For me there’s something sad and mysterious about abandoned buildings and towns. Something that seems to draw me to them, as if staring at the old facades and overgrown structures will teach me something about humanity or nature. Although we all dream about visiting places like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat because they’re far away and as mysterious as we believe them to be, there are also a number of abandoned places here in the U.S.A. that are equally as mysterious and interesting. And I plan to cover a few of them in my next few blog posts.
As the first state capital of Alabama, it somehow seems fitting that this once important locale is now an archaeological site with a reputation for being haunted. Built at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers just after the state was created in 1819, the new capital soon garnered a reputation for being both unsafe and unhealthy thanks to flooding and disease. When the legislature moved, Cahaba reinvented itself into a harbor town and thrived thanks to a bustling cotton trade. After the civil war hit and the union blockade shut down the cotton trade, Cahaba was forced to reinvent itself once again, and would eventually become home to a military prison that would hold soldiers until the end of the Civil war. In 1865 the town was hit with a massive flood, and would gradually be taken back by nature until it was unincorporated in 1989. Today, the park is open daily (unless otherwise stated) for guided or self-guided tours by foot, vehicle, or bicycle for a small fee.
This national historic landmark might be the best remaining example of early 20th century mining, but is mostly visited by tourists because of its iconic and imposing red buildings, and the breathtaking backdrop of mountains and lush green landscape that surrounds it. Built by the Kennecott Mining Corporation around the turn of the century, this remote mining town was a thriving metropolis of activity thanks to higher than average wages, and the push for coast to coast railroad lines during the industrial revolution. Although the mining company would go on to expand their business in various corners of the world, Kennecott was completely depleted of its copper ore by 1938 and the town was subsequently abandoned. Open from May to September for tourism, take the guided tour if it’s available, so you can see the inside of the buildings along with the open streets available to anyone wanting to visit.
The town of Courtland was founded in 1909 after copper was found nearby. It didn’t take long for the town to grow once multiple mining companies set up shop, and soon this tiny dot on a map would become a town of 2,000 with two railroads, a Wells Fargo station, school-house, and post office among many other thriving businesses. Despite the promise of a “mother-lode” of copper in the area, the mines began to run out by the time 1917 rolled around, and when the final mining company closed its doors in 1920, the businesses and people soon followed suit. Today it’s hard to even consider Courtland a town. With nothing more than a few partially intact buildings and the scattered ruins of thriving businesses and homes that have been taken back by nature, it looks a bit more like something out of an apocalyptic movie starring desert plant life. Since the town in part of the famous “Ghost Town Trail” beginning in Tombstone, it’s location is easy to find, and open for anyone willing to visit.
Gleeson (Turquoise), Arizona
Originally inhabited by Native Americans, this small town was named turquoise after the semi-precious stones found in the area. When miner John Gleeson began prospecting nearby and found large deposits of copper in 1900, this small mining camp was renamed and would grow to support a small community of miners who would occupy the town for the next 40 years. Although Gleeson technically still has residents today, most of them don’t inhabit the “old town”, and the remains of a saloon, hospital, jail, and a few houses are all that is left of what was once a flourishing mining camp. Like Courtland and many others in the area, Gleeson can be found on the famous “Ghost Town Trail”, and is easily accessible to tourists.
Aptly named for the gold ore found in the area in the late 1800’s, Goldfield is one of the most famous ghost towns in Arizona. At its height, it boasted 3 saloons, a post office, brewery, blacksmith, and many other buildings including a school. When the ground began to run out of gold just before the turn of the century, the miners began to leave, and the town would be mostly uninhabited until the 1920’s when new mining techniques gave the city a new life. Since history has a way of repeating itself no matter how hard we work, the towns revival would only last for another 5 years, and when the gold ran out the people left. When Robert F. “Bob” Schoose fell in love with Goldfield in the late 1960’s, he began purchasing all the land in the area, and recreating the once thriving ghost town with new buildings, tourists attractions, and an authentic feel. Although the town itself might not be the real Goldfield, the tourist attraction in its place will probably be an interesting way to spend an afternoon.