Category Archives: Ghost towns

Melcenia Fields; the Hermit of Beury

When Melcenia Fields failed to retrieve her groceries, railroad workers knew something was wrong. Fields, inexplicably to all but herself, lived in the ruins of Beury, WV, one of dozens of company towns in the New River Gorge that residents completely abandoned when the adjacent coal seams were mined out. Fields lived there alone for … Continue reading

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Laurel Run, Pennsylvania; Fire beneath the Mountain

A fire smolders in an abandoned coal mine deep underground. Gases seep to the surface through fissures in the earth. A blue-collar Pennsylvania town vaporizes, chased away by the blaze. But this is not Centralia, where subterranean seams of anthracite have been burning since 1962. No, this is Laurel Run, a town done in by a … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Mines | 9 Comments

Buffalo Springs; The Nectar of Eden

To hear William Byrd II tell it, these springs made wet dreams, allowing his exploring party’s “appetites to mend, our slumbers to sweeten, the stream of life to run cool and peaceably in veins, and if ever we dreamt of women, they were kind.” The water, Byrd said, was “what Adam drank in Paradise.” What … Continue reading

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James River Steam Brewery Cellars; Underground Richmond Rediscovered

Great things have been accomplished in pursuit of drink. The Pilgrims made an early exit from the Mayflower because their beer was running low. New England may be the most prominent example of landmarks that exist because of the need for strong drink, yet there are other extraordinary rock piles carved into the landscape because … Continue reading

Posted in Earthworks, Ghost towns, Legends, Military | 2 Comments

Shaker Communities; The Remnants of Kingdom Come

Three remain. Not three villages, but three people. That’s of thousands who once counted themselves among the believers, scattered in two dozen communities from the Deep South to New England to the Midwest. Now just two women and a man–the last of the Shakers–live at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. If you’re still a good stretch … Continue reading

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Fort Hancock; Coastal Defense Through the Nuclear Age

I’m often asked for tips by folks who want to find and explore abandoned history, and the discussion always circles around to trespassing. “Do you ever ignore ‘No Trespassing’ signs?” they ask. My answer? No. There’s no reason to, especially when there’s so much to see on public property nearby major cities. For instance, few … Continue reading

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The Smallpox Hospital, or, Renwick Ruin; An Abandoned Symbol of How Far We’ve Come

New York City has its share of abandoned history, but none quite like the Renwick Ruin on Roosevelt Island. With its Gothic facade, the Smallpox Hospital, as it was once known, looks like some forsaken castle lost in time, better suited for the rolling terrain of rural Europe. Indeed, the Renwick Ruin does represent another … Continue reading

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Aiden Lair; The First Stop in a Remarkable Presidency

Teddy Roosevelt slept here. Or might have were he not the home-schooled, mountain-climbing, really-big-game-hunting, rough-riding-war-hero and boxer of a man he turned out to be. “Sleep when you die,” you can almost hear him bellowing. “I’m pressing on.” Despite that missed opportunity, Roosevelt’s arrival at Aiden Lair makes the lodge’s present condition all the more … Continue reading

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The Bethlehem Steel Plant; A Phoenix in Pennsylvania

Eight out of every ten New York City skyscrapers originated here, not to mention every bridge and tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. Wartime product was even grander: 1,127 World War II-era ships, as well as every 16-inch gun and 40% of American artillery shells used during both global wars. Despite helping to forge the … Continue reading

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Iron Furnaces in a National Forest; Deceptively Beautiful Ruins

Virginia’s iron industry was neither the first nor the largest in early America–those distinctions belong to Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But the demand for day-to-day items such as nails and barrel staves and, later, armaments for the Confederacy, meant that some hundred-plus stone furnaces once graced the Old Dominion. Most are long gone, their cut stone … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Industry, Mines | 2 Comments

Chapman’s Mill and the Traces of Energy’s Past

How many high-speed commuters drive by the towering shell of Chapman’s Mill—or any old mill, for that matter—and connect the crumbling ruins to the energy that allows them to zoom past? Not many, I’d wager. But as calls mount to make renewable sources a larger portion of our voracious energy diets, noble old ruins such … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Industry, Military | 8 Comments

Lost Drive-In Theaters in Maryland; The Vanished Pastime of a Generation

There’s a good chance that if you’re better than 40 years old, you have a vivid recollection or two from a drive-in movie theater. After all, more than 4,000 of them once peppered the American landscape. For Bob Mondello, National Public Radio’s film critic, the most potent memories are of the zany ploys he used … Continue reading

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The Shaw Monument; A Testament to Folly

A word to the wise: if you’re going to erect a monument to one of world history’s watershed moments, don’t do it like “Old John” Shaw did. Otherwise critics might similarly pan your work. “A monument crude and unsightly,” one observer said of his masterpiece. “A dishonor to beauty and art.” Another called it “an … Continue reading

Posted in Cemeteries, Ghost towns, Military | 2 Comments

Matildaville; A Town That Couldn’t Catch a Break

Go big or go home, right? That’s no doubt what Henry Lee III was thinking when he signed a 900-year lease on land near the Potomac River’s Great Falls. In the 1790s, old Light-Horse Harry had high hopes for the up-and-coming Matildaville, which had been named in honor of his late cousin-turned-first wife. He bought … Continue reading

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Prithee Go Not to the Abandoned Virginia Renaissance Faire

It’s a stretch to imagine that this country village was once animated with knights, maidens, minstrels and jesters. The music of penny whistles and steinfulls of ale made day and night merry. Now, fifteen years later, a ghost town is all that testifies to a short-lived effort to recreate Renaissance England in the Old Dominion. … Continue reading

Posted in Ghost towns, Legends | 26 Comments

St. Mary’s College and Chapel, or, Hell House; The Wages of Time and Mischief

St. Mary’s College and Chapel had a good run but, in the end, never had a prayer. The imposing structures were too big to survive disuse, the old grounds too perfect a milieu for mischief. Now all that’s left are scattered remnants and living proof that nature reclaims even the sturdiest foundations we build on … Continue reading

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A Keeper of Shenandoah National Park’s Forgotten Memories

The wreckage of a remote plane crash. An old carbide gas reservoir. A vanished gristmill. And lots of forgotten family burial plots. These are a few traces Sue Eisenfeld has teased from the wilderness of Shenandoah National Park. The physical changes wrought by humans’ hands will soon vanish from the landscape of one of the … Continue reading

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Port Tobacco and the Silt that Suffocated Chesapeake Communities

The fields that line the Chesapeake Bay’s back roads make for pretty scenery. Full of fruit in summer, fallow in winter, the farmland has that rustic, rural charm that attracts so many people to the countryside. For all its appeal, though, that landscape comes at a steep price. It smothered the life out of Port … Continue reading

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Dorchester’s Disappearing Middens; A Last Link to the Ancients

Firehawk sidles his kayak up to the reedy bank and hops out, shells crunching underfoot. I would’ve never found this spot hidden among endless flats of phragmites, but he knows exactly where it is. He comes here occasionally, paying a sort of tribute to a migration his ancestors made countless times. It’s their trash we’ve … Continue reading

Posted in Bay Islands, Earthworks, Food, Ghost towns, Indians | 1 Comment

The Goose Creek Canal; Craftsmanship that Outlived Failure

Tucked in the snaking suburban streets of Loudoun County, Virginia are the remnants of a construction project gone wrong. This isn’t some formerly up-and-coming neighborhood that fell victim to the housing bust. This failure is a hundred-fifty years old. Look deep into the heart of these ruins, though, and you can sense the pulse of … Continue reading

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