The Most Chilling Abandoned Places In America
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BY TAYLOR ROCK/UPDATED: NOV. 3, 2022 10:49 AM EST
Throughout history, people have built structures and then ceremoniously opened the doors of their new factory, hospital, prison, asylum, military fort or home. These buildings flourished with life inside them — families, patients, workers, soldiers and vacationers. But then at some point, everyone walked out and never came back.
Deserted spaces are often demolished or revitalized, but some are simply left to ruin (and spooky spirits). From haunting mines and shadowy theaters to full-fledged ghost towns frozen in time, these are the most chilling abandoned places in America.
Atlanta Prison Farm (Atlanta, Georgia)
Georgia’s 400-acre Atlanta Prison Farm operated for more than 50 years before closing in 1995. It housed more than 700 criminals who helped maintain a working farm that produced dairy, livestock and canned vegetables. In October 2009, 14 years after the facility closed, the roof caught fire, and instead of extinguishing it, firemen let the blaze burn out. Today, the old correctional facility is damaged, decayed and covered with vines and graffiti. It’s quite a ghoulish sight, so it’s ill-advised to visit.
Salton Sea (Salton City, California)
The Salton Sea is a salty, shallow lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault in Salton City, California. The area was barren until the early 1900s until workers carved an irrigation canal to relieve the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley. The water flooded a dry lake bed and the “miracle in the desert” was born. By mid-century, it was a popular American tourist destination, attracting 1.5 million annually to resorts and beach homes. As time passed, agricultural runoff, lack of outflow and the lake’s increasing salinity rattled the ecosystem. Birds became ill, fish began to die and visitors took their pleasure elsewhere.
Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield, Ohio)
The Ohio State Reformatory is a historic prison in Mansfield, Ohio. Construction on the facility began around 1886 and, after much delay, it officially opened in 1896 before shuttering in 1990 on federal orders. One of its most famous inmates was Gates Brown, who served time for armed robbery and then went on to play for the Detroit Tigers from 1963 to 1975. Another athlete, Cleveland Browns running back Kevin Mack, served a month for a drug conviction. In its final years, the allegedly haunted reformatory was featured in many movies, including the 1994 drama “The Shawshank Redemption” and music videos for Godsmack and Lil Wayne.
Lake Shawnee Amusement Park (Rock, West Virginia)
Legend has it that this land in Rock, West Virginia, was once occupied by the Clay family, whose children were kidnapped and murdered by Native Americans while the father, Mitchell Clay, was out hunting. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park opened in 1926 and was abandoned 40 years later after a young girl died on the swing set and a boy drowned in the pond. In 1985, Gaylord White, a former employee of the park, purchased the land with plans to reopen it, but those dreams were thwarted after human remains were found buried on the property. There were 13 skeletons in total, and most were children. White believes the premises to be haunted and says he’s seen the girl who met her fatal end after a truck backed into her on the swings.
City Hall Subway Station (New York, New York)
In 1904, New York City’s very first subway ride took off from City Hall Station, adjacent to the current Brooklyn Bridge stop in Manhattan. The platform and mezzanine were built to impress, featuring vaulted ceilings, profound tiling, skylights, stained glass and chandeliers. Unfortunately, the architecture wasn’t exactly fit for functionality as the curved track could only accommodate five train cars. Ridership grew and trains lengthened, so the service was discontinued on the last day of 1945. Today, the station is used as a turnaround for the 6 train.
Rhyolite (Rhyolite, Nevada)
Rhyolite, Nevada, was founded in 1904. By 1916, everyone who had lived there had gone. The draw was gold, and lots of it. Buildings sprung up everywhere — a school, stock exchange, hospital, newspaper, opera house, electric plants, stores, hotels and more — and one miner, Tom T. Kelly, built an entire house from 50,000 beer and liquor bottles. Life was good and the town was bustling, but when the financial panic of 1907 hit, Rhyolite began to flounder. The mine closed in 1911, and by 1920, the whole town up and left, leaving nothing but the skeletal remains of a once-flourishing mining town in the dust.
Fort Proctor (St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana)
Fort Proctor was built in the 1850s to help protect waterways toward New Orleans, but troops never employed the fort due to hurricane damage and the start of the Civil War. By the time the battle was over, military improvements deemed the structure obsolete and it was left in ruins. In the mid-1900s, it served as a hangout for teens in St. Bernard Parish, but now it’s only accessible by boat because Louisiana’s Lake Borgne crept up and swallowed it.
Old Car City (White, Georgia)
Old Car City was once a general store and dealership, but today it’s one of the world’s largest automobile graveyards. Located in White, Georgia, the 34-acre land is home to more than 4,000 vintage cars, trucks, vans and school buses covered in leaves and moss. According to the company that owns the lot, Elvis Presley’s last car (a 1977 Cadillac Seville) can be found there. Visitors can ogle at the colorful junkers for $20 per head or $30 if you intend on taking any photos.
Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The castle-like Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly operated from 1829 to 1971, and at the time of its completion, it was the most expensive public structure ever built in the U.S. For the first time in history, the “separate system” was put into effect, meaning that the prisoners were not allowed to interact with each other at any time. American gangster “Scarface” Al Capone and bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton both did time at the facility, as did Pep “The Cat-Murdering Dog,” an actual dog who was reportedly given a life sentence for allegedly killing the governor’s wife’s cat in 1924.
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