The Ghost Towns of America

Dark clouds loom over the famous ghost town of Bodie, California. Ghost towns are often the subject of legends and folklore.

A ghost town refers to the remains of a former town or city that once prospered but since has become abandoned due to economic reasons, political unrest or natural disasters. Many of the ghost towns exisiting today were built during the 19th-century gold rush, known then as "boomtowns". As mineral deposits were being discovered, towns were built near the mines and housed the miners and other staff. When the minerals were depleted, the residents quickly closed shop and moved to the next boomtown.

5. Virginia City, Montana (675 peak population)

Virginia is a town in Madison County, Montana. At its peak in the late 1890s, the town had a population of 675 people. It was previously known as Verina. The development of Virginia City was kickstarted when Alder Gulch discovered gold deposits in the proximity. News spread of the potential for immense wealth, and soon Virginia City was a boomtown. Virginia City had so much wealth and influence that the capital of Montana, initially located in the older town of Bannack, was relocated to Virginia City. In the first years of commercial mining, gold worth more than $30 million was excavated from the mines in Virginia City. Virginia City’s prominence started to decline when the deposits began to dwindle, and other promising prospects were discovered in neighboring Last Chance Gulch where the majority of the miners began to relocate. In 1875, the capitol of Montana was moved to Last Chance Gulch (present-day Helena), rendering Virginia City a ghost town.

4. Cahaba, Alabama - (peak population 1,920)

Cahaba, also known as Cahawba, is a ghost town located in the state of Alabama. Unique amongst ghost towns, Cahaba did not start as a mining town but was instead developed due to the fertile soils and availability of water at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. Availability of water made it a prime area for the cultivation of cotton which was a major cash crop at the time. The town of Cahaba grew so much in population and reputation that in 1820 it was made the state capital. This was a controversial decision as the town's low elevation made it prone to flooding. A huge flood in 1865 flooded all important structures in the town, initiating the decline of Cahaba and in turn the state capital's move to neighboring Selma. This caused an exodus of businesses and people which sent Cahaba on the track to become a ghost town within ten years.

3. St. Elmo, Colorado - (peak population 2,000)

St. Elmo, located in Chaffee County, Colorado is a very well-preserved ghost town. Founded in 1880, St. Elmo was formerly known as Forest City but was later renamed to avoid confusion with other towns bearing the same name. St. Elmo was surrounded by rich mines where vast deposits of copper, iron, silver, and gold were found. The Murphy Mine, one of the largest in the city, had a daily production of around 75 tons of ore. The city started with a few residents but grew to reach a peak of 2,000 people. In 1881, St. Elmo became a station on the Denver-Pacific narrow gauge railroad and the location was the site of the important Alpine Tunnel, becoming an important trading center with many merchandise stores, sawmills, hotels, and restaurants. It even had a local newspaper in circulation known as the Mountaineer. The decline of St. Elmo began when the mines were depleted, and by the closure of the Alpine Tunnel. This decline was compounded by a fire in 1890 which destroyed a large part of the town. With other miners and traders moving on to the next boomtown, only a few residents remained in the city. Tourism still brings people to the St. Elmo each year and the old mining roads are used, although the old tired roads require some four-wheel driving.

2. Centralia, Pennsylvania - (peak population 2,761)

Centralia is a town in Columbia County, Pennsylvania that had a population of 10 in 2010. Centralia was founded in 1856 and was inhabited due to the immense coal deposits. The mining attracted miners and business people from all over, but once the production started to decline, people started moving out. The outbreak of WWI also compounded the problem when a majority of the young locals enlisted in the army. A fire started in 1962 in the coal mines and has been burning beneath the borough ever since, bringing emissions of toxic gas to the once-prosperous town and forcing the relocation of many residents.

1. Bodie, California - (peak population 7,000)

Bodie is a ghost town located in Mono County, California. Bodie is one of the most well-known ghost towns in the US and attracts more than 200,000 visitors per year. It is also recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior and is formally identified as Bodie State Historic Park. Bodie town was started in 1859 by a mining prospector named William S. Bodey after he discovered deposits of gold in the area. Although the town was named in his honor, William never saw it grow to become a town. He died the very year of his discovery in a snow storm. In 1861, a mine called the Bunker Hill Mine was started with about 20 miners. However, when the mine was under new management and changed its name to the Standard Mining Company, the mining production grew greatly yielding more than $15 million worth of gold over the next 25 years. This growth in production made Bodie extremely popular and had its population spike to reach a peak of 5,000 people.

However, the mines began to experience a decline in production, only four years after the boom. As a result, mining companies were driven to declare bankruptcy and close up shop. The decline of Bodie was compounded by the Great Depression which brought with it high unemployment forcing many of the remaining residents to look for better opportunities elsewhere. In the early 1940s, Bodie town was effectively a ghost town void of any residents.


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