Ghost Towns of America

Independence, Colorado

By: Grainne Rhuad

I love ghost towns.  They are amongst my favorite places to stop off on any trip.  Full of history and stories, both told, untold and muffled.  Or imagined, however you chose to look at it.

I can remember one summer, when we stopped at the ghost town of Independence.  Once the highest town in America.  Independence, sitting atop the continental divide in Colorado.  Or should I say slumping, as it was gradually sliding down the steep mountainside and likely had been since its inception.

Human beings aren’t meant to live at such elevations and the town was only there due to Silver.  Once the silver mine there played out, it disappeared leaving only foundations and a few shacks.

I sat there that summer in the chilly sun, while my small ones scrambled in and out of the doorways pretending they were pioneer children.  I sat in the grass that never grew tall smelling wildflowers huddled close to the ground that smelled sweet but could not last and dreamed stories of women beleaguered by chores at such an elevation.  Women who in my mind begged their husbands to move to the lower elevations where life would be easier if only because it were easier to breathe.  Women who dreamed of going to Denver where perhaps they could wash their laundry at a mile high and hang it without losing their breath rather than take half a day with it as it surely did at five miles high.

It was an impossible town and so lasted only a scant amount of years.  It had likely few stories.

There are other towns with more stories.  Like the gold rush town I lived in when I was little; Columbia, California, which is still there as a working and living town.  Gold is still in those hills but it’s also a tourist town.  When I was little we received free rent for our cabin if we dressed up during the day in period dress and my mum hung her laundry out front for the tourist to look at.  They watched us and pointed from the stage coach during the day.  The same coach we caught rides on in the evening as it went through the back of the town to the barn.  We stared at them too, the visitors.  I was only four but it seemed strange to me that they would pay money to have their picture taken on the back of my mule Mariah in town, which is how my family made money for the year we were there.

What I am wondering now is if we should expect to see more ghost towns in our country’s landscape.  Unsustainable towns that used to have what Politians like to call “main streets.” Mom and Pop shops and small individualized economies.  Like fishing towns on the coast, which surely will pass away with the infections of the sea and our fear of heavy metals and nuclear fish or farming communities that can no longer exist due to wall street tycoons buying up farms over the last 20 years as they saw the crash coming before we did.

With coal mining raging unchecked and polluting water to the point where it is undrinkable, unusable even for irrigation in places like Blair, West Virginia, will these places become new ghost towns or Tatoine-like outposts with few people manning them while the rest of us pile up in cities?

21-peer reviewed study confirmed that people living near the mountaintop removal cites of Blair are 50 percent more likely to die of cancer and 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects compared with other communities in the Appalachia region.  Local communities near such projects have a 70 percent increased risk for developing kidney disease, and there are 313 excess deaths every year from coal-mining pollution.

While it is clear that government interests do not care about people as much as they do coal; as was made evident when the trial of the Spruce permit was derailed by a photo taken of a 5 year old bathing in polluted water; which was labeled porn and can no longer be found or seen. (Links to it have been broken pending pornography allegations); what is not clear is what if any plan is in place for the ultimate migration of people who will no longer be able to sustain life in these areas.

The landscape of our country is changing.  What will it end up looking like?  Cities overcrowded because we refuse to believe in global warming?  Even to the point of outlawing it in some states like Texas, Virginia and North Carolina.

Some people still believe in rural areas being the best places to be, but if we decimate our rural landscape to support our nation’s urban lifestyles what choice will be left to people other than to adapt to dwindling resources or move to the cities which will also eventually run out of resources.

The landscape of a country always changes.  Of course going home to our hometowns after leaving makes them look and feel smaller, different.  However we may be sending off the first generation that will bring their children to a museum, a ghost town of their hometowns.  The quickness and cavalier attitude with which we are depleting our resources and ability to live in areas is frightening.

And it makes me remember Independence, Colorado which sprang up and disappeared within 11 years.  It makes me wonder who will be sitting on my foundations making up stories…It might be me.

8 Comments on “Ghost Towns of America”

  1. You don’t have to go far to see ghost-towns in lower elevations.

    Thanks to the insanity-passing-for-domestic-policy of the last thirty years, large parts of Detroit, Flint, and other RustBelt towns are now empty. The city councils are debating whether to bulldoze them all and make parks, or ‘relocate’ homeless people in them.

    Nope – we’re not going to have to go far to find ghost towns in the near future…

  2. Great article. Got me thinking of all of the ghost towns/cities government policies have created. Chernobal and Fukashima, Flint MI as mentioned by WD Noble as well as cities in Libya, Iraq and Syria. Spooky to think about these current waistlands.

  3. Considering how a population crash is coming in the near future, ghost towns are going to become very common – like it or not a post-urban world is upon us…

  4. Exactly where do the cities expect to get food and water if they have polluted the landscape around them? Will it all be imported? What you would then have is an astronomical inability to afford even the simplest products. This would definitely trigger a population implosion as people begin dying on the streets from hunger.

    I do disagree with one thing. Some women like living in high altitudes just fine.

  5. Well, the high altitude life is just my imagining, but it is based on my inlaws experience. It is not easy nor for everyone. They live in Alma,Co. Which is about 11,000 ft. and is not as high as independence was. My mother inlaw is literally purple from lack of oxygen.

  6. what a wonderful remembrance … so much that we hold as special and close is changing .. I wonder if the next few generations will even know what nostalgia is .. will anything ever be simple again .. and carefree and dear ?? Government is no longer loyal to the population .. workers no longer tied to any job .. people no longer face to face .. is technology is the reason or a shift in what is basic and important and necessary to feel secure and fulfilled …… I’m reading 1984 right now … it scares me how familiar it seems …

    I want to visit Independence and sit where you sat .. and wonder about it all … in a place that was ….. once upon a time ….. thanks !!

  7. I think we will always know what nostalgia is. Because we ever complicate our lives with our desires and wants. I also don’t believe anything was ever carefree or simple. That is our defenses kicking in and mis-remembering.

    What scares me is the fact that we are probably a little bit past 1984 in terms of big brother and all that.

    We will always have “once upon a time.” It may just come faster.

  8. Fabulous article, Grainne! I recalled some small cities like Everett Washington, where companies like Weyerhauser Lumber went bust long ago. I was recalling the boarded up stores while reading your article. But then, I look around L.A. and see entire sections boarded up, knowing this city isn’t becoming a ghost town any time soon.

    I also though about cities like Detroit, as someone else mentioned. And the idea that so many homes in these cities can’t be sold and are being bulldozed as our homeless population grows. None of it makes any sense.

    As for produce, I have long decided that for my family it would be wise to begin container gardening to ensure there is some access to produce when other factors limit access. I’m growing a liking these days for self supportive methods that keep me free of dependence on capitalist markets and greedy elitists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.