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While haunted hotels and houses may dominate the cultural conversation when it comes to ghostly sightings, entirely deserted towns are a different breed. These are once-bustling places where life just … stopped. Everyone seems to have picked up and moved on all at once, leaving only the shell of a town behind, like time capsules with abandoned homes and businesses setting an eerie scene. Check out these seven spooky ghost towns across the South.

Buffalo City, NC

Buffalo City was once a bustling town full of moonshiners who proudly brewed bootleg alcohol in what was known as the ‘Moonshine Capital of the World.’ During Prohibition, entrepreneurial families took over the woods around Buffalo City, a timber town by trade, to operate moonshine stills. These sneaky families shipped their moonshine across the United States as alcohol became an underground business.

The town’s booming business ended when Prohibition ended in 1933, and several diseases, including smallpox and typhoid, quickly ended Buffalo City’s heyday. The once-busy town was quickly abandoned, leaving a ghost town behind.

Black and white photo of abandoned yard
Buffalo City is an abandoned Moonshine Capital in North Carolina. Image: Facebook

Terlingua, TX

In the 1930s, Terlingua, TX, was one of the largest producers of quicksilver (liquid mercury). It was one of the best-known mining towns, drawing in prospectors from across the country. But the town couldn’t sustain the pace of success, and just a decade later, the mining company went broke. When they filed for bankruptcy, they took the town down with them. With no jobs and no future in this rural Texas town, residents hightailed it out, leaving a ghost town behind.

Abandoned building in desert
This mining town in Terlingua, Texas, was abandoned after a prominent mining company went broke. Image: Facebook

Ellenton, SC

The story of Ellenton, SC, is stranger than fiction. The residents of this ghost town didn’t choose to abandon it— the government made them abandon it. They had no reason to leave until they got wind that the U.S. government was building a hydrogen bomb site in their beloved town. Residents quickly packed up and left, and the government moved in and got rid of the town. They left behind only curbs, driveways, and debris, yet the play I Don’t Live There Anymore: The Ellenton Story by Lawrence Holofcener,” memorializes this bizarre time in residents’ lives, as well as their desire not to leave, which was overruled by more powerful forces.

Auraria, GA

Auraria translates to “The City of Gold” in Latin, yet you might be able to guess what this abandoned town did not have an abundance of. There was some gold in Auraria, but from the perspective of someone in search of striking it rich, the town wasn’t delivering. Prospectors searched for a gold vein running through the town but never found the promised riches. Spanish, English, and American prospectors tried their luck, and the most persistent of the bunch moved on to sunny California, abandoning Auraria in the process.

Abandoned wood store
Auraria, GA, is an abandoned town that once carried empty promises of gold. Image: Facebook

Sherwood Forest, VA

Running a successful fair and entertainment complex isn’t easy, especially if you’re starting from scratch. That’s what the Renaissance Entertainment Corporation found out on a property they built in Sherwood Forest, VA. They dreamt of a Renaissance fair with other attractions and began by building a pirate ship, castle, and other themed structures. They quickly realized they wouldn’t make enough money for a sustainable business. Rather than disassembling all their hard work, they left the pirate ship and castles intact, creating a creepy fair-meets-ghost-town space in the middle of rural Virginia.

Thurmond, WV

While those pursuing outdoor activities will still find plenty to do around Thurmond, WV, the town is a ghostly memory of its once bustling population. This town on the New River was a stop along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in the early 1900s, and its coal production made it critical to the railway’s success. Unfortunately for Thurmond, the railroad switched to diesel fuel from coal, knocking out Thurmond’s economy at the knees. Today, the town remains intact, though abandoned, making it a fascinating look at what happens when a town’s entire livelihood leaves.

Thurmond, WV, still acts as a railroad stop, but as of the 2020 Census, the population had dropped to only five people. Are any of them still remaining today?

Elkmont, TN

This final spot on the list isn’t necessarily spooky, as it still serves as a beloved destination for visitors to the area from all over the world, but its history may surprise you.

Elkmont, TN, was once a hub for wealthy families looking for a getaway in the Great Smoky Mountains — and that’s not typically how ghost town stories start. But that’s what happened for Elkmont and the Appalachian Club, which was the early 1900s conglomeration of original families who built upscale cabins and a clubhouse as a retreat from the city. The group loved their hideaway in the mountains until the general public and government got wind of this special place.

The National Park Service created the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the private community of Elkmont was forced to abandon its property. The National Register of Historic Places took over the Elkmont property, though it exists solely as a ghost town for now, with plans for a possible restoration.


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About the Author
Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a Southern writer, Richmond native, and aspiring gardener. She loves small-town travel and homemade lattes.