Ghost towns

A ghost town is a place where physical evidence remains to mark the site of a once-active human settlement which has been abandoned, leaving few or no inhabitants.

Old town of Craco, Italy

A few are archaeological sites where settlement existed in the distant historic past or are part of exclusion zones due to man-made or natural disasters. More commonly, ghost towns quietly appear when the reason for the town’s creation no longer exists. A mining town is abandoned once too little ore remains to be profitable, a railway town is abandoned once the train no longer stops, a manufacturing town is abandoned when its last factory closes. Occasionally a village can avoid becoming a ghost town by finding a new vocation to replace a dying industry, but this becomes substantially more difficult if the town site is far off the beaten path.

While some ghost towns have been partially restored and commercialised as tourist traps, many more are in remote or awkward locations where the abandoned buildings are left to be slowly reclaimed by the elements. While legal consequences for trespassing are improbable in many of these locations, the leave-no-trace principle remains vital so that subsequent travellers may view these sites without key pieces being damaged, removed or buried in rubbish.

Once no physical evidence remains, a settlement is typically removed from lists of ghost towns. Examples would include towns entirely flooded by hydroelectric development or wilfully demolished, if no traces remain of the former village.

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Plymouth, capital of Montserrat
  • Craco, Italy was abandoned in 1963 due to landslides and today is used as a cinematic filming location.
  • Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by volcanic activity, now archaeological sites.
  • Plymouth (Montserrat), nominally capital of Montserrat but inaccessible and buried under volcanic ash since 1996.
  • Brigham City, near Winslow (Arizona) USA, was an 1876 Mormon town abandoned in 1881 due to flash flooding; 37 buildings have been partially restored.
  • Saint-Jean-Vianney, Shipshaw (Québec), built on unstable Leda clay, was abandoned after a May 4, 1971 landslide swallowed 38 homes, killing 31. Its remaining homes were physically relocated to Arvida, leaving little at the site except a crater, a stone monument and some damaged road. In 1989-91, tiny Lemieux (Ontario) abandoned its Leda clay town site to avoid a similar fate, leaving behind just a marker and a local graveyard.
  • The original town of Poggioreale (nowadays known as Poggioreale Vecchia, Old Poggioreale) in the Trapani province in western Sicily was largely destroyed in the 1968 Belice earthquake. After the quake, a new Poggioreale was built at a location supposedly safer from future earthquakes about 4 km to the south, leaving the old one as a ghost town. Similarly, many other towns in the Belice Valley including Gibellina, Vita, Santa Margherita di Belice and Salaparuta were rebuilt at locations some distance away from the original towns.
Abandoned houses of Kayaköy, after a population exchange due to a treaty
  • Centralia (Pennsylvania), USA – demolished due to an underground mine fire, which was ignited in 1962 and has been burning ever since. As of 2012, eight residents and many empty streets remain.
  • Picher (Oklahoma), USA – lead-mining towns Picher, Treece and Cardin were already in the process of being abandoned due to lead contamination and mine shafts undermining the town site when an EF4 tornado swept in 2008, leaving a mile-wide swath of devastation which was never repaired. Many or most buildings have now been demolished; the last operating business, Gary Linderman’s Old Miner’s Pharmacy, closed in 2015.
  • Times Beach near St. Louis (Missouri) USA – demolished due to dioxin contamination and flooding, now Route 66 State Park. One building remains as the park’s visitor center, but is cut off from the rest of the park as the Route 66 highway bridge has deteriorated beyond use.
  • Wittenoom, Pilbara, Western Australia – Former asbestos mining town, contaminated with crocidolite asbestos dust and abandoned decades after the mine closed.

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