After I moved to Colorado and realized I now truly lived in "The West," I've spent time exploring this general region and have become increasingly fascinated with its culture, history, and people who made this area what it is today. A lot of that history includes what have now become "ghost towns," pale existences of their former glory.
* * * * *
From Thriving to AbandonedI don't know about you, but as a historical author, I am always fascinated by the existence and ability to visit the ghost towns of America. Like stepping into a house that was built hundreds of years ago, there's a story to be discovered.
Although every state has its share of ghost towns, I'm going to start with Kansas this month, then move around to other states in the coming months. I know I won't cover all 50 states, but I will highlight a few of my favorites.
Hundreds of towns in Kansas flourished for a few years then died for a variety of reasons or causes. It could have been something as simple as bad weather or depletion of minerals, or the lack of railroad construction and the unpredictability of local politics. This resulted in a lot of historic ghost towns spread throughout the state. Some still stand to this day.
Empire City, Kansas
The city was officially incorporated in June of 1877 and by the end of that summer, it had a population of over 3,000 people. Being close to Galena create a fuse of sorts, with each mining city trying to outshine the other. However, more lead deposits were soon discovered on the side of Galena than those found near Empire City.
By the mid-1880s, lead deposit around Empire City began to diminish and so did its population. The town’s population had reduced to a little over 1000 people in just a few years.
In the early 1900s, the mining around the city was almost gone and the people began to leave. In 1907, Empire City was made a suburb of Galena, and in 1913 the post office was closed down. Today, you can see a number of historic buildings still standing at the original site of Empire City.
By 1917, the town had a post office, many businesses, and was producing the highest quality lead, zinc, and iron in the county. At its peak, the town had over 1000 people.
By 1970, lead and zinc mining began to decline and so did the town's population. The post office was closed in 2004, and in 2011 the town was closed down by the government due to environmental impacts of lead poisoning. All the remaining people were evacuated in 2012, and today the site of the original town is now waiting for the environmental cleanup.
Does anyone else have that song from the movie, Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland, playing through their mind right now? (grins) But I digress.
Peter named the town Centennial City before the town borrowed his name. At its peak, the town had over 600 people, 4 churches, general stores, hotels, bars, brothels, a doctor, a judge, and many other small businesses.
The town was kept afloat by 2 strip mines nearby that provided resources to run the town. With no police, the town was rather chaotic, especially at night. The town began to decline in the early 1900s when cheaper coal was discovered in other places within the state, and finally the school was closed down in 1964.
With the end of coal mining, the town was taken over by farmers and ranchers, but tornados that ran through the town destroyed it. Today, it's a ghost town with little to show for its once vibrant life. Only a church, the original schoolmaster’s house, an old coal weighing foundation, and a few houses remain.
Elk Falls, Kansas
The town is also home to the National Register of Historic places’ Pratt Truss Bridge, which was constructed across the Elk River at a significant cost. Although less than 20% of its population remains, Elk Falls receives enough tourism and business to keep it running. It's considered one of the largest existing "ghost towns" because of how many residents still call it home.
The first legislature of the territory took place at the capital building, and the session lasted from July 2nd-6th. The majority of legislators were Missourians, fraudulently elected in an effort to make Kansas a slave state. They came in wagons, on horseback, well-armed, and camped out on the prairie. They were determined to legislate closer to home, so they voted in favor of Shawnee Mission.
When the state capital was moved, Pawnee's decline began almost immediately. Sadly, the town was destroyed by order of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Today, only the old capital building still stands, and that is now the Fort Riley Museum. It stood in ruin until 1928, when it was restored by the Union Pacific Railroad, which runs directly in front of it.
The city flourished during the heyday of cement production, and thanks to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, it got a passenger depot and spur lines.
Unfortunately, the town faced a great decline in the 1950s, and now only a handful of people remain. Most of the old structures in the city still remain, although they are unoccupied, as the majority of the businesses closed down when people began moving away. Sadly, they were never revived.
* * * * *
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN:
* Have you ever visited a "ghost town" anywhere in the US? If so, where is it?
* If you had lived in a town that showed signs of decreasing due to a significant exit of the population, what would make you stay?
* What was your favorite part about today's post?
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. On the side, she dabbles in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.
She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and LinkedIn