When I was 12, my family decided that our vacation that year would be spent in Arizona. Determined to see as much of the state as we could in a week, I have general memories of cool resorts, really really good pancakes and of course the Grand Canyon. One spot in particular that left an impression was Jerome, or the “Largest Ghost Town in America.”
Since then, I’ve been fascinated by ghost towns. Some are more attraction-oriented, and others are perfect for history buffs, photographers or explorers. Whether you’re planning a long drive or quick trip out of town, here are some cool historical sites to bring some old-timey spook into your summer.
In 1881, the town of Calico was established by four silver prospectors. After a successful run of over 500 mines, decreasing silver prices led to it’s total abandonment only 26 years later. Thanks to restoration efforts and photo research from the founders of Knott’s Berry Farm, it was brought back as a tourist attraction in 1966. Now a regional park, Calico offers everything you’ll need to recreate a Wild West experience.
Go full prospector mode by taking a tour of an authentic silver mine, hitching a ride on a train, and panning for gold. Browse through the Lucy Lane Museum to get a better understanding of Calico’s history through authentic artifacts. Feeling daring? Try a nighttime ghost tour of the town, or even spend the night at a campsite. With all of this restored history, and actors in period-appropriate clothing walking around re-enacting gunfights, it might be easy to forget you’re not living the prospector life for real.
For those who want a more isolated (and potentially more creepy) ghost town experience near Boston, swing by Dogtown. Settled in 1693, Dogtown’s rocky location made it a poor choice for a town from the start. Road diversions and the end of the War of 1812 led to almost all families abandoning Dogtown, although it only saw about 100 families at the height of its population. After being occupied by squatters and the occasional stubborn resident (several of which were accused of witchcraft), the last resident was removed in 1893.
Now a heavily forested area, Dogtown is popular with outdoor enthusiasts ranging from hikers to cross-country skiers. Hunt for numbered boulders that mark the cellars of former residents, get inspired by Depression-era carved rocks with motivational phrases, or just go for a peaceful walk through the abandoned roads and trails.
One of the country’s best preserved ghost towns, Bodie seems to be literally frozen in time. Established in 1876 as a successful gold mining town, the population peaked at about 10,000 people, but a decline in the gold rush led to the eventual shutdown of all mines and post office in 1942.
After being declared a historic landmark in the 1960’s, Bodie has stayed in a state of “arrested decay,” and is open for the public to discover on their own. There are tours and a museum, but the lack of attractions lends to the authentic and deserted atmosphere. Chalkboards at the schoolhouse still have cursive writing on them, shelves are stocked with products, and family portraits still hang on the walls. It’s awesomely creepy, and a great way to get the most genuine feel of what life was like during the Gold Rush.
Batsto Village, NJ
Founded in 1776, Batsto Village operated a successful ironworks and forestry initiative, thanks to plentiful ore found in the area. After the declining iron industry and glassmaking projects bankrupted the town, a Philadelphia businessman attempting to revive Batsto in 1909, but it fell into the state’s control after his death. The last resident was shuttled out in 1989, but the Post Office and local church still function to this day.
Nowadays, Batsto has been carefully restored into a popular destination for history buffs. Pretend you’re an old-timey Batsto citizen by touring the general store, old ice house, sawmill, and blacksmith shop. Take a walk through the awesome looking Addams Family-esque mansion, drop by the gift shop, or just walk around the grounds. And if you want to plan a group activity, check out their star watches, hiking excursions, and war reenactments. For a ghost town, Batsto has a pretty good social life.
Frick’s Lock, PA
This modern-day Pennsylvania ghost town is still overshadowed by the nuclear plant that caused its downfall. Established in the mid-18th century, Frick’s Lock thrived due to the creation of a canal nearby in the 1820’s. After the railroad made canal travel obsolete, it was filled in the 1940’s. This combined with the fact that the land surrounding Frick’s Lock was purchased by a nearby nuclear power facility, all residents were vacated during the 1970’s.
After extensive preservation efforts that got Frick’s Lock on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s now open for educational tours. Hear firsthand oral histories of the town, get up close and personal with historic and decrepit buildings, and take some cool photos of modern-day decay.
And although this is a really popular hotspot for ghost hunters, make sure you have permission from the town to be there! Nothing ruins an adventure faster than a citation for trespassing.
Looking for something a little on the scarier side? Spend the day in happy little Helltown. Founded as Boston Village in 1806, this little town was known as the oldest village in Summit County, Ohio. After it was bought out to became a national park in the 1970’s, most of the residents were evicted from their homes. It was a forced evacuation by the government, and many families abandoned their possessions and angrily left.
Unfortunately, Boston Village was never converted into a park, and was left to decay. Nicknamed “Helltown,” it’s now host to many scary stories and urban legends, from excessive hauntings and cursed school buses to giant wandering snakes. While none of these have been proven true, it definitely adds to the town’s creepy appeal.
So explore the cemetery, walk down the “End of the World” road, peek at the slaughterhouse, and take some great photos of abandoned buildings. Even if you don’t stumble upon any ghosts, it’s hard to beat a story that starts with “so I visited a place called Helltown the other day.”
And of course, I had to end this with a nod to my first ghost town experience! From 1876 until the early 1950’s, Jerome was a hugely successful copper mining boom town. Despite four fires and a seedy part of the population earning the title “the wickedest town in the West,” Jerome made a ton of money in the mining business. The decline of the copper market (combined with the literal decline of the town due to erosion problems) meant the end for Jerome. But after getting on the historic registry in the 1960’s, it’s seen a solid resurgence.
From authentic mine tours to a night spent in a haunted hotel, Jerome is a great tourist destination for a reason. Stand inside a sliding jailhouse, dig through history at a former brothel turned museum, or take a haunted and exclusive tour of the town. The Liberty Theater is home to a quirky gift shop, an old-school cinema museum, and still-functioning movie theater from the 1900’s. The theater has remained unchanged since it’s inception in the early 1900’s, and carefully preserved with authentic artifacts.
Even if you decide to just snap some great elevated shots of the town, it’s nice to take a trip back to the past for the day.
We hope these ghost towns have inspired some road trips this season! Do you know of any other abandoned destinations in your area worth checking out? Let us know in the comments!