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Last updated: September 14, 2021 • Traveling Around the World

Ghost Towns of America

Last month we did a post about the best vacations destinations this summer and we divided our picks by the type of travel: you had a family travel option, a destination for adventurous people, a place to unplug from the fast-paced life we live and other possibilities. But we missed one: what if the person wants to travel to somewhere creepily forgotten in time, with dereliction all over the place, full of old abandoned houses and eerie stories and vibes? A ghost town!

Yes, there are people that like that… and while doing research on the topic, our team at actually found some abandoned cities that are very interesting and depart in a big way from the “haunted” aspect of it. We’ve found out that, by taking a look at the ghost towns of America, we are able to reflect on real estate as a whole, because most of it were real estate markets that were, at one point, booming, and then something bad happened that made people get away from it and never returned. In many cases it was a poor real estate development conception, where the settlers/developers failed to diversify the income of the town, so, when the culture changed (from one feedstock to another), the whole city crumbled. In others, it was just bad luck. Their original residents never came back, but some of them were lucky to have a group of people come to town decades after to give a second chance in life to those ghost towns with old abandoned houses into an asset and profit off the dereliction of it.

Our first featured ghost town of America fits perfectly in the classic ghost town box: Bodie, California.

Bodie, California

Bodie, California Ghost Town

75 miles away from Lake Tahoe, Bodie was booming in the late 1870’s after gold was discovered there. You know the drill: everyone headed there to get some of that gold and the town quickly expanded. Aside from everyday Wild West commodities – like a red light district – Bodie featured all a big town had: a Wells-Fargo bank, 4 fire companies, a city jail, several newspapers, a local brass band, a miner’s union, a mechanic’s union and a railroad. The town was so big that it had a “Chinatown”;  an area with several hundred Chinese residents.

But the “get rich quick” types all left the town to go check nearby booming mines in Montana and Arizona and… never came back. A few stayed because they were more interested in raising a family, but the lack of people coming in the town soon messed up the economic environment of the city, forcing other people to leave and as early as 1915, Body was already considered a ghost town.

The most chilling thing about Bodie is going inside the 150-year old abandoned houses and still see the tables set, with plates and utensils; is entering the shops and restaurants with shelves and pantry still stocked, waiting for customers who’ll never come. Bodie’s residents just left the place and never returned. In fact, there’s a legend that says that if visitors take anything out of the abandoned city as a token, it will bring terrible luck. It’s not hard to find stuff on the ground with little notes saying “I’m sorry I took it, but now I’m returning… please un-curse me”.

The Montana Triangle (Virginia City, Nevada City, and Bannack)

Virginia City Montana Ghost Town

While you can see Bodie in a day, if you go to the Montana Triangle you can easily get a whole weekend out of it. If there was a “Ghost Town” categories at our Best Museums in the USA article, this would probably be the one picked for its comprehensiveness; after all, it’s 3 different abandoned cities within almost the place !

You should dedicate one day alone to Virginia City: it’s the place where Sam Clemens, born in Missouri, became Mark Twain. The first place he ever used his more famous moniker was there, while working at the Territorial Enterprise newspaper; a place you can visit to see several Mark Twain memorabilia. The city acts as an open-air museum and attracts several tourists doing so. On the outside, the aesthetics pretty much are the same found on other ghost towns of America: old abandoned houses and derelict buildings. But inside the places are mostly restored and filled with several museums about the history of the town and some of its notable residents – like the aforementioned Mark Twain and even Calamity Jane. Two attractions not to be missed: the underground mine tour, where you walk under the town learning eerie and cool facts about the non-active (but still there!) hundreds of feet of underground mining canals and the old Salon, complete with the “suicide table” – a cursed poker table named that way because several people that played (and loss) on it committed suicide then and there – and modern slot machines, that are not as cool, but will hardly make anyone try to kill themselves.

Nevada City Montana Ghost Town

And the other day you could split it between Nevada City and Bannock. You can stay at the haunted Silver Queen Hotel in Virginia City and then get the train to Nevada City. Roughly 2 miles away, Nevada city is something like a ghost town celebration. It already was a ghost town when Charles and Sue Bovey, a couple that was “collecting” old Montana buildings, decided to transfer those derelict buildings there in the 1950’s to make it an attraction that showcases the old Montana style of living. Owned today by the State of Montana, there you will find the most extensive collection of automated music machines in North America. Some still play tunes! But beware: most of Nevada City does not open during winter because of the heavy snow and, of course, lack of residents.

Bannack Montana Ghost Town

From there you should visit Bannack, the most haunted of those 3 ghost towns and probably one of the most haunted ghost towns of America as a whole. It was even featured in two “Ghost Adventures” (Travel Channel) episodes. Bannack was a gold rush town before Virginia City rose to fame, and when it did, the road between the two cities became one of the most dangerous places in the west, with countless robberies, holdups, and, of course, murders. Lots of it. Bannack became a lawless place. Literally: it was later discovered that the leader of the Bannack bandits was none other than the town’s Sheriff! There are close to 60 structures still standing for you to visit and we dare you to walk down the Bannack trail to Virginia City and not feel a chill on your spine!

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Centralia Pennsylvania Ghost Town

Ghost towns are not only born in the west. Centralia has a sad and recent story of abandonment. Up until the 1960’s, it was a coal city like many others. However, after an accident where city workers burning trash in an open pit lit a vein of anthracite coal that was part of an enormous natural deposit of coal that lay beneath the town, the town slowly became uninhabitable.

Think about it: the fire burned the whole underground coal and authorities couldn’t control the noxious gases coming from the earth, not to mention the heat that burned some of the buildings. You can still see smoke rising in certain spots, as the fire burns and pollutes 60 years later. It’s a truly sad story. In 1981, after a 12-year old boy had the ground beneath him open and he almost fell into the deadly burning coal, the federal government disposed of $42 million for the home relocation of Centralia’s residents, declaring the town a lost cause. But the disaster doesn’t stop there. Some of the residents – around 20 – decided to stay anyhow but were slowly cut from the outside world, with the government rerouting traffic by closing the main egress into town (Route 61). You might find one or two people alive, but dead on the inside because of all the tragedy that happened to the city they love. A city that lived and died by coal.

Glenrio, Texas/New Mexico

Glenrio New Mexico Texas Ghost Town

Another city that went ghost because of the government. Glenrio was a regular pit-stop for travelers in the mythical Route 66 of the first half of the 20th century right on the border between Texas and New Mexico. This debate of who the city belonged to might have something to do with the city’s demise, as Glenrio –built with several gas stations, a diner, and a hotel to serve travelers – had its growth slowed down (and eventually stopped) in the 1950’s when Interstate 40 (I-40) was built completely bypassing the small community. If you drive by you will see abandoned cars and a dusty collection of derelict buildings of art moderne architecture.

Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

Dunton Hot Springs Colorado Ghost Town

For those that like the ghost towns of America concept, but only wished the trip was a bit more comfortable, we have Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado. No dereliction here. No museum conception or eerie vibes. Investors bought an abandoned 1885 mining camp in the long woods of Colorado, renovated and turned into a small deluxe ghost town resort. There you’ll be able to have an old west experience with some modern comfort. From the outside, you will see derelict buildings and rustic old abandoned houses, but inside you’ll find a luxurious finish with a touch of vintage décor pieces. They have a salon on the premises where Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid (after robbing a bank in Telluride) spent some days and carved their name on the bar’s countertop, horseback riding activities on the mountain and natural hot springs (one indoor!). It’s a little expensive, but it had to be for all it provides.

Goldfield, Arizona

Goldfield Arizona Ghost Town

Another repurposed ghost town, Goldfield is an 1800’s town. This one is like the HBO show “Westworld”; a sort of open aired Wild West theme park with attractions like a train ride, a reptile exhibit, a brothel tour hosted by actresses dressed as the brothel’s workers (really) and even a staged gunfight in Main Street. Hopefully, different from Westworld, these guys are only actors and not robots and will never rebel against their makers and kill the visitors.

But there are some derelict buildings as interesting as these ghost towns and we feel we should mention them too:

Rolling Acres Mall, Akron, Ohio

Rolling Acres Mall Akron Ohio Ghost Town derelict building

This is the “newest” of all the places we’ve mentioned here. The mall opened in 1975, a year most of the previously mentioned abandoned cities were already considered ghost towns. Due to economic hardship, the mall slowly deteriorated until it finally closed down in 2008. The mall was later sold in 2010 for $3 million to a California-based company called Premier Ventures LLC, but it never managed to do a thing with the mall. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true: the company – which no one really knew a thing about – stop paying for taxes and security in 2011, filed for a type of bankruptcy that prevented the mall from being auctioned by the state and, by doing that, froze the Rolling Acres situation even more. With no security, lots of people started robbing copper from the structure and two deaths were recorded on the premises: one murder and one accidental electrocution.

The Rolling Acres is an overwhelming derelict landscape. It looks like a post-apocalypse movie location. In the winter, with the ceiling glass broken, it snows through… it’s one of the most interesting abandoned places in America because you can easily relate to its decay. It’s not an old abandoned house from the 1800’s with salons and stuff foreign to our current culture. It’s a mall just like many we are so accustomed to going. A reminder of what can happen when the capitalism dream becomes a nightmare. A reminder of how real estate developers must be aware of the big and sad commercial real estate trend evidenced by Toys R’ Us; a reminder of how real estate can quickly become obsolete if not taken care of.

Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, New York

Grossinger Catskill Resort Hotel New York Ghost Town derelict building

The last of our abandoned places is situated within the Catskill Mountains and used to host notable celebrities from all over the world. Two hours away from New York, it used to be a kosher establishment with premier skiing spot – it was the first place to ever use artificial snow – and even a landing strip for the rich and their small jets. The costs were too lavish and the company that bought the hotel in the 1980’s couldn’t keep up and ended up abandoning the beautiful Victorian hotel, which still holds some undemolished (but vandalized) spots. Its indoor pool is one of the most interesting derelict buildings in America: its graphitized walls mixed with moss and ferns rising from the floor lighted by natural light coming through the skylight windows is just otherworldly.

How about it? Interested in visiting one of these abandoned places? Would you go the extra ghost towns of America mile;  would you live in a haunted house if the price was right? Tell us in the comments!

And if you feel like exploring more, check out our Ghost Towns of America Pinterest board with other pictures from other long-forgotten cities and building! And while you’re there, give us a follow for all sorts of cool real estate pinterest content !


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