Many people drive past abandoned sites with curiosity, but urban explorers go beyond the wondering gaze. Explorers explore the inside, the outside, the history, and first-hand, engage in the past. Whether it be an abandoned millionaire’s mansion, an antebellum plantation, an old brewery, or a power plant, they all speak to the explorer about the life they have led. “If these walls could talk…” is something we have all said at some time. Well, maybe they can.
Urban exploration – or urbex for short – is the hobby of investigating these sites for personal interest, historical documentation, social media shares, or whatever is in your DNA that compels you to check it out. Like a modern-day detective investigating a place in a time long gone, urbex gives you a window into that time. Judging by the rapid growth of urbex, many people find that interesting.
This hobby motivates people with the wonder of discovering something rare. Living history is in your backyard. In most cities and rural areas, there are abandoned hospitals, asylums, factories, even castles that await exploration. The location of these sites makes this hobby accessible to anyone who dares to go see it for themselves.
Killer Urbex Note: It is important to note that many of these locations are in an extremely delicate state. Specifics on the locations are not given purposefully to ensure these abandoned places stay as vandalism and destruction-free as possible. Take only photos, leave only footprints.
How To Find Abandoned Places
How much more exciting urbex would be if you could only find your own abandoned places? Right? Well, you have come to the right place. There are a few tips we will share with you about finding abandoned sites for exploration.
Online are many websites devoted to urbex. Since it has exploded in popularity, urban explorers have filled the internet with pictures and videos of abandoned places all over the world. Even if you are not free to physically travel to the site, you can enjoy it online through the lens of the urbex blogger. Maybe add your own explorations online as well.
One of the easiest ways to find sites to explore is by using the website Flickr. Flickr is a website where people share their photography online. What makes this site useful for urbex is a feature called “geo-tagging” where the photographer not only shares the photographs but their exact location as well. How useful is that!
First, find Flickr.com online. When there, search for urban exploration or urbex and you will see lists of hundreds of groups of urban explorers. Click on any group you like. Some groups are location-specific, you may find one in your area. Browse around. You can locate some really cool sites.
Search urban explorers, or urbex forums online. People from all over the world like to post their latest urbex adventure. Many of their posts include pictures and the location of the site. Many have directories where you easily choose the location-specific data you seek. They are all free to check out.
Remember, even as a newbie, you have access to the same resources and tools as experienced urbex. The biggest resource available is Google, of course. Google Maps, more specifically, is ideal for hunting locations. Use keyword-specific requests to locate sites near you. Learn more about finding abandoned places with Google Maps.
The Top 25 Abandoned Places In The United States, 2021 Update
Hidden in the United States are many interesting abandoned sites awaiting exploration. From asylums to prison camps, breweries to an old power plant, historically relevant or not, all hold interest to the urban explorer. Seeking out these sights, long ago abandoned, and investigating first hand the remains of the building, is the heart of urbex.
Standing in the quiet stillness of ruin, enveloped in the vibrations of its past life, one can only imagine the lives touched by the site. For better or for worse, their lives were changed. The urban explorer seeks out places such as these listed herein.
The Arctic Discoverer, Florida
The Arctic Discoverer sits in mud, languishing forgotten in an old boatyard just south of Jacksonville, Florida. Its current condition is in stark contrast to its once-famous past. The Arctic Discoverer was instrumental in the recovery of the largest shipwreck treasure in recent history.
This story of greed and gold begins in 1857, when the SS Central America aka “the Ship of Gold” carrying 453 passengers and 21 tons of gold, left Panama bound for New York. On September 9 the ship found itself trapped in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina. No alarm was sounded since the ship was large and built to weather the storm.
The ship performed admirably for two days but by the 11th of September with the drive shaft broken the ship floundered, taking on water. A nearby vessel, The Marine, rescued 151 lives, but the SS Central America sank with 450 passengers and the 21 tons of gold cargo onboard.
Fast forward to 1983, when treasure hunter Tommy Thompson made a concerted effort to locate the wreck, and the gold, which had been sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for over 100 years. Funds poured into Thompson’s venture with investors promised golden returns.
The Research Vessel Arctic Discoverer and her crew successfully recovered over $50 million in gold. But the big payday never came. And from there, the story gets even more enjoyable. Check it out!
Ghost Town in The Sky, North Carolina
Many North Carolina residents have fond childhood memories of visiting the Ghost Town in The Sky in Maggie Valley. This mountaintop amusement park opened in 1961 and had many successful years before its closure in 2002. Wildly popular through the 1970s and 80s, it is now an abandoned ghost town ripe for urban exploration.
Plans made for a major renovation and reopening of the park stalled in 2020 brought and the grand reopening never happened. This property now stands empty, awaiting a new owner to bring it back to life.
Ghost Town in The Sky was famous for its authentic Wild West experience. The park was modeled after real western ghost towns and featured hourly live-action shows. Bad guys shooting it out with the sheriff, damsels in distress, and the live-action saloon made this park a family favorite.
Ghost Town in The Sky was aptly named. The park stands at an elevation of 4,600 feet, atop Buck Mountain, in the Smokey Mountains. After parking and buying a ticket, visitors boarded the incline car or the ski resort-style chair lifts, rising more than ⅔ the way up the mountain, or 1250 feet, to the park itself.
The Old West Street is still intact, and all the buildings still have their original furnishings. In the Silver Dollar Saloon, you will still find the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Urban explorers will delight in the exploration of this authentic old west experience.
Northern State Hospital, Washington
Once the largest facility for the mentally ill in the state of Washington, the Northern State Hospital was a city unto itself. Established in 1909, the hospital was intended to be a safe and therapeutic colony for the patients. Relying heavily on occupational therapy as its main treatment modality, the patients maintained the hospital, the farm, and several associated production facilities.
The hospital site included patient and staff housing, a water reservoir, sewage treatment facilities, lumber mill, quarry, steam plant, greenhouse, library, laundry, dining room, bakery, dairy, and a 700-acre farm for growing vegetables and raising livestock. A cemetery is also included in the site plan.
In addition to the therapeutic effects of manual labor, patients were subjected to many less than ethical treatments as well, such as lobotomies, electro-shook therapy, and sterilizations. All of which doctors at the time thought would cure mental illness. At its peak, the hospital held more than 2,200 patients.
As part of the trend toward community treatments and deinstitutionalization, the facilities were closed in 1973. Parts of the campus are still being using today for Job Corps training and a drug treatment program. Many remanents of the hospital site are available today for urban exploration such as the milking barns, cannery, and other structures used during the hospital’s self-sustaining past. You can also explore the cemetery onsite, the resting place of 1500 former patients.
St. Agnes Catholic Church, Michigan
Once the heart of the LaSalle Park neighborhood of Detroit, St. Agnes Catholic Church now stands abandoned. Constructed in 1924, the church was at the center of a densely populated area of the city. The gothic-inspired cathedral was built at the cost of $150,000 and included a custom-made pipe organ and many beautiful stained glass windows.
The parish grew rapidly, as did the surrounding community. By the 50th anniversary, the church had grown so large as to require three priests and 22 nuns to run the parish and the Catholic girls school adjacent to the church. But soon, things would change for the worse for the church and the community.
In 1967, racial tensions and violent riots burned most of the 12th Street neighborhood, but St. Agnes escaped the flames. By the 1970s, the area began to experience the loss of thousands of jobs in the automobile industry. Add to that rapid suburbanization, and Detroit’s population dwindled rapidly from 1.85 million in 1950 to less than 1 million by the end of the 1970s.
In 1986 there were only 162 families still worshipping there, not enough to cover the operating costs of such a large church. The Diocese put the church up for sale, but the new owner never took possession. It has stood open to the elements and vandals, a gothic wonder to behold.
Titan 1 Missile Silo, Colorado
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, visit the abandoned subterranean Titan 1 Missile silo site located in Deer Creek, Colorado, a 45-minute drive from Denver. A relic of the Cold War, the Titan 1 missile silos once housed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles designed to carry a nuclear warhead to another continent. These sites were only active from 1960 – 1965, replaced by a more efficient delivery system, the Titan II.
After decommissioning the sites in 1965, the government removed all the equipment and passed the sites onto new owners leaving behind a maze of underground tunnels in the Rocky Mountains foothills. The 146-foot deep shaft is 55 feet wide, supported by a network of underground tunnels, fuel storage tanks, filtration systems, and much more. Be sure to see the 3-ton blast doors rusting on their hinges.
Arrests of several people for trespassing at this site, so be ready to assume entry risks. With no electric power or natural light, the silo is housed in pitch blackness. Bring a strong flashlight and a backup to navigate the treacherous passageways. While there is no risk of radiation exposure, the place is full of rust, asbestos, and other chemicals, so wear a mask with filtration.
Glen Dale Hospital, Maryland
During the early 1930s, a tuberculosis epidemic swept through Washington, DC, filling hospitals to overcapacity. The area needed a dedicated hospital for tuberculosis patients. Glenn Dale Hospital opened in 1934 to care for the overabundance of tuberculosis patients and stop the spread of the disease.
With little known about the disease, the treatment for tuberculosis patients was isolation. Patients with the condition often spent months to years confined in the tuberculosis sanitarium. Medical treatment at that time consisted of plenty of fresh air and sunshine and little else.
Connecting the 34 buildings on site is a vast array of underground tunnels used to move patients during inclement weather. These tunnels are flooded and inaccessible now.
The 1950s saw the discovery of antibiotics, and doctors found new methods of treating tuberculosis. With dwindling patient numbers, the hospital reopened as a nursing home in 1960. Later, repurposed again, the site was a community health center. It finally closed in 1982 when the cost of asbestos removal and building maintenance were prohibitively expensive, and the buildings have been vacant since. A private security firm guards the site.
If you are on the hunt for a great respirator to more safely observe some of these incredible abandoned places in the United States, we highly recommend the 3M 6800 for a full-face option and the North 7700 if you would prefer a half-face option. Find more respirator options in our in-depth guide.
President’s Park, Virginia
A very unusual site for urban exploration is in Croaker, Virginia. Standing in a farmer’s field is an outdoor sculpture museum consisting of 43 busts of former United States Presidents. Each of the statues weighs 5 – 10 tons and stands 18 feet tall. From George Washington to George Bush, Presidents Park is a tribute to our former presidents.
Inspired by Mount Rushmore, Presidents Park opened in Williamsburg as a joint venture between Houston-based sculptor David Adickes, who sculpted the busts, and Everette Newman, a local who supplied the land. The park generated controversy from its opening in 2004, with locals calling it a tacky eyesore.
The outdoor museum closed in 2010 when the landowner’s property went into foreclosure. At the cost of $50,000, the statues were moved into another field where they still stand today. Several of the large busts were damaged by the cranes moving them. All the figures have been victimized by the elements, cracking and peeling in the harsh climate.
As they languish in the farmer’s field, the new owner hopes to restore the statues and re-opening the museum. Most of the heads are still available to view, although a few have been abducted to grace RV park entrances or local hotels.
South Carolina Lunatic Asylum, South Carolina
One of the most famous abandoned places for urban exploration in South Carolina is the vacant and crumbling South Carolina Lunatic Asylum. Located in Columbia, the Asylum opened to patients in 1828. Quickly filling, construction began on the second building in 1858. This building took over 25 years to complete with 250,000 square feet of space, 1,100 windows, and 20-inch thick walls.
Built according to standard practices of the day for treating the mentally ill, the buildings featured south-facing windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine. Despite the architectural elements designed to promote healing, patients frequently complained about the cramped rooms, inadequate ventilation, and frequent flooding of the ground floor.
Many county jails started sending inmates to the asylum, swelling its patient population to more than 1,000, compared to 200 only 20 years earlier. Patients lived in filthy, overcrowded rooms, resulting in 30% of the patient population dying.
In the 20th-century, pharmaceutical advancements and outpatient treatments resulted in the discharge of many patients to the community. The Asylum closed its doors in 1996. Several fires since then have left the historic buildings in deplorable condition. On the 216-acre campus, only two buildings remain mostly intact.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania
In the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a gigantic fortress known as the Eastern State Penitentiary. One time hailed as a monumental improvement in the penal system, as many as 400 similar fort-like structures around the world are modeled after this breakthrough in prison reform. Designed to produce penitent prisoners, it instead produced madness.
Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was designed by the “Society For Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons”. At the time prisons were corrupt and mistreatment of prisoners was common. The Society designed this prison to make prisoners penitent, hence the new name for prisons, the penitentiary.
Compared to other prisons of the time, Eastern State Penitentiary was a model of order and a technological wonder. Constructed at a cost of $800,000, it was the most expensive building project of its time. During the 1800s, everyone including the President Andrew Jackson was still using a chamber pot. Eastern State Penitentiary had a private toilet in each prisoner’s cell.
The “separate system” is what made Eastern State Penitentiary unique. Prisoners were not allowed any contact at all with other prisoners. They ate their meals alone in their cell and had a private time for outdoor exercise. The guards even wore felt shoe covers to keep the prison silent. Complete silence was supposed to inspire “penance” but it provoked insanity instead.
Eventually, due to overcrowding and a disapproval of the separate system, the prison changed to the “New York” model allowing prisoners interaction. During its time, 1829 – 1971, Eastern State housed several well-known prisoners such as Al Capone. Visit this historic gothic-structure when in Philadelphia.
Abandoned Jerome Post Office, Arizona
The former boomtown of Jerome, Arizona, is now a famous ghost town with curiosity seekers from around the world traveling to see the ruins of this once prosperous mining town. Nicknamed “America’s Most Vertical City,” Jerome stands at an elevation of 5,200 feet.
This former mining boomtown reached its heyday in the years following World War I when tons of Copper Ore were extracted from the hills surrounding Verde Valley. In 1989, the United Verde Valley Mining Company was netting about $1 million per month in revenue. The population of Jerome multiplied and was incorporated in 1899, the fifth largest town in the territory.
After the war, the demand for copper diminished. Unionization of the miners, coupled with the soaring costs of removing the copper, caused the mines to be closed for good. At one time, the entire town was considered abandoned, but recent years have brought a new settler to the city. A thriving community of 800 artists now lives among the historic buildings.
On the outskirts of town sits the decaying post office. Modern urban explorers have documented this crumbling hulk of a building and have renewed interest in this Old West ghost town.
If you dare to venture into the rickety old structure, you will find old lockers, broken glass, and pieces of the ceiling littering the floors. The facility is considered unsafe so explore with caution.
Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark, California
Located halfway between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert stands the abandoned ruins of the Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark. It was once a popular family destination on the shores of Lake Dolores, a 237-acre artificial lake fed by unground springs. Construction of the waterpark took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Designed and built by Bob Byers, a local businessman, the lake was initially a fun getaway for his extended family to enjoy. The original park consisted of several long steel slides which dropped riders into the lake at the end. Soon, a campground was added, and the park opened to the public.
Over the next 25 years, the park expanded, adding new slides and attractions. After reaching the peak of its popularity in the 1980s, the park was closed in 1990. After baking in the hot desert sun for years, Byers sold the defunct waterpark to an investment group.
After spending millions of dollars, the park was re-opened in 1998; now a retro-fifties-themed family attraction called Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark. New owners added a collection of modern waterslides and a lazy river ride. Despite the popularity, the park closed only one year later. A park employee had a tragic accident leaving him paralyzed, plunging the owners into bankruptcy, and forcing the park to close.
Located in Newberry Springs, California, on I-5, the park ruins stand baking in the relentless sun of the Mojave Desert. No Trespassing signs surround the property, but the graffiti indicates a general lack of compliance.
Yellow Water Nuclear Weapons Storage Area, Florida
Before World War II, the United States established the Naval Auxillary Air Station Cecil Field on the west side of Jacksonville. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Cecil Field became a primary training facility for both the Marine Corps and the US Navy.
Following the war, the site was redesignated Naval Air Station Cecil Field and was home to fleet aircraft squadrons. Later, it expanded into a master jet base for carrier-based tactical units. All the while keeping its secret – the site was being used to store nuclear weapons.
Unknown to the public, cold war nuclear weapons were being stockpiled at Cecil Field. Eight-nine bunkers, heavily guarded by Marines, housed over 140 nuclear warheads. Their existence remained a secret until 1985 when a pair of atomic researchers confirmed the cache in their book, Nuclear Battlefields.
The weapons remained in place until the 1990s when President George H.W. Bush launched a campaign to dismantle and remove excess nuclear weapons. Decommissioned in 1999, Cecil Field was bought by the City of Jacksonville. It re-opened as Cecil Commerce Center with an equestrian center, aquatic complex, softball fields, and other community amenities.
Remnants of the nuclear storage facility remain onsite, including underground bunkers and a helipad.
Urban exploration of abandoned places in the United States is no fun if one of your hands is occupied with a flashlight. Save yourself with a headlamp, one of the most versatile pieces of urbex gear. We highly recommend either the PETZL Actik Core, or the Black Diamond Wiz for those on a budget. For a complete breakdown, please view our headlamp buyer’s guide.
Celebration City, Missouri
An amusement park named Branson USA opened on the site in 1999. Having little success, the park closed in 2001. Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation purchased it in 2002 to create a sister park for its successful Silver Dollar City amusement park also in Branson.
It re-opened in 2003 as Celebration City after $40 million in park improvements and upgrades, including new rides and attractions featuring a wooden roller coaster, a log flume ride, and a spectacular laser, water, and fireworks show every evening.
Celebration City, Missouri, was designed to carry on Silver Dollar City’s 19th-century theme into the 1900s, featuring attractions dedicated to small-town America like a beachside boardwalk and road trips on the famous Route 66. However, it failed to reach the popularity of its sister Silver Dollar City and after only three seasons, the park closed.
Ownership of the property remains with Herschend Family Entertainment, who owns and operates Silver Dollar City and White Water Branson parks. There have been rumors of the park re-opening as a dinner theater venue or with an aquarium, but there has been no grand re-opening.
Luckily for urban explorers, much of the park remains intact, minus the Wildcat roller coaster, which was demolished onsite. With surprisingly little graffiti or vandalism, this site is an urbex dream. Be sure to check out the carousel.
Franklin Park Zoo Bear Pens, Maryland
Now existing as Zoo New England, Franklin Zoo, in Franklin Park, Boston, has been around in one form or another since 1912. The attraction, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, was initially an open-plan zoological park. Millions of people flocked to the park, and the free zoo was an immediate success. Unfortunately, the success didn’t last, and by 1930 the zoo fell into disrepair.
In 1958, the city of Boston set up a commission to revitalize the historic park. Attempts at modernization were made, and a new, more professional staff was hired. A fence was built encircling the park, and admission was charged for park entrance. The zoo entered the modern era, but not all of it.
Some of the original structures, such as the Franklin Park Zoo Bear Pens, were left outside the fence to rot. Plans made by the city to tear down the bear pens never came to fruition. So they remain, left to the elements and curiosity seekers.
Once the zoo’s main attraction, the stone and iron bear pens sit in an open courtyard at the end of a grand staircase. One of the pens contains a highly detailed stone motif depicting the crest of Boston, surrounded by bears. The bear pens are connected by walking trails to the new zoo. Explore with caution as the structures are crumbling, covered in rust.
City Methodist Church, Indiana
City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana, was constructed in 1926 at the staggering cost of $1 million. Bankrolled by the US Steel Corporation, this immense Gothic cathedral provided Gary’s residents with a sense of pride, even if they were not a part of the congregation.
The church is a 9-story piece of art featuring ornate stonework, countless molded arches, towering pillars, and of course, copious amounts of stained glass windows. During its heyday in the mid 20th century, the church served over 2,000 congregants.
Time passes, and fortunes change; as the US steel market faltered, so did Gary, Indiana, and by extension, this enormous cathedral. In 1976, with few parishioners left, church leaders hoped to save the church by leasing it to a nearby university. Despite rental income, the expense of maintaining the church proved too much, and in 1975, the doors were closed for good.
Vandals and the elements soon took their toll on this once magnificent edifice. Abandoned to this day, the church stands as a marvel of urban ruin. It has been featured in films such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Transformers 3. The church, which is dangerously unstable in many places, remains a favorite of urban explorers.
Sugar Loaf Ski Lodge, Michigan
Sugar Loaf Ski Lodge’s abandoned remains near Traverse City, Michigan, is an urban explorer’s nirvana. Unlike many abandoned sites, the lodge is a time capsule filled with discoveries, not a graffiti-encrusted empty shell. Looking like people walked out in the middle of a business day, the resort remains relatively intact despite 20+ years of neglect.
After the ski lodge closed in 2000 due to poor management and increased competition between the slopes, the resort was left vacant but not empty. The hotel is filled with original paperwork, ski lift tickets, and everything needed to run a ski resort. The many rooms are full of furniture, lamps, TVs, even linens. It is a glimpse into the resort’s storied past.
The site consists of the main ski lodge, a hotel with an outdoor pool, and a deserted ski slope complete with lifts eternally hanging in mid-air, awaiting riders. The sign on the ski hill proclaims the run has been plowed and is open for fun, but it has been many years since it has seen skiers.
Walking around the lodge and peering into the windows, many of which have been shattered, you will find beds made, trash cans emptied, and everything covered in a thick layer of dust. The dining room holds empty pretzel carousels and slushie machines unplugged, ready for use. The office is filled with guest information. Recently the place was purchased with plans to re-open but until then, check out this well-known urbex site.
Bexar County Juvenile Home for Boys, Texas
Constructed in 1915 as a home for the aged and needy residents of San Antonio, this “poor farm” was later converted into the Bexar County Juvenile Home for Boys, Texas. The facility quickly gained a reputation for cruelty and abuse. Many who visit here make claims of paranormal activity onsite.
Only a few cases of abuse are documented. In 1925, the hospital admitted a 14-year old boy for an unknown illness. It turns out the boy had been fed rat poison. In 1933 the Home made headlines again when a 21-year-old dairy farm worker murdered a 14-year old boy in his care. The defendant confessed to beating the boy to death with a tire iron in a dispute over washing milk cans. He dumped the boy’s body in a nearby creek.
The property has been abandoned for 25+ years, though the date of closure is uncertain. Four large graffiti-covered structures still stand on the site, located at Southton and Farm Roads in San Antonio. This site is a popular destination for paranormal hunters and organized ghost tours. It is also home to squatters at times – human and rattlesnake. So, exercise caution when exploring…and bring a first aid kit with Antivenin.
Cameras, headlamps, respirators and more. Urban exploration can be very gear-heavy, especially when exploring abandoned places in the United States. When this is the case, it’s important to have a good-quality backpack. We recommend both the Osprey Packs Daylite for sling backpacks or the Mardingtop Tactical Backpack for a standard two-strap backpack. Alternatively, check out our comprehensive guide for far more options, tips, and tricks.
Jazzland, New Orleans Six Flags Amusement Park, Louisiana
Jazzland Six Flags New Orleans is a 146-acre abandoned amusement park on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain in east New Orleans, Louisiana. The park opened in 2000, and it has been closed since August 2005 when it sustained severe damage due to flooding from the infamous Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina smashed into New Orleans, breaking thru levees and washing out significant portions of the city. In Jazzland, the waters rose to over twenty feet. Much of the property damage occurred when the corrosive seawater, combined with much rainwater, lingered after the hurricane passed, leaving the park to sit in six feet of salty water for months.
When the waters subsided, devastation was revealed. Looking like a post-apocalyptic Wonderland, most of the structures and rides were destroyed. One exception to the destruction was the famous Batman roller coaster built on an elevated platform. However, the park overall was too far gone for restoration.
At an estimated cost of $1.3 million to demolish the park, Six Flags opted to allow Jazzland to fall into ruin. In 2009, New Orleans sued Six Flags and took ownership of the property. Since that time, the city has leased the property for use in several post-apocalyptic-type films, including Jurassic World, Deepwater Horizon, and Dawn of The Planet of The Apes.
Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital, New York
The Covid-19 pandemic has been compared to the Spanish Flu 1918 outbreak, but few people recall the most devastating epidemic of the 19th century, the smallpox epidemic. Though a vaccination was discovered in 1796, it took over a century for smallpox to be eradicated in the US and even longer to be eliminated worldwide.
Treatment for patients included isolation, and dedicated hospitals for smallpox patients were established. Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital New York is one such institution. Accessible from Manhattan via subway or tram, few people visit the hospital now. Known as one of the most haunted places in the US, the hospital has seen new infamy with urban explorers and paranormal hunters.
Better known for Grace Church on Broadway and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Avenue, James Renwick Jr. designed the hospital in the classic Gothic Revival style. Between its opening in 1856 till 1875, the hospital treated an average of 7,000 patients per year. By 1875 the number of patients exceeded capacity, and the city smallpox hospital moved to a much larger facility on North Brother Island.
The Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital was turned into a training center for nurses and was in operation until 1950. Left to the elements since that time, the colossal Gothic structure is a wonder to behold.
Glades Correctional Institution, Florida
Glades Correctional Institution opened in 1932 as Prison Farm #2. The name changed in 1951 to Glades State Prison Farm and then to Glades Correctional Institution in 1962. Regardless of the designation, this institution gained national notoriety in 1995 when six inmates – all serving life sentences – dug a tunnel under the chapel and escaped.
One of the escapees was captured just outside the prison fence, but the rest managed to flee. This prompted a massive search involving the Miami Police Department, the Metro-Dade Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the FBI.
A tip from locals led police to two more of the inmates, one of whom was fatally shot during the capture. Two more of the inmates were captured in Little Havana when an officer on patrol spotted them. The last inmate remained on the lam until 1997 when Mexican police shot him in a failed robbery attempt.
Glades Correctional Institution is the second oldest prison in Florida. As such, the operating costs were much higher than other facilities so, in 2011, the state decided to close it rather than including it in the state’s prison privatization program. Urban explorers will enjoy investigating the cell blocks, and other facilities left abandoned.
Fisher Flour Mill, Washington
If you love exploring old industrial sites, Fisher Flour Mill just outside of Seattle is perfect for your next urbex adventure. The abandoned mill sits decaying, with 14 floors of interesting antiquated milling equipment now covered in graffiti and bird droppings.
After creating man-made Harbor Island in Elliot Bay in 1909, a pair of flour-milling entrepreneurs was the first to build on the island. O.D. Fisher and O.W. Fisher officially opened the Fisher Flour Mill in 1911. The mill processed and packaged their ground grain mixture for sale on its own or as part of products like Fisher Scones. The scones debuted at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Fransisco in 1915 to much fanfare.
The Fishers, being savvy businessmen, expanded their empire over the next eight decades to eventually include 26 radio stations and 12 TV stations, all heavily promoting their products. As their media businesses became more profitable, they decided to sell the mill.
Oregon-based Pendleton Flour Mills bought the Harbor Island facility in 2001 but closed the site after only one year. King County purchased the 12-acre property in 2003 for $8 million. Since then, the abandoned site has become a legend with urban explorers.
The Atlanta Prison Farm, Georgia
For more than 50 years, this 400-acre site served as a correctional facility for non-violent criminals. The Atlanta Prison Farm opened in 1940 to provide vocational training and rehabilitation for men. Throughout the years, 1000’s of inmates labored in the hot Georgia sun at the massive working farm. Prisoners operated the dairy, raised livestock, and harvested produce, creating a self-sustaining facility while selling surplus to the public.
The Atlanta Prison Farm, or Honor Farm as it was called, was an institution designed to allow “trustworthy” criminals to work off their sentences. With little security and no armed guards, the City embraced it as a progressive idea. However, in reality, the chain-gangs who worked the farm were little more than indentured servants of the state.
After closing in 1995, the state abandoned the farm, and soon kudzu and graffiti covered the remaining buildings. In 2009 the site caught fire, and the fire department decided to let it burn itself out rather than risk lives to save the crumbling facility.
Proposals for the future of the property are complicated by the fact the owners are the City of Atlanta and Fulton County despite the fact the site is in Dekalb county. Visitors to the site should exercise caution as many of the structures are unstable.
Cincinnati Subway, Ohio
At the dawn of the 20th century, the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, had grown into one of the nation’s ten largest cities thanks in part to its prosperous port system. City leaders developed a plan for an underground mass transit system at a time when horse-drawn buggies competed with streetcars and the new automobile on the busy city streets.
The proposed 16-mile rapid transit system would loop around the city and travel underground to downtown, reemerging to travel alongside the Ohio River. City residents overwhelmingly approved the project in the 1916 election, but work did not begin until 1920. In 1923, the first 2-mile section of the subway was complete, but by that time, inflation had eaten away most of the budget, and city leaders were forced to reduce the scope of the project.
Time and again, the project was delayed. First, the stock market crash, then the Great Depression, then WWI, WWII, and so it would go until the project was abandoned in 1948. Plans for repurposing the tunnels have included converting them into a bomb shelter, a retail district, a wine cellar, and even another transit system.
Standing abandoned for years, the Cincinnati Subway is a set of incomplete, derelict tunnels over two miles in length beneath the city streets. There are no plans to revive the project.
The Wreck of Peter Iredale, Oregon
The Wreck of Peter Iredale is a popular attraction for locals and shipwreck enthusiasts. Since the ship ran aground on Clatsop Spit on the Oregon coast on October 26, 1906, locals have watched the elements take their toll on the once-proud ship until only bare bones remain onshore. The wreckage is still visible on the beach, making it one of the most accessible shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Pacific.
The ship was named after Peter Iredale of Liverpool, England, who owned the vessel as part of his shipping fleet. The ill-fated last voyage of the ship began on September 26, 1906, sailing from Salinas, Mexico, bound for Portland, Oregon, to return to England with a shipment of wheat.
When entering the mouth of the Columbia River in a thick fog and rising tide, high winds forced the ship aground. All 27 sailors were evacuated, and there were no casualties. With minor damage to the hull, plans were made to tow it back out to sea. While awaiting favorable weather, the ship listed to port and became deeply embedded in the sand.
Over a century since it ran aground, the rusted bow and masts are still visible on the shore. The wreck can be found in Fort Stevens State Park.
Market Street Power Plant, Louisiana
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the old Market Street Power Plant sits between the waterfront Warehouse District and the Garden District in New Orleans. Constructed in 1905 by New Orleans Railway and Light Company, it was the largest power plant in the South. It produced coal-powered electricity for the city from 1905 until 1973, when it became a backup source.
The Market Street Power Plant officially closed in 1984 after receiving numerous citations for environmental violations. The property is a brownfield site, loaded with asbestos and other contaminants yet to be removed. So, urban explorers, be aware and take precautions.
The original structure is still standing. The enormous 160,000 square foot brick structure is utilitarian in its design with its turn-of-the-century no-frills construction. The plant has been stripped of anything of monetary value, but there are huge rooms filled with industrial relics from the era.
Copious amounts of graffiti cover the inside and outside of the plant, softening the cold brick exterior. Over the decades, the site has become a favorite for urbex, with many pictures posted online of rooms filled with dials and gauges and equipment that seems foreign today. Visit the site before it becomes condominiums.
Staying Safe When Exploring
You finally found a site you are going to explore, now what? Now comes the planning and preparation before you physically visit the site. Knowing how to stay safe while exploring involves a bit of research and common sense. Paying attention to the details will enable you to urbex without accident or injury.
First, having a little knowledge of the history of the site can give you much-needed information such as the year the building was abandoned, and the general condition of the site. Having a bit of history first makes the exploration more exciting and you can appreciate urbex more understanding the circumstances of abandonment.
When inside the building, pay attention to your surroundings. This can help you avoid potential dangers such as caved-in floors, broken staircases, or standing water. Avoid injury by staying alert to the many dangers in abandoned sites.
Do not explore alone! Exploring alone can be dangerous. If you can not find a like-minded friend to join you, consider joining a group. Do not rush your adventure. Many people make the mistake of rushing about the site to see it all while possibly overlooking a precarious pitfall. Go during the daytime when it is easier to navigate the site. Bring your own safety equipment. Be prepared!
Our Final Thoughts On Abandoned Places
Standing in the silence of a site long ago abandoned and appreciating the way nature reclaims her territory is an awesome experience. We wander through the remains while discovering interesting information about the former inhabitants and their lives. Each site tells a story of a time long forgotten, about changes in economy or commerce or culture, of fortunes, won or lost.
Inserting ourselves into their world, if only for a minute, we feel the cold steel cell door close and stand in the small space formerly occupied only by inmates. We stand in the treatment room of a former asylum and wonder at the advances we have made as a society. Taking a look into the remains of these abandoned sites allows us to feel empathy for those who have gone before us.
People very much like us have lived their lives in a time and place we know very little about. Urbex gives us a window into their world. It gives us the opportunity to understand more about our world. If you are one of the curious few, urbex may be calling you to explore.