15 Abandoned Places That You Can See Only in Pictures

Long before the advent of the internet and Google Maps, vast reaches of the world were cloaked in mystery. Though today there's little uncharted territory left to discover, there are still secret locales scattered throughout the United States—places that mistakes, hubris, miscalculations, and the sweep of time have transformed into ghost towns that are now too dangerous or difficult to visit. Read on to learn about 15 abandoned places you can explore only through photographs—unless, that is, you're willing to risk a trespassing charge (something we strongly discourage). Though abandoned, many of these locations are still private property, and while some aren't technically off-limits, concerns about toxins, deteriorating structures, and other dangers should offer a strong deterrent.

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North Brother Island, New York City

flickr.com via kathryn

Mother Nature has slowly reclaimed North Brother Island in New York City. Today, dense vegetation has seeped into the island’s 25 decrepit buildings, some of which date back to the 1880s. Among the decaying structures on this island in the East River is the Tuberculosis Pavilion, which once housed the infamous Typhoid Mary, an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid who infected dozens of people while working as a cook. The island now serves as a bird sanctuary and is off-limits to the public; access requires special permission from New York City’s Parks Department.

Related: 15 Famous Writers Whose Homes You Can Tour Today

Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York

flickr.com via rjs-yes

Love Canal, a neighborhood in the city of Niagara Falls, stands as testament to the consequences of human arrogance and disdain for the environment. The area served as a municipal dump in the 1920s and later became a dumping ground for industrial waste. In the 1950s, schools, houses, and apartments were built around the landfills. By the 1970s, residents began to experience unexplained illnesses, miscarriages, and cancers, which led to investigations into the site’s toxicity. Activism, lawsuits, and public outcry spurred the government to step in. Hundreds of families were evacuated, structures closest to the canal were demolished, and Love Canal itself became synonymous with environmental disaster. Love Canal was a major impetus for the creation of the Superfund program, a federal program founded in 1980 to clean up contaminated sites. One of the first sites on the Superfund list, Love Canal was removed from the list in 2004.

New Idria, California

flickr.com via matthigh

The small unincorporated town of New Idria, California, was established to support the nearby mercury mining site of the same name. When the mine closed in the early 1970s, the city became a ghost town. Because of the abundance of asbestos in the area as well as the mercury contamination caused by mining, New Idria is currently a Superfund site, monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency. A large portion of the town is fenced off and cannot be accessed. 

Centralia, Pennsylvania

“Silent Hill” is arguably one of the most bone-chilling video game franchises ever created. The burned-out town depicted in both the video games and the 2006 film adaptation is said to be based on Centralia, Pennsylvania—a place that’s been on fire for more than half a century. An intractable coal fire that began in 1962 marked the beginning of the end for the once-populated mining town. Smoke billowed from cracks in the ground, and elevated carbon monoxide levels led to the shuttering of the mines. The final straw? A sinkhole that opened up in 1981, nearly taking the life of a 12-year-old boy. While most residents were evacuated after the incident, a few folks refused to cave to government buyouts, instead opting to remain in their beloved town-on-fire. In the early 1990s, the state of Pennsylvania officially condemned and closed the town, leaving behind just a few residents who insisted on living out the remainder of their days in Centralia. There will be no more home sales in the town, however; the few remaining properties will revert to the government upon the owners’ deaths.

Titan 1 Missile Silo, Deer Trail, Colorado

flickr.com via mangpages

This Colorado missile silo is one of many abandoned locations in the United States built to house nuclear warheads. Decommissioned in the mid-1960s, the silos no longer contain missiles, but the sites still arouse safety concerns, from ground contamination to elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) detected in and around the silos. According to Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, the silos are owned either publicly or privately. The state works with the U.S. Army to ensure that the sites are monitored and maintained to avoid further contamination of nearby areas.

Related: 20 Amazing Places You Aren’t Allowed to Visit

Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Marianna, Florida

flickr.com via daseindesign

Opened at the turn of the 20th century, Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys was a juvenile detention center intended to reform young offenders. Soon after its inception, though, evidence of improper care began to emerge. A shocking number of young boys housed at the complex are reported to have died as a result of horrific abuse or neglect. Former pupils from the school also claim that systemic sexual abuse took place at the reformatory, which was closed in 2011. Early in 2019, new graves were discovered on the property, and it’s thought that there may be close to 100 bodies buried there. An investigation into the clandestine grave site is ongoing.

Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois

flickr.com via kham

The Chanute Air Force Base, once a technical training site for the U.S. Air Force, was decommissioned in the early 1990s. While some areas of the base have been repurposed, others remain unused and continue to deteriorate. Like Love Canal and New Idria, the location has been declared an EPA Superfund site, although remediation has not yet begun.

Old Franklin Park Zoo Bear Pens, Boston, Massachusetts

flickr.com via mkiiphoto

When Franklin Park Zoo was enclosed and updated in the 1950s, the bear dens, which date back to 1912, were deemed too expensive to maintain and were left outside the fence, doomed to slowly crumble away. While plans have been proposed to revive this old part of the zoo, no progress has been made, and the pens languish in their deteriorated state. You can’t enter the cages—the lack of maintenance would make doing so dangerous—but you can walk the perimeter of the area to get a sense of the zoo quarters of yesteryear.

Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepsie, New York

flickr.com via toomanytuxedos

This psychiatric facility closed in the early 2000s, but even today its High Victorian Gothic architecture is a sight to behold. As treatment for mental health issues evolved and more patients were able to live outside residential facilities, fewer sections of the hospital remained in use, leading to its eventual closing. Several fires have ravaged the structure, including one that occurred after its closure. The building was purchased in 2013 by a private company with plans to transform the site into a mixed-use development. Today, it’s off-limits to the public and work is underway on the historic grounds.

Related: The 12 Most Controversial Buildings in America

Riviera Drive-In Theatre, Oklahoma City

flickr.com via jasonbondy

Nowadays, drive-in movie theaters are few and far between. We’ve traded cozy car interiors for plush seats and surround sound in climate-controlled auditoriums. But drive-ins like the Riviera, which was built in 1967, had a good run. It’s luck ran out in 1999, when a powerful storm destroyed its single screen. The property was left to deteriorate, and most of it was demolished. Even today, however, curious visitors occasionally sneak onto the property to capture what remains on film.

Related: 35 Places You Can Still See a Drive-In Movie

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Tillamook Head, Oregon

flickr.com via billmorrow

Aside from sanitariums, few places seem more haunted than lonely old lighthouses. If you’re susceptible to the supernatural, it may be best to steer clear of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Then again, it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid—it’s virtually impossible to access without a helicopter. The lighthouse opened in 1881 and was decommissioned in 1957. From 1980 until 1999 it served as a columbarium—a repository for burial urns—and in that capacity provided a final resting place for approximately 30 individuals. Unfortunately, poor record-keeping, mislaid urns, and precarious urn placement caused the company to lose its license—although the circumstances do have the makings of a terrifying ghost story!

Related: The Most Haunted Places in America

Fort Wetherill, Jamestown, Rhode Island

flickr.com via thejohnd

Now owned by the State of Rhode Island, Fort Wetherill was once a coastal artillery site. The fort was decommissioned after World War II. In 1972, the state took control of the property and transformed it into a state park that offers hiking trails, scuba diving, and other outdoor activities. The batteries, however, are no longer accessible and have been buried for safety reasons.

Tennessee State Prison in Nashville

flickr.com via thomashawk

The Tennessee State Prison, used as a location for the film “The Green Mile,” was initially built to hold a maximum of 800 inmates. That limit was quickly exceeded, and inmates were housed like sardines. A combination of overcrowding and sanitation issues led to its closure in the early 1990s. There are plenty of reasons to give the abandoned facility a wide berth, including the presence of asbestos and other contaminants. If you’d like to admire the outside, at least, sign up for the “Run the Green Mile” 5K, which is held on the grounds in May.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia

flickr.com via brookward

Another case study in the perils of overcrowding, the Trans-Allegheny Asylum was constructed in the late 1800s to hold up to 250 patients, but by the 1950s it housed more than 2,000. In an effort to deal with the high volume of patients, the hospital became home to the ill-advised West Virginia Lobotomy Project, in which irreversible brain operations were conducted, often without patient consent. Over time, changes in patient care and treatment led to a decrease in the hospital’s population, and it was eventually closed in 1994. Until recently, the building was off-limits to the public; today, the main building contains a museum of hospital artifacts and treatments, and the former asylum offers historical and, for those inclined toward ghost hunting, paranormal tours of the facility. It is considered one of the most haunted spots in America.

Bombay Beach, California

flickr.com via Bob Dass

While around 200 people are still purported to live in the environs of Bombay Beach, the shoreline itself is no longer in use. The once-bustling beachfront is a veritable wasteland today. You can go there, but why would you want to? The sand is thickly covered in trash and fish corpses that exude pungent smells. Bombay Beach is on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, a man-made body of water created accidentally in the early 1900s in the efforts to bring water from the Colorado River to California farmland. By the 1950s, the Salton Sea had become a resort destination with hotels, golf courses, water skiing, boating, and other amusements. Over time, however, agricultural runoff and increasing salinity (caused by evaporation and the lack of an outlet that would flush water through the lake) transformed the sea into a salt-mired graveyard for fish and birds. Today, evaporation continues to shrink the Salton Sea, leading to concerns about potential dust pollution.

Related: 35 Places in America That Look Like Foreign Countries