Our exploration of ghost towns and abandoned cities of the world has taken us to a diverse group of settlements deserted for a variety of reasons, from war and conflict to crime and failing economies. North America delivers further fascinating abandoned places, from familiar former mining towns and a city consumed by a modern day volcano, to an underground mine fire and a community usurped through localised environmental catastrophe.
Times Beach, Missouri, USA
(Image: Google Earth)
Founded in 1925, Times Beach, Missouri was evacuated less than 60 years later when it became the scene of the worst civilian exposure to dioxin in the United States. Plagued by dust problems, the city of Times Beach employed a local contractor to spray waste oil on unpaved roads to reduce dust levels. Unbeknownst to them, some of the waste came from a facility producing Agent Orange for the Vietnam War and contained high levels of the toxic environmental pollutant dioxin. Panic gripped the town by 1982 with illness and animal deaths attributed to the toxin. The disaster was exacerbated by major flooding the same year, and the town was evacuated in 1985. The site of Times Beach is now Route 66 State Park.
Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA
The abandoned town of Centralia is arguably the United States’ most (in)famous modern ghost town. Once a thriving community whose amenities included five hotels, seven churches and 26 saloons, Centralia has been deserted since an underground mine fire ignited in 1962 – and still burns to this day. It is estimated that the blaze could take 250 years to die down, and while several abandoned buildings still stand, most have now been demolished. A time capsule sealed in 1966 is set to be re-opened in 2016. (More here.)
On July 18, 1995 the Georgian-era city of Plymouth was destroyed when the Soufriere Hills volcano, which had remained dormant throughout recorded history, rumbled to life in an eruption of epic proportions. As a result, this once pleasant capital of Montserrat, a British overseas territory in the Lesser Antilles, was buried beneath 12 metres of mud that rendered the southern half of the island unlivable. Half of Montserrat’s population was forced to flee abroad, while 19 people were killed in a further eruption in 1997. Northern Montserrat remains largely undisturbed by subsequent ash settlement, and despite the semi-visible abandoned cars and buildings of Plymouth, life on “The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” goes on. (More here.)
Real de Catorce, Mexico
Sitting on a mountainside 160 miles north of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, the once thriving mining town of Real de Catorce (meaning “Royal Fourteen”) was named after 14 Spanish soldiers killed in an ambush by Chichimec warriors. The town was officially founded in 1779 after gold was struck, and by its heyday in the late 19th century Real de Catorce was home to 15,000 people. It became a ghost town when the price of silver plummeted, but a reputedly miraculous image of St. Francis at the parish church helped draw pilgrims to the abandoned settlement. With a population 1,000, Real de Catorce is a shadow of its former self, but attracts tourists drawn by its mysterious spiritual energy. Several movies, including The Mexican and Bandidas, were filmed there.
L’Île-aux-Marins, Saint Pierre and Miquelon
L’Île-aux-Marins (“The Island of the Sailors”) is a tiny island located off the coast of the French territory Saint-Pierre and Miquelon near Newfoundland, Canada. The island, just 1,500 metres long by 400 metres wide, was settled in 1604 by a population that never exceeded 200. L’Île-aux-Marins (originally called Île-aux-Chiens, meaning “Island of the Dogs”) was annexed by the nearby commune of Saint-Pierre in 1945, and deserted 20 years later. The island remains home to a few hardy folk between May and November, retaining several unique buildings including a church, school (now a museum), cemetery, the Jézéquel house and a number of former fisherman’s cottages.
Barkerville, British Columbia, Canada
Founded around 1861, Barkerville, British Columbia was once the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Situated on the old Cariboo Wagon Road near the Cariboo Mountains, this gold rush settlement grew from a collection of cabins and tents into a boom town by the mid-1860s, home to around 5,000 people including a sizable Chinese community. At its peak, Barkerville boasted several general stores, boarding houses, a drugstore and a theatre. The town was destroyed by fire in 1868, with most of the buildings replaced within six weeks. But the end of the gold rush towards the turn of the century saw significant population decline, which led local businesses to fall into bankruptcy before Barkerville eventually became a ghost town. It has since been restored as a popular tourist attraction.