Yes, there are ghost towns in the United States. Are you brave enough to take a tour of one or all of them this summer?
There are some seriously spooky haunted hotels out there too (I stayed in the haunted Crescent Hotel!), but some of these ghost towns are almost more frightening. The abandoned towns stretch all throughout America, and are rumored to be extra eerie. But they weren’t always that way. Most of them were once prosperous mining towns filled with people hoping to make it rich by discovering gold or silver.
Ghost town visits combines history with some eerie, paranormal vibes. Abandoned ghost towns can be really cool – but also really creepy!
Haunted Towns to Visit
For some bizarre reason, ghost towns and haunted places are a curious attraction for travelers. Maybe it’s checking out all the remnants of a once-thriving community left to the elements, or the fascination that many of us have with disturbing or unexplained events of the past.
Calico is a ghost town and former mining town in San Bernardino County, California. Located in the Calico Mountains of the Mojave Desert region of Southern California, it was founded in 1881 as a silver mining town, and was later converted into a county park named Calico Ghost Town.
Walter Knott purchased Calico in the 1950s, and architecturally restored all but the five remaining original buildings to look as they did in the 1880s. Calico received California Historical Landmark and in 2005 was proclaimed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town. Knott began restoring it to its original condition, referencing old photographs. He installed a longtime employee named “Calico Fred” Noller as resident caretaker and official greeter.
In 1881 four prospectors were leaving Grapevine Station (present day Barstow, California) for a mountain peak to the northeast. After they described the peak as “calico-colored”, the peak, the mountain range to which it belonged, and the town that followed were all called Calico. The four prospectors discovered silver in the mountain and opened the Silver King Mine, which was California’s largest silver producer in the mid-1880s.
A post office was established in early 1882, and the Calico Print, a weekly newspaper, started publishing. The town soon supported three hotels, five general stores, a meat market, bars, brothels, and three restaurants and boarding houses. The county established a school district and a voting precinct. The town also had a deputy sheriff and two constables, two lawyers and a justice of the peace, five commissioners, and two doctors. There was also a Wells Fargo office and a telephone and telegraph service. At its height of silver production during 1883 and 1885,Calico had over 500 mines and a population of 1,200 people. Local badmen were buried in the Boot Hill cemetery.
The discovery of the borate mineral colemanite in the Calico mountains a few years after the settlement of the town also helped Calico’s fortunes, and in 1890 the estimated population of the town grew to 3,500, with nationals of China, England, Ireland, Greece, France, and the Netherlands, as well as Americans living there. In the same year, the Silver Purchase Act was enacted and drove down the price of silver. By 1896, its value had decreased to so much that Calico’s silver mines were no longer economically viable. The post office was discontinued in 1898, and the school closed not long after. By the turn of the century, Calico was all but a ghost town, and with the end of borax mining in the region in 1907 the town was completely abandoned.
California is full of ghost towns because of the Gold Rush. Bodie stands out because it’s so well-preserved. The town is named after William Bodie, who discovered gold in 1859. The town quickly filled with prospectors in search of riches. By 1879 the town had a population of roughly 10,000 residents and close to 2,000 structures.
Bodie boomed from late 1877 through the mid–to late 1880’s. As a bustling gold mining center, Bodie had the amenities of larger towns, including a Wells Fargo Bank, four volunteer fire companies, a brass band, railroad, miners’ and mechanics’ union, several daily newspapers, and a jail. At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences.[
As with other remote mining towns, Bodie had a popular, though clandestine, red light district on the north end of town. There is an unsubstantiated story of Rosa May, a prostitute who, in the style of Florence Nightingale, came to the aid of the town menfolk when a serious epidemic struck the town at the height of its boom.
Unfortunately, the initial strike led to almost nothing, and Bodie was soon abandoned. The first signs of decline appeared in 1880 and became obvious toward the end of the year. The get-rich-quick, single miners who came to the town in the 1870s moved on to these other booming areas. Over the years, the town declined more and more and population dwindled but in the early 1900’s Bodie was still home to 120 residents.
Today, a historic park, Bodie is preserved in a state of arrested decay. Only a small part of the town survived, with about 110 structures still standing, including one of the many once operational gold mills. Visitors can walk the deserted streets of a town that once was a bustling area of activity. Interiors remain as they were left and stocked with goods. Littered throughout the park, one can find small shards of china dishes, square nails and an occasional bottle, but removing these items is against the rules of the park.
Virginia City & Nevada City, Montana
You won’t find a more realistic experience of what life was like in the Old West than in the twin cities of Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana. These towns were the one-time homes of famous characters like Calamity Jane. Virginia City has resisted change over the past 100 years and still has hundreds of old buildings still standing. A mile down the road, you’ll find Nevada City, a boom town gone bust thanks to the Gold Rush. Take the train between the two cities, and you’ll get a chance to see how early settlers struggled to survive and witness reenactments of historical events through living history shows.
A boom town of the post Civil War era, Virginia City served as the Montana Territorial Capital for 10 years, until the gold ran out.
Nevada City was a mining ghost town until the Bovey family restored it between 1945 and 1978. The entire town of Nevada City is a living historical museum. Today there are many original log buildings and an outstanding collection of old-time music boxes, player pianos and calliopes.
Both towns have been largely restored and preserved and have become living examples of the real Old West. One hundred fifty buildings have been certified authentic by the Montana Historical Society. Original buildings, dating from the Territorial days, are filled with merchandise and implements used when gold camps flourished in the West. Boardwalks, mechanical music machines, a penny arcade, antique automobiles and even a two-story outhouse add to the Old West atmosphere.
Alton, a small community in the Midwest, is known as “America’s Most Haunted Small Town” Why? It could be because of its sordid past of murder, war, death, and destruction dating back to the Civil War. Whatever the reason, many explorers have investigated and questioned the unexplained happenings and psychic phenomena that happen all around Alton.
Sites that are noted to be extremely haunted include the infamous McPike Mansion, the First Unitarian Church, and the Milton School. This eerie town and its hauntings have even been featured on the Travel Channel and Syfy. It’s not uncommon to see groups of ghost hunting travelers walking through this spooky Mississippi River town in search of spirits, specters, and spooks.
In the late 1800s, Goldfield, Arizona was swarming with miners in search of striking it rich. But the euphoria was short-lived, and by 1898 all the gold was gone. Over the next few decades, settlers moved in and renamed the town Youngsberg, but in 1926, the town was abandoned once again. 1988, Goldfield took the route of many other ghost towns and became a tourist attraction. Visitors can still take a peek back in time to its glory days at the museum, saloon, and shops.
St. Elmo, Colorado
If you venture to this one-time mining town in central Colorado, you may hear stories from the few locals still around that the original residents of St. Elmo left on the last train out—and never came back. The town saw its heydays in the late 1800s, with hotels, dance halls, and a school, but the city faded into oblivion after the railroad closed in the 1930s.
What is left is an eerie reminder of what the town once was. When visit St. Elmo you will wander the empty streets, shop in the antique-filled General Store, and pay homage to the ghosts of St. Elmo’s past!