There is something strangely compelling about that which has been abandoned. Be it an empty house left to shelter nothing but memories and mystery or the sunken hulk of a once proud ship resting below the waters it plied, we find deserted spaces, places, and things intriguing, often exciting, and frequently unsettling or outright frightening. “Who lived here? And why did they leave?” we ask. We wonder what stories could people tell of this home, that building, or, in some cases, an entire town or even a city.
For indeed the idea of the ghost town is hardly a myth made up alongside the rest of the lore of America’s Wild West. Real ghost towns can be found all across The West, but they can also be found in the Northeast, in Europe, Russia, Asia, and everywhere else on earth. The reasons a given town or city becomes abandoned are many and varied; sometimes whole regions were forced to empty out suddenly as the result of a great catastrophe. Other times the process of abandon is gradual but ultimately entire. Regardless, the result is the same: abandoned towns and cities slowly molder and decay, and eventually they will be fully reclaimed by nature and forgotten by mankind. Before that happens, though, they offer us a haunting portrait of the tableau of life where no human life persists.
15. St. Thomas, Nevada
St. Thomas, Nevada, has the unique distinction of having been abandoned twice: the first time it was for politics, the second for logistics. The town was formed by Mormon settlers back in 1865, named for their leader, Thomas Smith. When founded, it was a part of the Arizona Territory. In 1871, a new land survey placed St. Thomas within the state lines of Nevada, and the government of that state tried to collect taxes from its residents. Rather than pay up, they all moved out. New folks moved in and laid claim to the abandoned land and homes, but when the Hoover Dam was built two generations later, the area slowly flooded as the Colorado River rose. Again St. Thomas was abandoned, and this time for good.
14. Brewster, Florida
If ever there was a true company town, it was Brewster, Florida. Indeed it was to serve the phosphate mining operations of American Cyanamid that the town was built up, starting in 1910. At its peak, Brewster had a movie theater, schools, restaurants, and its own United States post office. Mining operations declined in the middle of the last century, and ceased by the early 1960s. The post office closed in 1961 and the company cut off support and effectively closed the town the following year. Much of Brewster was demolished, and the rest was left to rot.
13. Neftegorsk, Russia
Neftegorsk was an industrious town thanks to the exploitation of the prodigious oil reserves of its surroundings, which was the island of Sakhalin on the far eastern coast of Russia. In fact the name even meant “oil town” in Russian. Then, in 1995, a devastating earthquake hit the island, with the town near the offshore epicenter of the 7.6 magnitude quake. Some 2,000 of the town’s 3,500 residents were killed, and those left alive moved away. The town was never restored or resettled.
12. Bannack, Montana
Bannack, Montana is an ironic ghost town in that it is both a genuinely abandoned, uninhabited town and yet is also a partially preserved faux-ghost town attraction. Bannock was settled in 1862 following the discovery of gold nearby, and for a time it was a classic gold mining boomtown. As tended to happen with those, the mines saw ever diminishing returns and people began to move away. Within a century, Bannack was uninhabited. Today, though, the town is the site of annual Bannack Days festival with music, 19th Century lifestyle reenactments, food, crafts, and more. Some of the buildings are in much better repair than they should be due to recent restorations that have preserved their abandoned aesthetic, while still others are in a genuine state of decay.
11. Farina, Australia
Farina held on for many years, but in the end the Outback won. The town, located in the massive state of South Australia, was settled in the late 1870s by farmers hoping to carve out a living working the soil despite that soil being rather arid and barren. And in the later decades of the 1800s, the area was unusually wet and the land productive. In the early 20th Century, however, the region reverted to its standard dry disposition and the town began to shrink. The bakery closed, the blacksmiths moved out, the post office shut down, and the railway service was finally cut in 1980. Today, the desert is reclaiming Farina.
10. Centralia, Pennsylvania
Currently, there are in fact a few residents in Centralia, PA. At last check, the count was… seven. This small town saw active mining for many years, with its history as a coal producing spot dating back to the mid 19th Century. However when a town landfill was cleared out through burning back in 1962 (yeah, that’s how they did it then), some of the flames found their way down into the nearby mines, setting off a fire that is still burning underground to this day. And as for those seven stalwart residents, they will be the last: after each of them dies or finally moves away, their property is slated to revert to the government.
9. Lion City, China
Underneath the waters of China’s Thousand Island Lake (or Qiandao Lake) lies a city with more than two thousand years of history. Divers who visit the underwater ruins will see elaborate carvings and amazing statues adorning dozens of stunning temples, palaces, and other buildings from the ancient past. But in the 1950s, Maoist China was looking forward, not back, and what the future called for was a huge reservoir that would power a hydroelectric power plant. Thus the 220 square mile lake was created and the ancient Lion City was submerged, seeing sunlight for the last time in the late 1950s.
8. Pripyat, Ukraine
It all changed for the city of Pripyat, Ukraine on April 26th, 1986. That was the day of the nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The city hadn’t had much of a long run before that fateful day, either: it was founded as a company town in early 1970. Nearly 50,000 people called Pripyat home during its brief heyday. It had more than a dozen schools, restaurants, movie theaters, and plenty of commerce. Then, in that awful April of ’86, the entire town was evacuated in less than 48 hours. Today the city is being reclaimed by nature and, even as it decays and fades into the landscape, is actually being visited by more and more people who are curious to visit the nuclear ghost town. But they only stay for an hour or two to avoid too much radioactive contamination, and never again will the city see real life.
7. Rindoon, Ireland
The abandoned medieval town of Rindoon, in County Roscommon, Ireland, has the dubious distinction of having remained abandoned for more than seven hundred years. It was established sometime between the years 1200 and 1250, with a once formidable castle built in the same era serving as its centerpiece. The town thrived as a trading post thanks to its location on the River Shannon, but was repeatedly attacked and sacked during the Gaelic resurgence against the Normans in the early 1300s. Once abandoned some seven hundred years ago, the town would never again be permanently occupied.
6. Poveglia, Italy
If you want to visit a ghost town with a profoundly creepy history, the little island of Poveglia, near the famed city of Venice, is a good place to go. The island was settled by people fleeing barbarian invasions in the early 5th Century, about the time the Western Roman Empire was falling apart. It was inhabited continually until a devastating Genoese attack against greater Venice in 1379. In the 1600s, the Venetian government built a series of forts on the island which was subsequently used both for defense and for customs inspections. But when several cases of bubonic plague broke out on ships moored there, the island was instead converted into a quarantine location for those sick with plague. In the 1920s, after many decades of renewed disuse, an insane asylum was constructed on Poveglia. This facility was closed in the late 1960s, and the island settlement has since been abandoned, save for a reported host of restless spirits.
5. Martinsthorpe, England
Not only is the tiny village of Martinsthorpe totally abandoned and largely ruined beyond recognition, but in fact it is one of the very few civil parishes in England that has a population of zero. The population density of this 540 acre “town” is… nothing. Nil. While the area was continually inhabited for hundreds of years and was once part of the lands of the Earl of Nottingham, today there is but one building standing and remains of fallen walls marking a few other ruined buildings. You could drive through and never know people had ever been born, lived, and died there.
4. Craco, Italy
The hilltop location of the town of Craco in southern Italy was both its raison d’être and its undoing. The fortified settlement was built up over many centuries, with evidence of occupation dating back to the 8th Century BCE. But in the 20th Century, a series of natural disasters rocked the town. It was hit by a landslide in 1963, a flood in 1972, and an earthquake in 1980. After each calamity, the population shrank. After the quake, all the last residents left. Today the town is uninhabited but is frequently used for TV, photo, and film shoots.
3. Hashima Island, Japan
For a time, Hashima Island, off the coast of Japan, was the most densely populated place on earth. There were about 335 people living in every acre. Why? Because this island is only 18 acres in size and was home to 5,250 people, all of them employed by or the family of an employee of the Mitsubishi Corporation. Mitsubishi built up the island’s infrastructure and imported workers to exploit the massive coal deposits found there in the late 1800s. But by the mid 1970s, gas and oil production had far surpasses coal in terms of value and viability, and in 1975, the company had closed down the island, relocating everyone back to mainland Japan.
2. Potosi, Venezuela
The Venezuelan town of Potosi was emptied of its residents back in 1985 so that the area could be flooded, creating a reservoir to power a new hydroelectric dam. After the initial flooding, only the steeple of the town’s church as visible, but prolonged droughts in the first years of the 21st Century have caused the water level to drop significantly. Now much of the town is regularly visible again, and looks to be much older than it actually is due to the damage caused by several decades spent underwater.
1. Belchite, Spain
The town of Belchite, in Zaragoza, Spain, was founded in 1122 by a king named Alfonso the Battler. It survived through many centuries of tumult, including wars fought between Christians and Muslims, nearby action during the Napoleonic Peninsular War, and more. But the town was devastated in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War to such a degree that, following the combat, a new town of Belchite was constructed nearby. The ruins of the ancient city were left as a memorial to those lives lost and, perhaps, as a lesson to future generations.
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