Definitions

ghost-town

Ghost town

A ghost town is a town or city that has been abandoned, usually because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as flood or war. The term is sometimes used in a depreciative sense to include areas where the current population is significantly less than it once was. It may be a partial ghost town such as Tonopah, Nevada, or a neighborhood where people no longer live (like Love Canal). A tourist ghost town has significant economic activity from tourism, such as Oatman, Arizona, or numerous sites in Egypt, but cannot sustain itself except by tourism.

A true ghost town is totally abandoned by regular inhabitants, such as Bodie, California, but tourists may visit it. A ghost town may be a site where little or nothing remains above the soil surface (e.g., Babylon оr Smeerenburg). Often a ghost town will still have significant art and architecture, e.g. Vijayanagara in India or Changan in China. Most large countries and regions contain locations that can be considered ghost towns.

Some ghost towns are tourist attractions, among them Kolmanskop and Elizabeth Bay, outside Lüderitz, Namibia. This is especially true of those that preserve interesting architecture. Visiting, writing about, and photographing ghost towns is a minor industry. Some ghost towns may be overgrown, difficult to access, and dangerous or illegal to visit.

Factors

Factors leading to abandonment of towns include depleted natural resources (as was the case of Smeerenburg and Grytviken), or natural resources such as water no longer being available; railways and motorways bypassing or no longer accessing the town (as was the case in many of the ghost towns along Ontario's historic Opeongo Line); economic activity shifting elsewhere; human intervention such as highway re-routing (as was the case with many towns located along U.S. Route 66, after motorists bypassed the towns on the faster moving I-44 and I-40); river re-routing (the Aral Sea being one example of this), and nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl. Significant fatality rates from epidemics have also produced ghost towns; for example, some places in eastern Arkansas were abandoned after near-total mortality (over 7,000 Arkansans died during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919). The Middle East has many ghost towns, created when the shifting of politics or fall of empires caused capital cities to be socially or economically non-viable, e.g., Ctesiphon.

Natural disasters can also create ghost towns. After being flooded more than 30 times since their town was founded in 1845, residents of Pattonsburg, Missouri had enough after two floods in 1993. With government help, the whole town was rebuilt three miles (5 km) away. Residents moved to New Pattonsburg, leaving the old Pattonsburg behind as a ghost town.

Due to improvements in scientific testing and warning procedures, ghost towns may also occasionally come into being due to an anticipated natural disaster — for example, the Canadian town of Lemieux, Ontario, Canada was abandoned in 1991 after soil testing revealed that the community was built on an unstable clay bed. Two years after the last building in Lemieux was demolished, a landslide swept part of the former townsite into the South Nation River.

Land contamination can also create a ghost town. This is what happened to Times Beach, a suburb of St. Louis whose residents were exposed to a high level of dioxins,. Centralia, Pennsylvania was abandoned by many people due to a dangerous underground coal fire. Since some residents chose to stay despite the dangers, it cannot be classified as a true ghost town.

Ghost towns may also be created when land is expropriated by a government and residents are required to relocate. An example was when NASA acquired land to build a rocket propulsion testing center. Construction of the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi required acquisition of a large buffer zone (approximately 34 square miles) because of the loud noise and potential dangers associated with testing huge rockets. Communities were abandoned and roads became overgrown by forest.

Construction of dams has produced ghost towns left underwater. Examples include the settlement of Loyston, Tennessee, inundated by the creation of Norris Lake. The town was reorganized and reconstructed on nearby higher ground. Other examples are The Lost Villages of Ontario, and the hamlets of Nether Hambleton and Middle Hambleton in Rutland, England, which were flooded to create Rutland Water, Europe's largest man-made reservoir, Mologa in Russia that was flooded by the creation of Rybinsk reservoir. Many ancient villages had to be abandoned during construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, leading to displacement of many rural people.

Revived ghost towns

A few ghost towns manage a second life, often due to heritage tourism propagating an economy able to support residents. Walhalla, Australia, for example, was a town deserted after its gold mine ceased operation. Owing to its accessibility and proximity to other attractive locations, Walhalla has had a recent surge in economy and population.

Alexandria, the second largest city of Egypt, was a flourishing city in the Ancient era, but declined during the Middle Ages. With only 150 residents in the early 19th century, it qualified as a ghost town. During the Modern period, it has grown to a city of 3.5 to 5 million inhabitants. In Algeria, many cities became hamlets after the end of Late Antiquity. They were revived with shifts in population during and after French colonization of Algeria. Oran, today the nation's second largest city with 1 million people, before colonization was a village of a few thousand people.

Ghost towns around the world

Americas

Argentina

Most 19th and 20th century European immigrants to Argentina settled in the cities, which offered jobs, education, and other opportunities that enabled newcomers to enter the middle class. Many also settled in the growing small towns along the expanding railway system. Since the 1930s, many rural workers have moved to the big cities.

The 1990s saw many rural towns become ghost towns when train services ceased and local products previously manufactured on a small scale were replaced by massive amounts of cheap imported goods. Some ghost towns near cities offer tourist attractions, especially during weekends.

Brazil

The small village of Caraíbas, in the municipality of Itacarambi, state of Minas Gerais, suffered an earthquake in the early morning of December 9, 2007. Measuring 4.9 degrees on the Richter scale, the earthquake was rare in Brazil. Located over a geological fault, the village (76 families) was evacuated and has been abandoned since then.

Canada

Ghost towns are seen in Northern Ontario, Central Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador (see outport) and in Quebec. Some of these were logging towns or dual mining and logging sites, often developed at the behest of the company. In British Columbia, they were predominantly mining towns and prospecting camps as well as canneries and, in one or two cases, large smelter and pulp mill towns.

British Columbia has more ghost towns than any other jurisdiction on the North American continent, with one estimate at the number of abandoned and semi-abandoned towns and localities upwards of 1500. Some ghost towns have revived their economies and populations due to historical and eco-tourism, such as Barkerville, once the largest town north of Kamloops, which is now a year-round Provincial Museum.

Chile

Most of the ghost towns in Chile had once been mining camps or lumber mills, such as the many saltpeter mining camps that prospered from the end of the Saltpeter War until the invention of synthetic saltpeter during the First World War. The ghost towns of Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works in the middle of the Atacama Desert were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2005. The copper mining camp of Sewell, high up in the Andes of Central Chile, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. Despite protection laws, this ghost town suffers "tourist looting."

Port Famine (Spanish: Puerto Hambre) is arguably Chile's oldest ghost town. It was founded in the Strait of Magellan in 1584 by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. Starvation and the cold climate killed all of the inhabitants. The English navigator, Sir Thomas Cavendish landed at the site in 1587. He found only ruins of the settlement, and renamed the place Port Famine.

Other lesser known ghost towns are located in the southern part of the Chilean Coast Range. They were once lumbermills where Fitzroya were cut down to make roof shingles, a typical element of Chilota architecture.

Guyana

Jonestown in Guyana became a ghost town because of the mass suicide of the Peoples Temple community that lived there.

Mexico

Real de Catorce was once a flourishing silver mining town in northern Mexico. Its dramatic landscapes and buildings have been used by Hollywood for movies such as The Mexican (2001) with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Recent efforts to adapt the town to tourism have created a mixture of ghost town and heritage tourist site adapted to visitors in search of interesting history in the country.

United States

There are many ghost towns, or semi-ghost towns (some of them unincorporated communities) in the American Great Plains, whose rural areas have lost a third of their population since 1920. Thousands of communities in the northern plains states like North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana became railroad ghost towns when a rail-line failed to materialize. Hundreds more were abandoned when the US Highway System replaced the railroads as America's favorite mode of travel. Ghost towns are common in mining or old mill town areas: Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota, and California in the western United States and West Virginia in the eastern USA. They can be observed as far south as Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. When the resources that had created an employment boom in these towns played out, eventually the businesses ceased to exist, and the people moved on to more productive areas. Sometimes a ghost town consists of many old abandoned buildings (like in Bodie, California), other times there are simply structures or foundations of former buildings (e.g., Graysonia, Arkansas). Even some of the earliest settlements in the US are or have been ghost towns, such as Jamestown, Virginia, the Zwaanendael Colony in Delaware and the famous Lost Colony in North Carolina.

Old mining camps that have lost most of their population at some stage of their history, such as St. Elmo, Colorado; Central City, Colorado; Aspen, Colorado; Virginia City, Montana; Marysville, Montana; Tombstone, Arizona; Deadwood, South Dakota; Park City, Utah; Crested Butte, Colorado; or Cripple Creek, Colorado, are sometimes included in the category, although they are active towns and cities today.

A recent attempt to declare an "Official Ghost Town" in California collapsed when the adherents of the town of Calico, in Southern California, and those of Bodie, in Northern California, could not come to an agreement as to which of their favorites was more deserving.

The ghost town of Medicine Mound in Hardeman County in West Texas is preserved through a museum operated there by Myna Potts. Medicine Mound consists of two buildings. The museum is in the former Hicks-Cobb General Store.

See Bill O'Neal, Ghost Towns of the American West (1995).

Antarctica

The oldest ghost town in Antarctica is located in Deception Island, where in 1906 a Norwegian-Chilean whaling company started using Whalers Bay as a base for a factory ship, the Gobernador Bories. Other whaling operations followed suit, and by 1914 there were 13 factory ships based there.

Antarctica also has many more-recently abandoned scientific and military bases, especially in the Antarctic Peninsula.

South Georgia

The Antarctic island of South Georgia used to have several thriving whaling settlements during the first half of the 20th century, with a combined population exceeding 2,000 in some years. These included Grytviken (operating 1904-64), Leith Harbour (1909-65), Ocean Harbour (1909-20), Husvik (1910-60), Stromness (1912-61) and Prince Olav Harbour (1917-34). The abandoned settlements have become increasingly dilapidated, and remain uninhabited nowadays except for the Museum curator's family at Grytviken. The jetty, the church, and dwelling and industrial buildings at Grytviken have recently been renovated by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, becoming a popular tourist destination. Some historical buildings in the other settlements are being restored too.

Oceania

Australia

Similar to the United States, Canada and other former frontier countries, most ghost towns in Australia were usually formed after the end of mining operations or the removal of railway services. They are spread throughout the country and are located in every state and territory. Some ghost towns in Australia include Cassilis in Victoria, Farina in the far north of South Australia, Newnes in New South Wales, and Goldsworthy, Cossack, Wittenoom in Western Australia. Ravenswood in north-eastern Queensland was a ghost town for many years, due to the declining gold rushes, but new gold discoveries in the area and improved mineral processing technologies, has boosted the economy of the area and revived the town.

Europe

In Europe, many villages were abandoned over the ages, for many different reasons.

Sometimes, wars and genocide end a town's life, and it is never resettled. This happened to the Swedish town Sjöstad, in Närke, in 1260, when the town's 700 merchants had crossed the ice of Lake Vättern and been cut down by the Danes. The Danes then proceeded to the town, ravaging and burning it. The town was never resettled. A farm named Skyrstad, ruins and a silver treasure which yielded 4000 coins are all that testify to its existence (see abandoned village). It also happened to the French village Oradour-sur-Glane in 1944. Natural disasters also play a role. For example, the erupting volcano of Vesuvius famously terminated Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy in AD 79.

In the United Kingdom, the once thriving farming village of Knaptoft in Leicestershire was depopulated due to the enclosure of the surrounding land for sheep pasture. The ruins of the former church still exist as a graveyard, with graves even occupying ground inside the ruins of the church. The villages of Imber on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and Tyneham near Dorset's historic Jurassic Coast, as well as several villages within the Stanford Battle Area in Norfolk, were evacuated by the British Army, and the abandoned buildings are now used for training exercises. The creation of reservoirs has led to the drowning of villages. These include Mardale Green in the English Lake District and two villages - Ashopton and Derwent - drowned by the Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire. Also in Wales the village of Capel Celyn was drowned to form Llyn Celyn, to provide water for Liverpool, and Llyn Clywedog drowned farmsteads and agricultural land to reduce flooding of the River Severn.

Industrialisation is another factor. For example, the village of Etzweiler in northwestern Germany was abandoned in the 1990s to make way for a coal (lignite) mine While Etzweiler disappeared in 2006, neighbouring Pesch and Holz have become near-deserted ghost towns by now (January 2008) and all that is left of Otzenrath are the remains of the village's church, where archeologists excavate remains of sacred buildings from medieval and potentially Roman times. Furthermore, parts of the motorway A44 have been removed and as the lignitemine continues to move west, parts of the A61 will follow before 2020 (with the A44 being rebuilt behind the mine).

Also in Belgium, several villages had to disappear to facilitate the expansion of the port of Antwerp, such as the former villages of Oosterweel, Oordam, Wilmarsdonk, Lillo and Oorderen. Soon, the village of Doel will follow suit.

Pyramiden (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, meaning "the pyramid", Russian: Пирамида) was a Russian settlement and coal mining community on the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. It was founded by Sweden in 1910, and sold to the Soviet Union in 1927. The settlement, with a one time population of 1,000 inhabitants, was abandoned in the late-1990s by its owner, the state-owned Soviet company Trust Artikugol, and is now a ghost town. There are no restrictions on visiting Pyramiden. However, visitors may not enter any buildings without permission, even if the doors are open. Most buildings are now locked. Pyramiden is accessible by boat or snowmobile. Guided tours are available (in Russian, Norwegian, and English).

The city of Prypiat and dozens of smaller settlements in northern Ukraine and southern Belarus were abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and turned into a closed alienation zone. The area has been largely untouched since then, and as such it functions as a large time capsule of the late Soviet era. There is an online photojournal of this area.

Several communities became ghost towns in Ireland in the latter half of the nineteenth century, particularly in the west of the country, due to a combination of the potato famine and economic decline brought on by the famine. These now consist primarily of knee high ruins of cottages. Notable ghost towns are on Achill Island and in the Burren area of county Clare. A more recent ghost town was created in the 1950s on Great Blasket island, where island life became unfeasible and the island was depopulated. The Island is only accessible to tourists in the summer months.

The Île aux Marins of the Saint-Pierre and Miquelon group of islands has been uninhabited since 1965.

In Finland, which is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, most people live in the biggest towns, and some villages near the Russian border and in Lapland are nearly abandoned.

While Athens, Greece, experienced severe decline after the end of the Byzantine Empire, it may never have been a ghost town, although it certainly came close, dwindling to some 3,000 or 4,000 people by the 19th century. It has since gone back to being a major city. Rome experienced similar declines, but it too hasn't been completely abandoned (one of its lowest estimated populations was 17,000 in 1347, down from more than a million in Imperial times ).

Hungary

Hundreds of villages were abandoned during the Ottoman wars in the Kingdom of Hungary in the 16-17th century. Many of them were never repopulated but generally they are not classified as ghost towns because few visible traces remained of them. Real ghost towns are rare in present-day Hungary, except the abandoned villages of Derenk (left in 1943) and Nagygéc (left in 1970). Due to the decrease of rural population beginning in the 1980s dozens of villages are now threatened with abandonment. The first village officially declared as "died out" was Gyűrűfű in the end of the 1970s but later it was repopulated as an eco-village. Sometimes depopulated villages were successfully saved as small rural resorts like Kán, Tornakápolna, Szanticska, Gorica and Révfalu.

Bulgaria

An increasing number of settlements in Bulgaria are becoming ghost towns as a result of the ongoing demographic decline of that country since the late 20th century. According to the 2001 census there were 138 uninhabited villages, estimated to have become over 150 by 2006. There are such ghost villages in 16 out of the 28 provinces of the country, more numerous in Gabrovo Province (57 in 2001), Veliko Tarnovo Province (34), Kardzhali, Blagoevgrad, Burgas, and Lovech Provinces. Some Bulgarian villages may avoid that fate thanks to immigration of settlers from abroad, mainly from the United Kingdom but also other EU countries, former Soviet republics, even Israel and Japan.

Czech Republic

There is a ghost-town town in Milovice, 30 km from the capital, Prague. Milovice consists of four parts and two of them, Milovice-Mladá and Milovice-Boží Dar, were occupied by Soviet soldiers and their families. These two parts were abandoned in 1990-1991 after the Velvet Revolution. The population was about 20,000. Nowadays, Mladá, the central part of Milovice, is being rebuilt and many young people live there. Boží Dar, as well as the nearby airport, is totally abandoned.

Poland

A Polish ghost town is Kłomino (near to Borne Sulinowo; Russian name - Gródek/Гродек) in the northwest part of the country. It was built for Soviet soldiers and their families. The population was about 5,000. It was completely abandoned in 1992 after the collapse of the USSR. Only a few families live there now, but there are plans to repopulate the city.

Ukraine

Prypiat is one of the biggest ghost towns today because at its peak, it had a population of over 50,000 residents; all have abandoned the town after the Chernobyl disaster. Prypiat was built to be the home for the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Unlike its neighboring town Chernobyl, Prypiat remains a ghost town and is completely empty.

Post-Soviet states

Apart from Prypiat, the majority of abandoned towns and settlements are located in northern Russia (Komi, Taymyr, Chukotka). They were deserted due to deindustrialisation and the economic crisis of the early 1990s. Other notable ghost towns are attributed to the post-Soviet conflicts. An example is Agdam, Azerbaijan. Semi-deserted towns are situated in Abkhazia, notably Tquarchal, Ochamchira, Gagra, the biggest being Sukhumi.

In European Russia, many villages have been depopulated since the 1940s.

Middle East

Following the 1974 events in Cyprus, the southern part of Famagusta, also known as Varosha/Maraş, was abandoned by its original inhabitants without being settled. While the problem is not resolved, Varosha/Maraş is a ghost town and a tourist attraction.

Turkey

Kayaköy in southwestern Turkey was inhabited by Anatolian Greeks, until 1923 when a population exchange was agreed by the Turkish and Greek governments which left the town as a site of empty houses and Greek churches.

Other

There are many ghost villages in Iran, Syria and Lebanon abandoned as a result of migration to major cities. Most of these towns are in ruins and a few serve as tourist attractions. In addition, the Syrian city of Quneitra has become a ghost town after the 1967 Six Day War and subsequent Yom Kippur war in 1973.

Asia

Cambodia

The 12th-century temple of Angkor Wat apparently had a large settlement or settled area surrounding it between the 9th and 16th centuries AD. There are more modern ruins throughout the country, dating back to the years of civil war and the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970ies and 80ies, such as the former seaside resort of Kep near the vietnamese border or the ruins of the Bokor Hill Station in Kampot Province.

Pakistan

Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, two ancient cities in current day Pakistan, have such good quality bricks displaying the creativity of the ancient people, that they still stand to their original forms up to 75%.

India

In addition, numerous cities in India, such as Vijaynagar, Bhangarh, and others, have been known to have been destroyed or turned into ghost towns.

Japan

Hashima Island was a Japanese mining town from 1887 to 1974. Once known for having the world's highest population density (in 1959 at 83,500 people per square kilometer), the island was abandoned when the coal mines were closed down.

Africa

Angola

Ilha dos Tigres. This town lies in a zone which is ideally suited for ecologic projects. It was mentioned in the 'Unknown Africa-Angola' documentary

D.R. Congo

Goma. Goma is again a safe ghost-town now that the volcano eruption has passed. Still lies in ruins however.

Mali

Though not completely abandoned, Chinguetti could be considered a ghost town.

Morocco

In Morocco a significant archaeological site, Chellah, was inhabited successively by Phoenicians, Romans and native rulers: however, Chellah was almost totally abandoned and became a ghost town in the 13th century AD, when the ruling dynasty relocated to Fes; the site was resettled by the Merinid Dynasty within the next century and re-used as a necropolis and mosque.

Namibia

Outside Luderitz, Namibia there are two ghost towns, Elizabeth Bay and Kolmanskop. Both were diamond mining towns and have been partly covered by the shifting sands of the Namib Desert.

Tunisia

There is also the ancient city of Carthage, which was rendered a ghost town by the Romans, revived by the same empire, and then destroyed again a few centuries later, with Tunis becoming the central city. Suburban settlement later occurred in the Carthage area.

Ethiopia

Dallol is a former mining town in Ethiopia. It is located in the Dallol crater, where the temperature can rise as high as 104 °Fahrenheit (40 °C). Therefore, it was the hottest inhabited place on Earth when people lived there.

Ivory Coast

Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast was the French Colonial capital of Ivory Coast until 1896, when it was abandoned by the French Colonial Government. Commercial activity gradually weakened until the city became a virtual ghost town in 1960, when the Ivory Coast became independent. Today the city has revived somewhat as a tourist and crafts center, but still has the aura of a ghost town, because large areas of the city, including some of its largest buildings, have been empty for decades.

Ghost towns in popular culture

Film

Video games

Music

See also

References

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