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Ghost Towns


GHOST TOWNS, the term used to identify communities that once prospered but later declined and were

deserted, usually due to economic shifts and reversals. While most ghost towns are completely abandoned, small resident populations remain in some, and while many have disappeared from the landscape entirely, buildings and infrastructure remain to mark the locations of others.

Most western ghost towns were once mining towns, built—during the booms that began in California in 1849 and continued into the early twentieth century—on the promise of profits to be realized from a region's abundant mineral deposits. As mineral strikes slowed, prospectors and those providing them goods and services (merchants, saloon owners, bankers, and prostitutes) left homes and businesses so abruptly—to move on to the next strike—that towns were often left in a state of suspended animation, with displays still standing in shop windows, bottles and glasses on saloon tables, and the shelves of abandoned cabins lined with pieces of crockery. A number of mining towns—Virginia City, Nevada, and Columbia, California, among them—have been restored as tourist attractions, and provide visitors with the opportunity to relive late nineteenth-century mining days.

Some of the most interesting mining ghost towns are those that have escaped restoration efforts and remain largely unchanged from the days their mines operated at peak production. Two of the most impressive are Bodie, California, and Silver City, Idaho. Gold was discovered in 1859 in "Bad, Bad Bodie," located east of the Sierra Nevada and named for miner William S. Bodey. The town's principal mine produced over $14. 5 million in gold during twenty-five years of successive mining. After the turn of the century, Bodie's mines began to close, and by the late 1940s, Bodie was officially abandoned. A California state park, it has been preserved in a state of "arrested deterioration." Silver City, Idaho, was built according to a predetermined plan in 1863, when the citizens of neighboring Ruby City decided their town was too far from their diggings, and moved it, building by building, into the canyon which became Silver City. Silver City mines produced steadily until the early 1870s and rebounded in the 1880s, but by the 1940s had become exhausted and closed one by one. In 1943, the Silver City Post Office was discontinued, making the town a true ghost town.

In addition to mining towns, deserted mill towns (Fayville, Vermont), discontinued rail stops (Everest, Kansas), stage and freight stops (Hardman, Oregon), abandoned military posts (Fort Randall, South Dakota), and dry oil-well towns (Texon, Texas) across the United States became ghost towns.

With the current interest in historic restoration and preservation, many ghost towns are being given "a second life" as adaptive reuse projects. Black Hawk, Colorado, is one of these and has been transformed into a mountain resort community with many of the original nineteenth-century buildings restored and refurbished to house hotels, restaurants, and casinos.


Baker, T. Lindsay. Ghost Towns of Texas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

Carter, William. Ghost Towns of the West. Menlo Park, Calif. : Lane Magazine and Book, 1971.

Fitzgerald, Daniel. Ghost Towns of Kansas: A Traveler's Guide. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988.

Silverberg, Robert. Ghost Towns of the American West. New York: Crowell, 1968. Reprint, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994.


See alsoGold Mines and Mining ; Gold Rush, California .

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