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12 of the Most Mysterious Abandoned Buildings in America

Updated on October 24, 2018
Kosmo profile image

Archaeology is one of Kelley's great passions. He's read many books on the subject, as well as every issue of "Archaeology" since 1987.

Packard automotive plant (but that vehicle is not a Packard)
Packard automotive plant (but that vehicle is not a Packard)

The United States seems full of dilapidated, vacant buildings, beckoning you to enter, at your own risk

Old derelict buildings often have an eerie, haunted look, particularly when viewed at night, yet people like to explore them anyhow. Of course, some rundown buildings are too dangerous or toxic to enter, so most people shouldn’t visit them unless they have permission, take any necessary equipment and have paid the required admission and/or fees.

By the way, all of the buildings on this list still exist; none have been demolished and replaced with fast-food restaurants, nightclubs or houses. Simply be very careful going anywhere close to them, okay?

Please keep reading!

Skinwalker Ranch
Skinwalker Ranch

1. Skinwalker Ranch, Uintah Basin, Utah

According to legends of the Navajo Indians, some Navajo witches can shape-shift into animals, Bigfoot-like creatures or alien monsters; hence, they’re known as skinwalkers. Since the 1950s, Skinwalker Ranch, dubbed the Most Paranormal Place on Earth, has been the scene of numerous sightings of skinwalkers, as well as UFOs, cattle mutilations and poltergeist activity. Eventually purchased from the Sherman family, which lived there for years, the National Institute for Discovery Science studied phenomena at the ranch but didn’t find incontrovertible proof of anything alien or supernatural, and have since sold the property. Interestingly, Skinwalker Ranch seems similar to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado, another hot spot for UFO sightings, anomalous happenings and astonishing tales. Could these two places constitute a kind of Devil’s Triangle?

Bodie, California
Bodie, California

2. Bodie, California

About 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe, Bodie is situated above the tree line, some 8,379 feet in elevation in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Founded in 1876, Bodie was a Wild West boomtown where gold was discovered and mined until the early 1900s. At one time, Bodie had a population from 5,000 to 7,000 people and some 2,000 buildings dotted the grassy, hilly terrain. Certainly a place of note in this part of California back in the day, Bodie had a red light district, a China town, opium dens, 65 saloons and lots of shootouts, murders, stagecoach holdups and brawls. People lived there until about 1943, and thereafter anybody could go there and walk away with souvenirs. But Bodie is now a state park, so pay for admission and check it out.

St. Agnes Church
St. Agnes Church
Classroom at St. Agnes Church
Classroom at St. Agnes Church

3. St. Agnes Catholic Church and School, Detroit, Michigan

Built in the Gothic style in 1924, St. Agnes Church has certainly seen better days. Closed in 2006 because too few people came for services, it’s now a lonely, debris-strewn, graffiti-marred ruin in Detroit, Michigan, a city in a curious state of urban decay or revitalization. The area where St. Agnes Church was built, 7601 Rosa Parks Blvd., was struck with civil unrest beginning in the 1960s, which caused many buildings on the same block to be torched. Perhaps the church’s greatest claim to fame was in 1979 when Mother Teresa established a Missionaries of Charity convent there. At any rate, you’d think a House of the Lord would have a better fate! Maybe somebody will eventually renovate this very dusty but holy place.

Cell block in the Ohio State Reformatory
Cell block in the Ohio State Reformatory
Prisoner's cell
Prisoner's cell

4. Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio

Built in 1886, the Ohio State Reformatory was a historic prison operating until 1990, when it was closed by federal court order. When involved in the prison business, the facility held about 150 prisoners. Over the decades, over 200 hundred people died at the prison, including two guards who perished during escapes. Because so many people have died at the prison, paranormal investigators on the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters program have visited this gloomy place, their video cameras and sensors whirring. Numerous TV shows, music videos and movies have been filmed at the prison as well, including the movie, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Of course, it has the reputation as being haunted. Who would argue?

Pueblo Bonito and Great Kiva (foreground) at Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Bonito and Great Kiva (foreground) at Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Bonito in the foreground
Pueblo Bonito in the foreground

5. Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Found in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, Chaco Canyon was home to the Ancestral Puebloans, aka the Anasazi, from 900 to 1350 CE. Popularly known as the builders of spectacular cliff dwellings, the Anasazi built a series of Great Houses in Chaco Canyon, the largest of which is Pueblo Bonito (Spanish for beautiful town). But evidence of cannibalism has been found in the ruins of this lonely place and, while living here, the Anasazi priests may have abused their spiritual power, as legend has it, anyway. Now a well-maintained National Historical Park, Pueblo Bonito is located in a remote area with few permanent dwellings, so it must be a spooky, mystical place at night, particularly when the starry vault fills the void between its many imposing buildings.

Packard automotive plant
Packard automotive plant
Packard plant in the old days
Packard plant in the old days
1948 Packard (author's photo)
1948 Packard (author's photo)

6. Packard Automotive Plant, Detroit, Michigan

Built from 1903 to 1911, the Packard Automotive Plant produced luxury cars by Packard and the Studebaker-Packard Corporation until 1958. A poignant aspect of America’s Rust Belt, the plant was one of the largest automotive factories ever built; it had a floor area of 3.5 million square feet and covered 40 acres! Partially used as a storage facility until the late 1990s, it’s such a gigantic, spooky, mostly vacant place, that raves and techno parties were held here throughout the Nineties. And, since the last tenant, Chemical Processing, left in 2010, the Packard factory has become the scene of hobo opportunists, graffiti artists, paint ball enthusiasts, urban historians, junk auto operators, as well as movie and TV producers looking for a post-apocalyptic set. The site may be resurrected by some business enterprise in the near future, but until that time at least it’s being used in some fashion!

King Island
King Island
Close-up of buildings at King Island in the early 1900s
Close-up of buildings at King Island in the early 1900s

7. King Island, Alaska

Located 90 miles northwest of Nome, Alaska, in the Bering Sea, King Island, a steep, rocky place about one-mile long, would certainly be one of the most dangerous places to visit on this list, because all of the buildings on this island were built on stilts! Just walking anywhere near these ramshackle wooden structures would probably be hazardous to one’s health. Inhabited by the Inuit since the 1880s, though gradually abandoned by the 1980s, because the school was moved to the mainland, King Island was the home to Native Alaskans engaged in hunting, gathering and fishing. One thing seems certain about King Island, this would be a very bad place to be during a violent storm or an earthquake, when those rickety wooden houses could collapse upon people’s heads!

The Domes
The Domes

8. The Domes, Casa Grande, Arizona

Built to hold a circuit board factory in the early 1980s but was never completed, The Domes were then abandoned to the ferocious desert heat. These curious buildings, flying saucer or caterpillar shaped, resemble something left over from the filming of a science-fiction movie in the 1950s. Local folks warn visitors that devil-worshipping, demonic conjuring and witchcraft may have taken place inside these mysterious structures - so don’t hang around too long or you’ll be sorry! From the look of these unusual buildings, you’d think party hardy folks would come here and stay all night, while recording the fun, as some YouTube videos can attest. Rave, anyone? Or is it just too spooky at night around here? This place also has its share of rattlesnakes and other desert varmints, so watch where you put your hands and feet!

Salton Riviera
Salton Riviera

9. Salton Riviera, Salton Sea, California

The Salton Riviera has been likened to a post-apocalyptic dead zone. It was founded along the Salton Sea, which formed in 1905, when water from the Colorado River was accidentally leaked into the Salton Sink. The resorts of the Salton Riviera developed around the shore of the Salton Sea in the 1950s, and over $4 million in lots were sold to movie stars and other celebrities. But, since the sea has no outlet, its waters have become so salty few fish can live in it. Consequently, tourism declined in the 1970s and everybody moved out by the end of the 1990s. Now the Salton Riviera is a decaying, desiccated, salt-encrusted, smelly ghost town. And the water of the Salton Sea has become saltier than the Pacific Ocean; it’s also contaminated with mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals. Nevertheless, it can be educational to see how dreams can turn to dust if you hang around too long in a desert oasis.

Garnet, Montana
Garnet, Montana
Miners' cabins at Garnet
Miners' cabins at Garnet

10. Garnet, Granite County, Montana

A boom town that eventually went bust, Garnet Ghost Town, located about 20 miles west of Missoula, was founded in the 1860s, when gold was discovered in the surrounding mountains. This strike became known as the Garnet Lode. By 1898, Garnet had about 1,200 residents, and perhaps its greatest attraction, other than gold, of course, was its many saloons and perhaps a brothel or two. Around 1905, the gold played out and folks abandoned the town, though years later miners returned as gold prices spiked in the 1930s. These days, tourists can visit Garnet, a place of many intriguing wooden structures and rusty mining equipment and, if you visit the Wells Hotel or Kelly’s Saloon, you may hear a ghost or two, though no ghosts have actually been seen in this attraction of the American Old West. But maybe you can see one or two!

Tillamook Lighthouse
Tillamook Lighthouse
Long shot of the lighthouse
Long shot of the lighthouse

11. Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Oregon

This gloomy, forbidding rock juts above the water line about a mile from the Pacific Coast, near the mouth of the Columbia River. It took over 500 days to build the lighthouse, because the building conditions were so dangerous on this tiny island. Tragically, shortly before the lighthouse was first lit in 1881, the Lupatia, a barque, foundered on a nearby rock and sank, killing 16 crew members; only the crew’s dog survived. Also, about that time, a surveyor was swept from the island by a wave and drowned. Because of the furious weather conditions at the lighthouse, it was nicknamed “Terrible Tilly.” The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1957 and then became a columbarium until 1999. Now it’s privately owned. It seems safe to suggest that this sea-battered rock, which has seen so much death, may be one of the spookiest places on America’s West Coast.

All-Tech Steel Company
All-Tech Steel Company
Interior shot at All-Tech
Interior shot at All-Tech

12. All-Tech Specialty Steel Company, Watervliet, New York

Derelict steel factories definitely have an eerie look to them, and since producing steel is a dirty business, many, if not all, of America’s existing steel mills may be toxic waste sites in need of remediation. Now an EPA Class 2 Superfund site, the All-Tech steel factory, which ceased operations in 2002, should have been cleaned up by now and its buildings demolished, but investigations, cost overruns and litigation have made progress a painstakingly slow process. Tests show that the ground and water near and under the steel factory are contaminated with arsenic, PCBs, mercury, lead and other heavy metals. This place is so toxic, if a fire breaks out, the firemen have been instructed not to endanger themselves by fighting the fire. So don’t come visit this place unless you’re wearing a hazmat suit. It is truly a no-man’s land!

As of February 2014, there were 1,322 Superfund sites in the United States and its territories.

Please leave a comment.

© 2018 Kelley Marks

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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 weeks ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Peggy Woods. I really liked doing this hub. When I can, I hope to add to this list. I wanted it to have 20 or more on it, but I kept discovering that the buildings has been demolished and replaced with something much more recent and safe, like a Taco Bell or something. Later!...

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      Amazing places you have featured here. That church was undoubtedly very beautiful before it declined into a ruin. The setting of those abandoned miner's log cabins is beautiful! The lighthouse turned into columbarium but now privately owned...I wonder what happened to all the urns that were once placed there? As to all of the Superfund sites in the U.S., that is pretty sad that there are so many of them!

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