Company Town Horror Stories

Gilman, Colorado

Gilman, Colorado by genericprofilename (CC BY-NC-ND)

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Gilman, Colorado
Gilman, Colorado by genericprofilename (CC BY-NC-ND)

Company Towns

The sad tale of a firetruck plant shutting down in Nesquehoning, Pennsylvania — taking hundreds of jobs and the town's identity with it — illustrates the painful truth of company towns: Being so closely entwined with a single employer poses a big risk. While some company towns such as Kohler, Wisconsin, and Hershey, Pennsylvania, still thrive, a majority either outlived the company that built them or went down with it when fortunes changed. While the residents of Nesquehoning have a strong labor market to fall back on, that's the exception, not the rule. The following are just a few of the cautionary tales from towns built during a long-gone gilded age. Know of others? Have tales of abandoned towns? Tell us in the comments.

Related: Eerie Abandoned Factories Across America

Empire, Nevada
Empire, Nevada by Alan Turkus (CC BY)

Empire, Nevada

Company: U.S. Gypsum

Miners first set up shop here in 1923, but the town didn't take off until 1948, when U.S. Gypsum bought all the mines and land rights. USG would become the nation's leading producer of sheet rock, while workers rented two-bedroom houses for $250 a month and got access to a church, pool, a nine-hole golf course, a light-duty airport, convenience store, gas station, movie theater, and several bars. The town was home to 750 people at its peak in the early 1960s, but was down to 217 just before U.S. Gypsum announced it was closing its Empire plant and eliminating 95 jobs in 2011. The entire town, which once served as the gateway to the Burning Man festival, was sold for more than $11 million in 2016 to Empire Mining, which ended the lease to the only grocery store in town in 2020, though they have since reopened as the Empire Country Market. The town made an appearance in the award-winning film "Nomadland."

Related: These Beloved Grocery Stores Are Gone Forever

Newry, South Carolina
Newry, South Carolina by Darkspots (CC BY)

Newry, South Carolina

Company: Abney Mills

If you're one of the fewer than 200 people who live here now, it's largely because a mill dating back to the 1890s finally got around to selling workers' homes to private owners in 1959. Newry once had as many as 85 homes for the workers at its textile plant, but the mill shut down in 1975. With large swaths of the town eliminated by a dam project and no mill remaining, Newry became frozen in time.

Related: Spooky Ghost Towns Across America

Saint Barbara's Catholic Church
Saint Barbara's Catholic Church by Renelibrary (CC BY-SA)

Thurber, Texas

Company: Texas and Pacific Coal Co.

There are fewer than 10 people in Thurber now, but between 1888 and 1921, it was the largest coal-producing town in Texas and had more than 10,000 people working within its limits. There's a reason why Texas is better known for oil than coal, though: When locomotives switched from coal to oil around 1920, coal prices fell and many miners left town completely. Today, the cemetery, a restored church, a model miner's house, a smokestack, a museum, and a restaurant with a view of the old town are the bulk of what remains.

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Playas Town Center
Playas Town Center by Steven Rowell (CC BY-SA)

Playas, New Mexico

Company: Phelps Dodge Corp.

Roughly 40 years ago, this town was built for a copper smelting operation that gave employees 270 rental homes, six apartment buildings, a post office, company store, medical clinic with heliport, a bowling alley, grill, a rodeo arena, horse stables, a fitness center, a shooting range, an airstrip, and a swimming pool. Just around 20 years ago, it was still producing copper. When copper prices tanked, the whole facility was closed down, though, and residents were booted out within a year. In the mid-2000s, New Mexico Tech bought the town with Homeland Security money and set up a security and counterterrorism training facility that turned its streets into foreign villages filled with actors running through simulations.

Madrid, NM
Madrid, NM by Cathy (CC BY-SA)

Madrid, New Mexico

Company: Albuquerque & Cerrillos Coal Co.

Today, it's a quaint little artists' community of about 200. In the late 1890s, coal and a convenient railroad spur made it a boomtown. As with most Southwest coal towns, however, that boom went bust when houses began ditching coal heat for oil and natural gas in the 1940s. The Albuquerque & Cerrillos Coal Co. stopped operating by 1954, and the colorful miners' cottages that remain now were sold to artists and artisans in the 1970s. Today, Madrid is a lightly populated tourist spot along the Turquoise Trail, but has only its Mineshaft Restaurant and Coal Mining Museum to remember its fleeting brush with industry.

Elcor, Minnesota
Elcor, Minnesota by DrGregMN (CC BY-SA)

Elcor, Minnesota

Company: Pickands Mather & Co.

Along the Mesabi Iron Range, it wasn't uncommon for a town to just cease existing once resources dried up. At the mouth of the Elba and Corsica mines, Elcor once housed nearly 1,000 people and had two churches, a post office, a general store, an elementary school, and its own police force. In 1954, it was determined that the mine's ore was no longer in demand and the mine was shut down. Workers were given two years to vacate (but could take their homes with them), and the last of the mine's smokestacks was torn down in 1976. In 1993, another mining company piled debris onto the town's former site, effectively giving it one final burial.

Related: Fascinating Places Where Tourists Aren't Welcome

Numa Iowa 1953 yearbook

Numa, Iowa

Company: Numa Block Coal Co.

This town has spent the better part of a century dying. Laid out in 1871, Numa was born as a mining town and supported two mines until 1937. It produced 100,000 tons of coal during that time, making it one of Iowa's top producers. While nearly 660 people lived here at its peak, roughly 90 call Numa home today.

Pu'unene, Hawaii
Pu'unene, Hawaii by Joel Bradshaw (CC BY)

Pu’unene, Hawaii

Company: Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.

As recently as 2016, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar employed 650 people at its plant. An increasingly globalized economy and a Maui home that values tourism more than sugar production helped shutter the plant for good, though. All that remains is a population of roughly 50 and a sugar museum.

Chisos Mining Co.

Terlingua, Texas

Company: Chisos Mining Co.

If you can mine cinnabar, you can extract mercury from it. During the mid-1880s, that's exactly what Terlingua did. About 110 people live there today, but visitors to Big Bend National Park have made Terlingua mostly a tourist destination for rafting, canoeing, mountain biking, camping, hiking, and motorcycling. The town population swells to more than 10,000 on the first Saturday of November for the Chili Appreciation Society International and the Frank X. Tolbert/Wick Fowler World Chili Championship.

Related: Once Popular Tourist Hotspots That Are Now Totally Abandoned

Buxton, Iowa
State Historical Society of Iowa

Buxton, Iowa

Company: Consolidation Coal Co.

After African-American workers were recruited by Iowa coal mine owners during labor strikes in the 1890s, Buxton became what was later considered a utopia. Black workers were in the majority, held leadership positions, and, in the words of Booker T. Washington, created a town that was "a success." By 1910, European and African-American workers were living and working together, and their children were attending integrated schools. The last of the mines closed in 1927, but former residents regularly met for reunions and its archeological site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ashdown by Don Burkett (CC BY-NC-ND)

Graysonia, Arkansas

Company: Arkadelphia Lumber Co.

Once home to the largest lumber mill in the South and 1,000 workers, Graysonia was plotted out by Arkadelphia Lumber Co. founder William Grayson in 1907. It had a firehouse, water reservoir, several hundred houses, a hillside restaurant, cafés, three hotels, movie theater, school, church, running water system, and electricity. The Great Depression wiped it out, though, and by 1951, the last resident left. A few structures and an old railroad trestle remain, but in woeful condition.

Related: Spectacular Trails That Used to Be Railroads

Haydenville, Ohio
Haydenville, Ohio by Rubbertoe (Robert Batina) (CC BY-NC-ND)

Haydenville, Ohio

Company: Haydenville Mining & Manufacturing

Founded in 1852 by Peter Hayden, who eventually built a brick factory there, this was a true company town. Haydenville owned the company stores and the worker housing, so all money flowed right back to the company. Fewer than 400 people still live in the glazed-brick homes, which were all added to the national register of historic places in 1973.

Marktown, Indiana
Marktown, Indiana by Nyttend (CC BY)

Marktown, Indiana

Company: Mark Manufacturing Co.

Built more than a century ago by industrialist Clayton Mark, who made steel and pressed it into pipes and tubes, Marktown was built to retain workers. The houses were made out of durable, fireproof brick, finished in stucco, and painted in bright pastels. They all had running water, coal-fed furnaces, and full basements. The 14,000 people who once worked at the Indiana Harbor Works next to Marktown are down to fewer than 5,000, though. Marktown's 200 houses were nearly plowed under for a highway project. Many have been left crumbling into disrepair during years of blight, and, more recently, some are being demolished for green space by the owners of a nearby refinery. A revitalization plan is in the works. 

The Last Remaining NC&StL Roundhouse
The Last Remaining NC&StL Roundhouse by Brent Moore (CC BY-NC)

Bruceton, Tennessee

Company: Henry I. Siegel

The Henry I. Siegel company used to make jeans and suits in three plants in this town, employing more people (1,700) than the town housed at its peak (1,600 in the 1980s). It laid off its final 55 workers here in 2000; the plants are empty and derelict; the bank is gone; two supermarkets are gone; the clothing store is gone; and a pharmacy simply hangs on. In 2005, Ohio-based Purity Foods moved here, but has since gone out of business.

The Colorado State Highway
The Colorado State Highway by Jeffrey Beall (CC BY-SA)

Segundo, Colorado

Company: Colorado Fuel and Iron

The story of coal is the story of dying towns. Segundo actually was in two places thanks to the position of various mines, but its last mining lifeline shut down in 1960. Today, the population has fallen below 100, and few people come here for activities other than hiking, wildlife viewing, and the wonders that are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and North Lake.

Livermore, New Hampshire
Livermore, New Hampshire by rickpilot_2000 (CC BY)

Livermore, New Hampshire

Company: Grafton County Lumber Co.

Lumber towns live fast and die young. Founded in the 1876 by a pair of lumber-baron brothers, Livermore suffered through mismanagement, fire, floods, storms, and deforestation until the last mill closed in 1926. The town's population dropped from nearly 200 in 1900 to 23 by 1930. By 1949, the last resident had left. Today, it's a thicket of brick ruins and overgrowth as the surrounding forest takes its revenge.

Scotia, California
Scotia, California by fritzcat (CC BY)

Scotia, California

Company: Pacific Lumber Co.

The Pacific Lumber Co. had a great run. It built this company town in 1880 and named it for the Nova Scotian lumberjacks who called it home. From the 1890s to the 1980s, Pacific Lumber was owned by the same family, maintained all of the town's housing, kept rent low, and gave residents presents during the holidays. But Pacific Lumber went bankrupt in 2008, and Scotia and its 270 homes, several churches, hotel, and a handful of commercial buildings became the property of a New York hedge fund. In 2011, the 800 residents voted for independence. In 2014, Scotia residents got the opportunity to buy their own homes and swear in their own government, and residents now hope a wind farm project might give the quaint town a jump-start. 

Kennecott, Alaska
Kennecott, Alaska by Sewtex (CC BY)

Kennecott, Alaska

Company: Kennecott Copper Mines

This whole town was declared a national landmark in 1986 largely because J. P. Morgan and Daniel Guggenheim's Alaska Syndicate had yanked all $200 million worth of copper ore out of its mine between 1911 and 1938. After the National Park Service acquired the property in 1998, it became a National Historic Landmark in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Though Theodore Roosevelt's administration argued against the mining and the mine town eventually dropped from a population of 500 to zero in roughly 20 years, at least U.S. vacationers and explorers got a fun bit of abandoned property out of it.

Toxic gas and smoke rising from the ground above the underground fire in 2006
Toxic gas and smoke rising from the ground above the underground fire in 2006 by Jrmski (CC BY-SA)

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Company: Lehigh Valley Coal Co.

During its coal-mining heyday in the late 1800s, Centralia had a population of around 2,700. An abandoned coal mine caught fire in 1962 and began boiling the gas at the town's gas stations in the 1980s, though. When a sinkhole nearly swallowed a kid and started belching noxious fumes out of the earth, people got worried. Though some former residents still see it as a ploy to take the coal under the town, Pennsylvania declared the town unsafe and told residents it would take their property through eminent domain after they leave or die. Less than a half-dozen residents remain, but the fire is expected to burn for another 250 years.

Related: The Most Terrifying Places in America

Gilman, Colorado
Gilman, Colorado by genericprofilename (CC BY-NC-ND)

Gilman, Colorado

Company: Silver, lead, and zinc mining

Founded by judge and prospector John Clinton in 1886, the town got a rail spur in 1899 and rode the silver boom to its own newspaper, a boarding house, and school. The mines coasted into the 1970s with the town eventually adding an infirmary, grocery store, and bowling alley. But years of poor mining technique led the Environmental Protection Agency to evacuate the town completely in 1984 and declare it a Superfund site in 1986. It took 24 years to clean up the site, but it's been more than a decade since it was supposed to be turned into a ski resort. That project cleared an EPA hurdle in 2018, though, so change may be on the horizon. 

The former Thompson station was last used in 1997.
The former Thompson station was last used in 1997. by Davemeistermoab (CC BY-SA)

Thompson Springs, Utah

Company: Coal mining

Settled as a town of ranchers in the 1880s, Thompson Springs got a boost when coal mining began in Sego Canyon, north of town, in 1911, That year, a rail line was branched out from Thompson Springs to the mine itself, though the town was served by various passenger lines for much of its existence. In 1996, however, Amtrak moved the last of its local service to nearby Green River. With the mines closing in 1950, Interstate 70 taking travelers away from the town in 1970, and rail service going away in the 1990s, Thompson Springs has spent the past couple of decades withering and dying. According to the 2020 Census, just 34 residents remain.

Related: Abandoned Theme Parks for Thrills, Chills, and Nostalgia

Coal Tipple
Coal Tipple by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND)

Lynch, Kentucky

Company: U.S. Coal and Coke

Built in 1917 by U.S. Coal and Coke, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, this town had a population of 10,000 in the 1940s and its own commissary, theater, hospital, and hotel. Even as recently as the 1980s, nearly 1,600 people lived there. By 2016, there were fewer than 700 residents. While the Portal 31 Underground Mine Tour offers a glimpse of Lynch's mining past, its future just continues to dwindle.

Batsto Village Historic Site, NJ
Batsto Village Historic Site, NJ by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (CC BY-NC-ND)

Batsto Village, New Jersey

Company: Batsto Iron Works

Back in 1766, the Batsto Iron Works used bog ore dug from the beds and banks of nearby rivers to make household pots and kettles. It also began making supplies for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, but spent more than a century afterward making household goods and giving employees the run of the company store, grist mills, blacksmiths, barns, and stables. Pennsylvania ore and coal doomed the iron works, however, and ideas such as creating a glassworks never took. The last permanent residents left in 1989, and the town of Batsto has been a New Jersey historic site since.

Related: The Best Places in America to Travel Back in Time

Bankston Cemetery in 2007
Bankston Cemetery in 2007 by NatalieMaynor (CC BY)

Bankston, Mississippi

Company: Bankston Textile Mill

The company behind this town didn't have much choice in its fate. Named for one of the financial backers of Col. James Madison Wesson, who built Bankston in 1850 to make diluted rum, Bankston turned it eventually into a plantation town with 178 residents. Wesson provided church meetings, reading and writing lessons, economics classes and sturdy homes. The textile mill housed 1,000 cotton spindles, 500 wool spindles, a grist mill, a flour mill, and around 20 looms at its height, which made it a plump target when Union troops burned it to the ground on Dec. 30, 1864. Today, all that remains of the town is a cemetery.

Related: Spooky Graveyards Across the Country

Pullman State Historic Site
Pullman State Historic Site by anokarina (CC BY-SA)

Pullman, Illinois

Company: Pullman Palace Car Co.

In 1884, George Pullman built a manufacturing complex and town on 4,000 acres south of Chicago to house the employees making his luxury railroad sleeping cars. While the plan was to keep workers happy, increase productivity away from Chicago, and draw skilled workers, it didn't quite work out that way. The town had more than 1,000 homes with yards, indoor plumbing, gas, and daily trash removal, and drew 12,000 residents. Workers could only rent their homes, though, could be evicted at will, couldn't hold town meetings, couldn't go to bars, and couldn't read books or watch performances other than those offered by the library or town theater. When Pullman cut wages after an economic downturn in 1894, a workers' strike turned violent and resulted in federal troops being called in. After Pullman himself died in 1897, Illinois required the company to sell the town. In 1889, it was annexed to the South Side of Chicago. The neighborhood went into slow decline that steepened after the factory closed in 1957. It's taken the neighborhood a while to recover, but President Barack Obama declared it a U.S. National Monument in 2015; each October, residents open their homes for a walking tour.