America’s most intriguing deserted places
The USA is crammed full of museums designed to be a window into times gone by – but, sometimes, the country’s fascinating abandoned buildings do a better job of bringing the past into focus. From mysterious ghost towns to long-deserted mansions, we reveal the eeriest abandoned attraction in every state and DC. If you’re planning on visiting any of these spooky spots, be sure to double check opening times and state travel advisories before you go.
Alabama: Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, Orrville
Described as “Alabama’s most famous ghost town”, Old Cahawba became the state capital around 1819. But, given Cahawba’s reported proneness to flooding, the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa by 1826. The town managed to survive this initial blow, but its fate was sealed during the Civil War, when Confederate soldiers tore up sections of the town’s railroad and built a large prison at its center. Today visitors can wander around the site, taking in the deserted buildings rising among moss-cloaked trees and wildflowers. Note that the visitors’ center is currently operating at reduced capacity.
Alaska: Kennecott, near McCarthy
Protected today as a National Historic Landmark District, and within Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Kennecott (also Kennicott) was once a thriving copper-mining camp. But the site’s existence was short-lived. Established in the early 1900s, the town was all but abandoned by 1938, as the area’s copper reserves were exhausted, and the miners moved on. The site’s deserted rust-red buildings and mountain views remain for visitors to explore, and interpretative rangers are currently available by phone.
Arizona: Vulture City and Mine, Maricopa County
Vulture City is an abandoned mining site in the Sonoran Desert. The mine dates back to 1863, when gold was discovered in the area – a thriving community soon formed around it and the mine would flourish until its eventual closure in the 1940s. On a guided tour with Vulture Mine Tours (due to resume in mid-October), visitors can explore the once-bustling town and see the old cookhouse and post office. Self-guided tours are also currently available, and it’s recommended that visitors pre-purchase their admission.
Arkansas: Peppersauce, Calico Rock
This intriguing ghost town exists within the limits of Calico Rock, a small city in northern Arkansas. Situated in the eastern part of town, the abandoned district is home to around 20 derelict buildings, including a barber shop, a cotton gin and a funeral parlor, many of which have been reclaimed by Mother Nature. The area’s demise has largely been put down to a decline in the cotton industry on which it relied. Plaques revealing the buildings’ secrets are dotted about Peppersauce and visitors can take a self-guided walking tour.
California: Bodie, Mono County
One of the best-known and most wonderfully preserved ghost towns in America, Bodie is tucked away in California’s Eastern Sierra region. The town was at its peak between 1877 and 1882, when the mining industry was booming, and some 10,000 people called Bodie home. Now those residents are long gone, but around 200 ramshackle wooden buildings – including a saloon and a barber shop – give visitors a taste of the past. Entry to the historic buildings is currently suspended, but it’s still possible to take a self-guided tour of Bodie’s dusty, deserted streets.
Colorado: Crystal Mill, Crystal
Resembling something between a witch’s cottage and an enchanted treehouse, this curious structure could be plucked straight from a fairy tale. In fact, the mill, perched on craggy rocks above the Crystal River and dating back to the early 1890s, once functioned as a power plant for local silver mines. The mines closed in 1917 and Crystal Mill was abandoned too. Today, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and can be viewed via a challenging hike leaving from the tiny, secluded town of Marble.
Connecticut: Shade Swamp Sanctuary, Farmington
A series of eerie rusting cages and rickety wooden shelters make up the abandoned Shade Swamp Sanctuary in Farmington. The site, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, dates back to the 1930s, and was intended as a sanctuary for native animals that were injured or endangered. However, up until the center’s eventual closure in the 1960s, it was also home to non-native creatures such as monkeys. The leafy Shade Swamp Sanctuary Blue Trail stretches out for a little over a mile and wiggles past the zoo’s remains.
Delaware: Gibraltar Mansion, Wilmington
Gibraltar mansion in Wilmington’s Marian Coffin Gardens has all the trappings of a typical haunted house: cracked and shuttered windows, a tangle of ivy creeping across the stonework and a perpetually locked door. The site was abandoned and left to fall in disrepair in the 1990s when the then-owner passed away. However, even though the house, built in the 1840s by cotton merchant John Rodney Brinckle, stands moldering and derelict, the gardens have been lovingly restored and are open to the public.
District of Columbia: National Capitol Columns, Washington DC
Erected in 1828, these photogenic Corinthian columns once formed part of the US Capitol building. But there were concerns over the columns’ suitability to hold up the mammoth dome, completed in 1864 to a size much larger than the designer had originally envisioned. The columns remained part of the iconic building up until 1958, and today they’re hidden away in the U.S National Arboretum in DC. The arboretum is open, but the onsite National Bonsai and Penjing Museum is temporarily closed.
Florida: Dome House, Cape Romano
A futuristic string of structures, the so-called Dome House once sat on the shores of Cape Romano. The domes formed a single uber-modern house, built in the 1980s, but a series of hurricanes (including 2005’s Hurricane Wilma) devastated the structure and eroded the shore. Now they lie at least 180 feet (55m) from the land and only four of the original six domes are visible above the water’s surface. They’re accessible by kayak, and boat trips such as those run by Dreamlander Tours also take in the spectacle – check here for current availability.
Georgia: New Manchester Manufacturing Company, Sweetwater Creek State Park
Today, the crumbling remains of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company are shrouded by the forest of Sweetwater Creek State Park. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the building was originally a working textile mill, but it was almost burned to the ground by Union troops during the Civil War. Trails lead to the red-brick ruin and visitors can even peek inside on a guided hike (currently still running). Sweetwater Creek State Park is open, but access may occasionally be restricted if crowds become too large.
Hawaii: Old Club Med, Kauai
Idaho: Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise
The creepy corridors and creaking cell blocks of the Old Idaho State Penitentiary were built in the early 1870s and, during the prison’s century in operation, some of the state’s most formidable criminals were incarcerated here. But by the 1970s the prison was outdated, with poor sanitation and inadequate space for the constant influx of inmates. The prisoners were transferred elsewhere, and the facility was finally closed. Today, the site is preserved by the Idaho State Historical Society and self-guided tours are currently available – visitors are encouraged to book in advance and are required to wear a mask.
Illinois: Old Joliet Prison, Joliet
Gothic Joliet Prison was opened in 1858, having been built in part by a group of inmates themselves. But just two decades later the prison’s population was over capacity and conditions suffered. Still, despite this early deterioration, the prison would not close its doors until 2002. Tours of the castle-like site are now run by the Joliet Area Historical Museum – they’re currently restricted to outdoor areas (advance reservations required) with virtual 3D tours of the interior also available. The atmospheric building was used as a location for hit TV series Prison Break too.
Indiana: Rose Island Amusement Park, Charlestown
Rose Island was once a kitsch amusement park beloved by locals, but it was all but washed away by the Ohio River flood of 1937. Today the leafy Charlestown State Park protects the site’s eerie fragments: a decaying stone fountain, a series of metal archways and an over-grown swimming pool with ladders leading to nowhere. Dotted amid the park’s remnants, information boards offer a glimpse of the site’s former glory. Love this? Take a peek inside more of America’s abandoned theme parks.
Iowa: Buckhorn, Jackson County
Very little remains of this teeny ghost town in Iowa’s Jackson County, a mysterious scattering of buildings off the area’s Highway 64. Visitors will find no historical plaques here, but the crumbling creamery, abandoned cemetery and shuttered white-washed church speak for themselves. It’s typically possible to wander around outside the haunting structures, but don’t go inside – they’re private property.
Kansas: Elk Falls, Elk County
Dubbed a living ghost town, this curious spot in southeastern Kansas still has a small community of around 100 people. The population steadily declined throughout the 1800s and amid the small collection of living businesses – a pottery, a tannery and a dinky bed and breakfast – there’s a string of eerie abandoned buildings. This one, with its faded red bricks and overgrown windows, is particularly atmospheric. Thoughtfully placed plaques help bring the town’s history into focus too.
Kentucky: Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Louisville
Construction of the mansion-like Waverly Hills Sanatorium was completed in the 1920s for the Board of Tuberculosis Hospital. But, following the discovery of antibiotics that could treat TB, the sanatorium closed in 1961. It had a brief stint as a care facility for the elderly before being abandoned entirely by the 1980s. For years it stood deserted, but today guided tours and ghost hunts take brave visitors through the moldering corridors, tattered staircases and long-empty wards – reservations are required.
Louisiana: General Laundry Building, New Orleans
Maine: Perkins Township, Swan Island
Alongside its abundant birdlife and biking and hiking trails, Swan Island, in the Kennebec River, is home to the ghostly remains of the former Perkins Township, settled in the 1700s. A handful of buildings dot the bucolic site, some with elegant bay windows and busts looking through the glass. The Great Depression took its toll on the island’s industries, though, and the houses were left empty by the 1940s. The isle is accessible by kayak or ferry from May until late October and visitors can take in the historic homes from the outside.
Maryland: Daniels, Baltimore County and Howard County
Now left tattered and forgotten among dense woodland, Daniels was once a thriving industrial town. Its roots go back to the early 1800s, when a man named Thomas Ely decided to establish a textile mill here. A busy community sprouted around the mill, which closed in the 1960s. In 1972, tropical storm Agnes wreaked havoc on the town, ripping through many of the already abandoned buildings. Today Daniel’s remains are visible on a hike along the Patapsco River.
Massachusetts: Rutland Prison Camp, Rutland
Many who stumble across this graffiti-scribbled stonework will have no idea of its significance – but hidden away in Rutland State Park are the remains of a former prison camp. The prison dates back to the early 1900s and held those charged with minor offences such as drunkenness. However, the facility eventually closed in the 1930s and was left to ruin. Today, park visitors can wander the prison’s crumbling remnants, all tunnels and stone cells – note that the pavilions and picnic areas here are temporarily closed.
Michigan: Quincy Mine, Hancock
Now protected by the Quincy Mine Hoist Association, this Michigan mine ceased operations around 1945. Today the association gives curious visitors rare access to the deserted buildings on the site, from a tour of the underground copper mine to a close-up look at the shaft house. Advance reservations are essential at present and the cogwheel tram is currently not in operation.
Minnesota: Tanner’s Hospital, Ely
Despite the boarded windows and grubby brickwork, this former hospital, nicknamed the Castle, remains an impressive sight. With its imposing round turret, arching windows and striking red roof titles, the building, constructed in the early 20th century, is still a source of local pride, and it found its way onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. It’s not possible to enter the property, but plenty of architecture buffs gaze up at it from the street.
Mississippi: Rodney, Jefferson County
A cluster of haunting, abandoned buildings are all that remain of this once-thriving, riverside town. Dating back to the 1820s, Rodney diminished after the Civil War, mainly due to a change in the course of the Mississippi River and a pair of ravaging fires. Today, the deserted structures are lovingly watched over by the Rodney History and Preservation Society: the most arresting among them is the red-brick Presbyterian Church.
Missouri: Ha Ha Tonka Castle, Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Location is the real drawcard of this enchanting ruin. Overlooking the vast Lake of the Ozarks, Ha Ha Tonka Castle is nestled within the forest of its namesake state park. Inspired by the fairy-tale castles of Europe, businessman Robert Snyder began building the majestic property in 1905. By 1942, the property was being used as a hotel, but a devastating fire gutted the grand building. Today, park visitors can explore the ruins – enough remains that it’s easy to imagine the building’s former grandeur. The park’s visitor center is temporarily closed, and site capacity is being closely monitored.
Montana: Bannack, Beaverhead County
This ghost town in southwestern Montana, now Bannack State Park, is home to some 60 historical structures. Bannack was established in 1862, when prospector John White struck gold nearby and it remained a mining town until the 1930s. By the 1950s, though, reserves were diminished, and the town was eventually abandoned. Now self-guided tours allow visitors to peek inside the old buildings, from the drugstore to the schoolhouse.
Nebraska: St. Deroin, Nemaha County
A tiny ghost town within the limits of Indian Cave State Park, St. Deroin has been all but abandoned for almost a century. Surrounded by woodland today, the town was once the site of a busy ferry crossing, but when the Missouri River changed course, the settlement fell into decline and by the 1920s it was completely deserted. Curious modern visitors can explore the preserved St. Deroin cemetery, as well as the old schoolhouse and general store. Check out more of America’s eeriest ghost towns.
Nevada: Rhyolite, Nye County
Situated just outside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite is Nevada’s most intriguing ghost town. Prospectors found quartz in the area as early as 1904 and a town filled with stores, houses, a school and even hotels soon bloomed. Its success was fleeting though: by 1910, business began to decline and by 1916 Rhyolite was completely abandoned. Today reminders of the town’s existence pop up across the stark landscape, from parts of an old jail to a decrepit bank building.
New Hampshire: Madame Sherri’s Castle, Chesterfield
Swallowed up by the Madame Sherri forest, these enchanting ruins have a tale to tell. The castle was once owned by eccentric Madame Sherri, a costume designer with a penchant for lavish parties. It began to crumble away after Madame Sherri left the property behind, and was all but destroyed by a fire in 1962. Still standing are some of the castle’s stone walls, carved out with arches, and a swirling stairway. Hikers can see the ruins on an easy trail through the forest – check safety advice before you go.
New Jersey: Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital, Ellis Island
This famed hospital on Ellis Island opened in the 1900s, just after the turn of the century. It was in operation until the 1930s, before it was completely abandoned in 1954, and while open, the hospital treated many thousands of immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island ready for a new life. Today poignant images by French artist JR plaster the peeling walls, and a hard-hat tour allows visitors to explore the unrestored site, from the kitchens and the wards to the treatment rooms: tours are currently available on Saturdays and Sundays and are operating with reduced capacity, so it’s worth booking well in advance.
New Mexico: Shakespeare, Hidalgo County
This former mining town was first christened Shakespeare in 1879, after silver ore was found nearby in the early 1870s. It burgeoned quickly at the end of the 1800s, flourishing until the 1920s, when the mines eventually closed, and famed outlaws William “Russian Bill” Tattenbaum and Sandy King both met their fate here. Today, visitors can get a true taste of the Old West on a two-hour tour that takes in numerous time-worn buildings, from the old mail station to the multipurpose Grant House. Private tours are now also available.
New York: Bannerman Castle, Pollepel Island
Standing guard over the Hudson River, some 60 miles (97km) north of New York City, is the abandoned Bannerman Castle. It’s named after Scotsman Francis Bannerman VI, who owned a weaponry business and built this isolated island fortress in the early 1900s for use as an arsenal. Abandoned since the 1950s, the castle now stands in ruins, its turrets crumbling and greenery forcing its way through glassless windows. Still, it’s a majestic site and a range of tours of the island are available.
North Carolina: Portsmouth Village, Portsmouth Island
Remote Portsmouth Island, part of the windswept Outer Banks, has a secret. Beyond its unspoilt beaches lies an abandoned village whose buildings remain in impressive condition. Established in 1752, the town here once thrived due to a booming shipping industry. But the village took a hit during the Civil War (and another in the form of a battering 1846 storm) and the shipping industry dwindled. The final two residents wouldn’t leave the all-but-deserted isle until 1971. Today visitors can wander through the deserted village (though ranger tours are temporarily suspended).
North Dakota: Arena, Burleigh County
North Dakota has plenty of ghost towns, but this spot in the center of the state is one of the eeriest and the most enchanting. Not much remains of the little town, which was pummeled by the Great Depression and never really recovered. Today, visitors can see a decaying school, a few perishing houses and, most fascinating of all, the enigmatic St. John’s Lutheran Church. Now discover the awesome abandoned movie sets that time forgot.
Ohio: Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield
This eerie abandoned prison has a long history. Construction of the reformatory began in 1886, on the site of one-time training ground for Civil War soldiers, and, over the years, thousands of prisoners would live out their days here. But reports of poor conditions and maltreatment of prisoners meant the site was abandoned by 1990. Now self-guided and guided tours take visitors through the spine-chilling corridors with their moldering cell blocks and rusting iron bars – the Facebook page is the best place for current updates. The prison was also famously used as a location for 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption.
Oklahoma: Texola, Beckham County
A quirky little ghost town right on the border with Texas, Texola still has a teeny-tiny community as well as a plethora of atmospheric abandoned buildings and rusted out cars. The most striking of the decaying properties is a deserted bar named Watering Hole #2, painted a bright sky blue. There’s also a vacant cemetery and a rusting service station proudly bearing the words “No place like Texola”.
Oregon: Golden, Josephine County
Now a National Heritage Site, the aptly named Golden ghost town was home to a community of around 100 people, drawn in by the promise of gold. As goes the story of many an early Gold Rush town, when the precious metal dried up, so too did the community, and the town was abandoned in the 20th century. A beaten-up church, an old house, a post office and a shed remain a tribute to this slice of the past, and tourists can visit for free – check here for updates.
Pennsylvania: Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia
Typically one of America’s most visited abandoned places, this deserted prison bills itself “the world’s first true ‘penitentiary'”. It was built in the 1820s in a grand, fortress-like style designed to impress and to intimidate, and would stay open until 1970, following a dangerous riot in 1961. Today the building remains something of a time capsule, and its dilapidated cell blocks and deserted corridors and towers can still be explored on day or night tours. Advanced reservations and masks are required.
Rhode Island: The Bells, Newport
Newport’s leafy Brenton Point State Park is home to an ambient abandoned building that’s been left to ruin for decades. The Bells was once a lavish estate, built in 1876 for lawyer Theodore M Davis, who crammed the property with relics from his significant excavation work in Egypt. The mansion itself was ravaged by fire in the 1960s, and today all that remains are the once-grand stables and carriage house. The ruin is guarded by a metal fence, so visitors can’t get right up close – but they can get near enough for a good view.
South Carolina: Atalaya Castle, Huntington Beach State Park
Once a fabulous estate, Atalaya Castle was built in the early 1930s by philanthropist Archer Huntington, who was inspired by Spanish and Moorish architecture. Intended as a retreat for himself and his beloved artist wife Anna, the dazzling property boasted a plant-filled courtyard, a sculpture garden and an oceanside location. But once Archer passed away in 1955, Anna left the house behind. Today guided tours take in deserted rooms, including Anna’s studios. Now take a look at haunting photos of the world’s abandoned sacred places.
South Dakota: Okaton, Jones County
Tennessee: Elkmont Historic District, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Four photogenic wooden cabins are hidden away in the woodland of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, forming the Daisy Town part of the Elkmont Historic District. They were originally home to loggers, before becoming swish vacation retreats in the early 1900s, but eventually fell into disrepair. Many similar structures in the area have been demolished, but these four deserted cabins have been stabilized. They can be viewed from outside, and the public can typically also peek inside to see the rustic interiors – check the NPS alerts page for updates.
Texas: Terlingua, Brewster County
It wasn’t gold that had people rushing to this former mining town towards the end of the 1800s, it was cinnabar – a kind of mercury ore. But by the time the Second World War began, the mines were losing money and residents were draining from the town. Today, evidence of the site’s glory days can still be seen, from crumbling stone walls and huts to car shells. Beyond the ruins, there’s still a community here who are used to tourists passing through – double check local advisories if you plan to visit.
Utah: Grafton, Washington County
The rugged red peaks of Zion National Park watch over this ghost town. Once one of a large string of nearby villages, it was established by Mormon settlers from around 1859 – though the site we see today was built up in 1862 after a flood devastated the original town. It was inhabited until the early 1900s, when most residents moved west in search of a new life. The fascinating deserted homes, the atmospheric cemetery and the sheer natural beauty typically draw visitors to the site.
Vermont: Trapp Chapel, Stowe
Compared to the many fading ghost towns in the USA’s west, Vermont has few abandoned buildings, but a dinky stone chapel can be found in the wooded grounds of the Trapp Family Lodge in the pretty town of Stowe. The Austrian-style lodge is still owned and operated by the von Trapp family, who moved to Stowe in the 1940s and opened this property to guests in 1950. A hike through the grounds leads to the picturesque chapel, reportedly built as a tribute to Second World War soldiers.
Virginia: Swannanoa Palace, Afton
This stunning Italianate mansion retains much of its majesty even after years of abandonment. It dates back to 1912, when railroad heavyweight James Dooley decided to build this marble confection for his wife Sally May. The house has passed through many hands over the years, suffering periods of neglect and falling into disrepair. But despite some peeling paint and untamed areas of the garden, it’s still a sight to behold today. The house currently remains open for private guided tours.
Washington: Fort Worden, Port Townsend
Darkened tunnels and eerie passageways make up Fort Worden, a defensive structure built between 1898 and 1917. It’s the best preserved of three military batteries that once guarded the Washington coast, together known as the Triangle of Fire. Today the deserted remains – including pillboxes and creepy bunkers – make up part of the 432-acre Fort Worden Historical State Park.
West Virginia: Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, Mercer County
Lake Shawnee, an abandoned amusement park in southern West Virginia, was once a loud, proud attraction. Built in the 1920s, it was filled with swings and slides, as well as a speakeasy and a dance hall – but the park has suffered a checkered past, and eventually closed in the 1960s after a string of chilling deaths on the site. A Ferris wheel and groaning swing ride remain today and there are regular ghost tours, plus other spooky events.
Wisconsin: Helena, Iowa County
Tower Hill State Park looks like any other scenic state park, with its forested hiking trails, campsites and abundant birdlife. But it also hides the remains of Helena, a little town that built up around the 1820s and 30s after the discovery of lead in the area. The town was all but deserted by the end of the 1800s, but some fascinating remnants still exist today – visitors can see the abandoned tunnels used to transport lead shot during the manufacturing process.
Wyoming: South Pass City, Fremont County
Built up in the 1860s after gold ore was discovered, South Pass City flourished while the mining industry boomed, but it was abandoned by the 1930s, following serious financial strains. Today, the town’s historic deserted buildings are impressively preserved and open to visitors at select times – highlights include the Exchange saloon and card room, the blacksmith shop and the Sweetwater County Jail. Now check out rooms with a boo: the most haunted hotel in every state.
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