Ghost town  

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Roots of a Tetrameles nudiflora tree  at an abandoned temple in Cambodia
Roots of a Tetrameles nudiflora tree at an abandoned temple in Cambodia

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

A ghost town is a town that has been abandoned, usually because the economic activity that supported it has failed or because of natural or human-caused disasters such as war. The word is sometimes used in a deprecative 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, 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. 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, such as 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. Other ghost towns may be overgrown, difficult to access, and dangerous or illegal to visit.


Reasons for abandonment

Factors leading to abandonment of towns include depleted natural resources, economic activity shifting elsewhere, railroads and roads bypassing or no longer accessing the town, human intervention, disasters, massacres, wars, and the shifting of politics or fall of empires.

Depleted natural resources

Ghost towns may result when the single activity or resource that created a boomtown (e.g., nearby mine, mill or resort) is depleted or the resource economy undergoes a “bust” (e.g., catastrophic resource price collapse). Boomtowns can often decrease in size as fast as they initially grew. Sometimes, all or nearly the entire population can desert the town, resulting in a ghost town.

Economic activity shifting elsewhere

The dismantling of a boomtown can often occur on a planned basis. Mining companies nowadays will create a temporary community to service a mine-site, building all the accommodation shops and services, and then remove it as the resource is worked out.

Human intervention

Railroads and roads bypassing or no longer accessing a town can create a ghost town. This was the case in many of the ghost towns along Ontario's historic Opeongo Line, and along U.S. Route 66 after motorists bypassed the latter on the faster moving highways I-44 and I-40.

River re-routing is another factor, one example being the towns along the Aral Sea.

Ghost towns may be created when land is expropriated by a government and residents are required to relocate. An excellent example is the village of Tyneham in Dorset, England, acquired during World War II to build an artillery range. Another example is when NASA acquired land to build a rocket propulsion testing center. Construction of the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, U.S., 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 with forest flora.

Sometimes, the town might cease to officially exist, but the physical infrastructure remains. One example of this is the former town of Weston, Illinois, which voted itself out of existence and turned the land over for construction of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Many houses and even a few barns remain, used for housing visiting scientists and storing maintenance equipment, while roads that used to cross through the site have been blocked off at the edges of the property, with gatehouses or simply barricades to prevent unsupervised access.

Construction of dams has produced ghost towns left underwater. Examples include the settlement of Loyston, Tennessee, U.S., inundated by the creation of Norris Dam. The town was reorganised and reconstructed on nearby higher ground. Other examples are The Lost Villages of Ontario, the hamlets of Nether Hambleton and Middle Hambleton in Rutland, England, which were flooded to create Rutland Water, Europe's largest man-made reservoirTemplate:Citation needed, and the villages of Ashopton and Derwent, England, flooded during the construction of the Ladybower Reservoir. Mologa in Russia 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. In the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, the town of Arenal was rebuilt to make room for the man-made Lake Arenal. The old town now lies submerged below the lake.


Significant fatality rates from epidemics have produced ghost towns. For example, some places in eastern Arkansas were abandoned after over 7,000 Arkansans died during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919.

Disasters, actual and anticipated

Natural and man-made disasters can create ghost towns. For example, 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 Template:Convert away. Centralia, Pennsylvania was abandoned in 1984 after a uncontainable mine fire began in 1962.

Ghost towns may also occasionally come into being due to an anticipated natural disaster – for example, the Canadian town of Lemieux, Ontario was abandoned in 1991 after soil testing revealed that the community was built on an unstable bed of Leda clay. Two years after the last building in Lemieux was demolished, a landslide swept part of the former town-site into the South Nation River.

The Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters created ghost towns in Ukrainian SSR and Japan, respectively.


Long-term contamination can 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.


The original village at Oradour-sur-Glane was destroyed on 10 June 1944, when 642 of its inhabitants, including women and children, were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company. A new village was built after the war on a nearby site and the original has been maintained as a memorial. The same applies for the Czech village Lidice.

Shifting politics and the fall of empires

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; for example, Ctesiphon.

See also

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ghost town" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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