern ghost towns, the Pennsylvanian coal mining town of Centralia was formerly a bustling small town that remained home to a close knit community despite a decline in mining in the mid-20th century. Until 1962, that is, when an underground mine fire ignited – and still rages underneath the town today – which by the early 1980s had caused dangerous carbon monoxide levels and sinkholes and made Centralia uninhabitable. The inspiration for the 2006 horror film Silent Hill, Centralia is virtually empty today with few buildings still standing save the odd house of a few of the town’s remaining hardy residents and the Blessed Virgin Mary Church still in use.

Bodie, California

Bodie, the former California gold rush town that had its heyday in the 1880s and fell into decline in the pre-First World War years, is one of the more ‘complete’ ghost towns in the USA. Many historic buildings and their interiors are still intact in what the folks behind Bodie Historic State Park call a ‘state of arrested decay’. Once home to a memorable social scene typical of a Wild West ghost town, as Bodie’s Main Street was once the site of 65 saloons and frequent shootouts and brawls, is now deserted. Only structures like its old Methodist Church, and the 116-year-old Standard Mill stand as a testament to the town’s former glory.

Animas Forks, Colorado

A remote mountain town situated on the edges of Colorado’s breathtakingly beautiful San Juan National Forest, Animas Forks was first settled in 1873 by prospectors and in a few short years developed into a thriving mining town. Its remote, rugged location and harsh climate made Animas Forks a difficult place to live and each fall, the town’s residents would migrate to neighboring Silverton to ride out winter. As mining declined, so did Animas Forks and by the 1920s, the once bustling community was officially a ghost town, though its 2011 admittance to the National Register of Historic Places means a number of its historic buildings are being restored and reconstructed.

Glenrio, Texas/New Mexico

Located on the border between Texas and New Mexico, the tiny town of Glenrio was first settled in the early 1900s and played home to a community of small farms, eventually becoming a thriving stop-off on America’s iconic Route 66 by the mid-20th century. By the mid 1970s however, with the newly designated leg of the Interstate 40 highway bypassing the town, Glenrio fell into decline. Nowadays, the town exists as the Glenrio Historic District and just two buildings remain occupied – the Joseph Brownlee House and an office located in the former Texas Longhorn Motel – though other structures like the Little Juarez Diner hark back to Glenrio’s past.

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