Bodie, California. Editorial credit: trekandshoot /

10 Famous Ghost Towns Of America

When hearing "ghost town," one may picture a mysterious place filled with legends of other-worldly events, with bits and pieces being true. These towns may not have such claim-to-fame, but making them famous are the too-true stories that would spook-off pants anyone who understands real-life hardships that forced the formerly prosperous residents of the booming towns brimming with entertainment to leave. 

Kennecott, Alaska

Kennicott Mine, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Kennicott Mine, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

Despite the remoteness and not gold, but mere copper was luring the brave miners to Kennecott after two prospectors "stumbled" upon $200 million worth of the metal in the early 1900s while giving their horses a break in the journey. Forming the Utah Copper Company in 1903 with the help of J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheims a few years later, the place was functioning as a "self-contained company town." In fact, one of the five mines was aptly named "Bonanza" for containing the world's richest copper concentration. Unlike many other mining towns, Kennecott miners blew their steam off on the tennis court and the skating rink. The mines stopped running when the supply dwindled after 1938, with the town staying erect as a National Historic Landmark and one of Alaska's most popular attractions, set right in the heart of the massive free-entrance Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Also, the proximate 14-storied red mill iconic landmark above a glacier can be explored by visitors on the official Kennecott Mill Town Tour.

Batsto Village, New Jersey

Batsto village new jersey
Historic Batsto Village Southern New Jersey, United States.

Established in 1766, Batsto Village has a deep-rooted history as a thriving iron- and glass-making town, with Charles Read's iron furnace being the largest in the region. Reaching its peak during the American Revolution, Batsto was a top producer of iron, casting housewares and ammunition for the Continental Army. Its premature ending came in 1874 when a fire rummaged through the glass-making facilities and sealed fate for the remaining iron furnaces along with 17 houses. With residents fleeing, Batsto was sold at an auction for $14,000 to Joseph Wharton, a businessman who revived the town and made it prosper again through farming. Upon his death in 1909, Batsto spiraled down into its second desolation, only to make a final comeback in the mid-century as a rebuilt historic site for the curious, the adventures, and the historians, showing its resilience to fate. 

Blue Heron, Kentucky

Blue heron kentucky
Blue Heron Mining Tipple in Kentucky.

The Blue Heron abandoned mining community set along the Big South Fork River was once the central focus of Kentucky's mining boom in its gold-prospecting history. One can wander around the atmospheric Blue Heron's mining camp with an audio tour for a day trip that is thoroughly enjoyed by history buffs. The ghost town of Blue Heron also comes complete with the Big South Fork Blue Heron Ghost Train, a bucket-list-worthy experience comprising an aural train ride through the town's abandoned camp while hearing the tales of its storied being.

Bodie, California

Bodie, California
Bodie Ghost Town's abandoned homes and cars.

Founded by miners in 1876 as the town with hillsides rich in gold and silver deposits, Bodie was quickly overrun by gold-crazed prospectors with more than two-dozen settling per day settling in the late 1870s. When the population reached some 10,000 residents, it was already known for its "sea of sin" reputation, filled with rough men, sex workers, opium dens, and whiskey-fuelled shootouts. Going bust from outgrowing its meager infrastructure, the harsh winters also forced many prospectors to move to better locales while the last residents left in the 1940s. Fully intact as one of America's best-preserved ghost towns, its 200 dilapidated buildings are kept in a state of "arrested decay" by park rangers. To this day, some store shelves remain stocked with goods, while the inns contain the same pool tables with balls and cues, assorted chairs, and cutlery that rests as it was left more than half a century ago.

Nelson, Nevada

Nelson, Nevada
Nelson, Nevada.

Founded early by Spanish settlers searching for gold in the place known as El Dorado in 1775, it wasn't until a century later that the town was really seen and overrun by other prospectors, with many Civil War deserters believing its potential. It was one of the largest booms in Nevada, complete with disputes, especially over the town's most notorious site, the Techatticup Mine, that frequently ended in murder. The mines functioned until the last ounce of gold, silver, copper, and lead was extracted through 1945. With the town subject to regular flash flooding, most people moved out, having no more reason to stay in the unbearable living conditions, although the buildings remained intact. While some "ghost towns" are only called so for their abandonment, Nelson really presents itself as a creepy location for photo, film, and music videos.

Dogtown, Massachusetts

Dogtown rocks
Dogtown Rocks, inspirational saying carved on boulders in the 1920's.

Supposedly this "hardscrabble" town got its name for either the dog-like living conditions or because the local war widows kept dogs for protection. Regardless, the roughneck Dogtown has gained a legendary appeal that even Thoreau wrote about upon visiting in 1858. Half a century later, during the Great Depression, the famous American entrepreneur who predicted the stock market crash and later ran for president, Roger Babson, installed two dozen boulders in the mostly forested ruins. These comprise eerily beloved sights for tourists today who venture out hiking to see messages reading things like "Prosperity Follows Service," "Get a Job," and "Help Mother" on the boulders.

Frisco, Utah

Frisco, Utah
Abandoned buildings and mine machinery in Frisco, Utah.

A booming town in the past of 6,000-some residents, Frisco's mine was also one of the most profitable in the region with gold, silver, zinc, and copper. A lump amount even today, $60 million worth of the resources was hauled out by 1885, with people making serious money. The off-duty miners got their R&R at the numerous saloons, brothels, and gambling halls that were popping up in the rich-crazed town for entertainment purposes, but created a volatile environment steeped in money and alcohol. Soon, the town was fraught with tension and violence, where fights broke out, and a murder would reportedly be committed every day. When the law enforcement stepped in to stop the havoc, the town quickly became abandoned by the 1920s. The mines and mills are left behind as sights for tourists in this shadow-of-a-town, known as one of the West's most haunting ghost towns.

Santa Claus, Arizona

Santa claus arizona
Santa Claus, Arizona. Image credit: Todd Huffman via Wikimedia Commons.

As a marketing gimmick to some being set in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the town was established in the 1930s to draw money to the region with tourists and by selling real estate in the dust bowl. Santa Clause was on the streets every day of the year to meet visitors, while the inns and the restaurants in town were Christmas-themed. The post office and postmark were the main draws in the later years, with kids around the nation receiving letters from St. Nick that came not from the North Pole, but Arizona. Soon completely dwindling due to disinterest, the town went on sale in 1983, remaining just a good detour on the way to Kingman or the Hoover Dam today. During one's visit, the vandalized buildings, an old wishing well, and the remnants of "Old 1225" derailed pink children's train make some spookily jolly landmarks. 

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. elmo, colorado
Old Western Wooden Buildings in St. Elmo Gold Mine Ghost Town in Colorado.

Established in 1880, St. Elmo quickly came to boast some 2,000 residents and over 150 mines as a town rich in gold mining and a popular whistle-stop on the Pacific Railroad. The many inns and dance halls catered to people, but it all went downhill upon the closure of the Alpine Tunnel in 1910. Already affected by the falling price of silver, the last rail service stopped in 1922, and while some stayed to suffer further loss for 30 more years, the death of the postmaster and discontinuation of the postal service put a definitive end to civilization in town. The area must have made someone angry up above, for even post-abandonment, it was subject to numerous fires. Still, the buildings stayed intact, making St. Elmo one of America's best-preserved ghost towns. Tourists can stay in historic cabins while seeking entertainment from the old mining roads in ATVs and fishing along Chalk Creek, in between getting an unfiltered glimpse into life during the mining boom. 

Rhyolite, Nevada

Aerial view of the abandoned ruins of Rhyolite mining camp in the Nevada desert.

Set near the Death Valley National Park, the town of Rhyolite was named for its main namesake resource, the local silica-rich volcanic rock. It was established in 1905 with an ironic promise of gold that never panned out, even though a rich man, Charles M. Schwab, sank a lot of money into trying to make it happen. Nevertheless, there was a school, a Sunday school, a hospital, a symphony, and a stock exchange by 1907, not to mention lots of prostitution. Despite being a bustling society for a few years, the town with an empty promise of a future was quickly left behind. Since then, Rhyolite had a few stardom moments as an old-West movie-set in the 1920s, while its cool photo-op buildings, including the apt Bottle House, covered with liquor and beer bottles, make it popular for tourist visits today. 

Stepping into one of these towns makes one subject to decades of stand-still history, knowing that the erect buildings and the nature around have breathed everything from the very beginning only to exhale onto the visitors in a heavy sigh. Seemingly similar in their spontaneous establishment, booming, and prosperity period, followed by complete dissolution and abandonment, these towns feature their unique atmospheres with auras of the unraveled events still in the air for a real ghost feel. 

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 10 Famous Ghost Towns Of America

More in Places