The California Gold Rush of 1848-1855 captured Americans’ imagination and led to several boomtowns throughout the Western U.S. But just as quickly as some of these towns grew, they were abandoned and became ghost towns.
With Halloween right around the corner, Garfield Refining researched America’s most famous gold rush ghost towns. These abandoned towns are not just in California, either – they are spread throughout the American West.
And, if you dare, you can visit many of these ghost towns. The towns attract tourists throughout the year to look at the ruins of the distant past.
Here are the top 3 most popular Gold Rush ghost towns in America:
Bodie, California, is perhaps the most popular Gold Rush ghost town in all of America. Bodie is registered as a National and California Historic Landmark, and the former boomtown attracts about 200,000 tourists annually.
Bodie was a bustling boomtown from 1877 to 1882 with a population of more than 10,000 people. Bodie produced about $35 million in gold and silver during its peak years. But by 1910, prospectors had moved on to other boomtowns, and Bodie’s population dwindled to just 698 residents.
The town was named a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s and turned into Bodie State Historic Park. In 2013, California named Bodie the state’s official Gold Rush ghost town.
Today, the Bodie site exists in a state of arrested decay. Visitors can walk around and view about 200 dilapidated wooden buildings, where bottles, desks, and other goods and relics from the old days remain.
Just make sure not to steal any of those relics. California residents know about “the Curse of Bodie,” which claims that bad luck will come upon you if you steal anything from the town.
St. Elmo, Colorado
St. Elmo is one of Colorado’s best-preserved Gold Rush ghost towns. And like Bodie, California, St. Elmo is also designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Founded in 1880, nearly 2,000 people settled in St. Elmo when gold and silver mining started there. The boomtown was in its heyday in the 1890s, featuring five hotels, saloons, a newspaper office, and a school.
By the 1920s, St. Elmo had seen better days. The mining business dried up, and the train service to the town was closed.
Although considered a ghost town, St. Elmo still has a few residents left today. The remaining structures in the town include a general store, which still operates May through October every year.
Like most ghost towns, there are legends about hauntings in St. Elmo. One famous story is about a former resident named Annabelle, an eccentric woman who roamed the town with a rifle to protect her property.
Virginia City, Montana
Virginia City, Montana, is another well-preserved Gold Rush ghost town that attracts numerous tourists every year. The town also has a tumultuous history.
A group of prospectors discovered gold on the journey to Yellowstone River in 1863 and set up a mining district. They tried to keep their discovery a secret, but word soon got out and flooded the land with prospectors.
For several chaotic years, Virginia City was symbolic of the Wild West. The boomtown had no law enforcement or justice system except the miners’ courts, leading to tremendous criminal activity. This chaos led to the formation of the infamous Montana Vigilantes to bring order to the lawless community.
Today, the Montana Heritage Commission runs the Historic District of Virginia City (and nearby ghost town Nevada City). The historic ghost town is open year-round and features everything from museums to restaurants.
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