Texas is filled with ghost towns. Most of these memories in the desert met their demise through the familiar death by drought or another natural disaster — or they were passed over by the railroad. The Great Depression spelled defeat for many, too.
But, exploring them now is nothing short of fascinating — and a true escape from any of your other ghosting realities. Check out this lucky set of 13 Texas ghost towns you should visit.
Austin: 7 hr 30 min drive; Dallas: 8 hr 30 min drive; Houston: 9 hr 15 min drive; San Antonio: 6 hr 30 min drive
Terlingua is the popular kid on the ghost town block in Texas. The town boomed in the early 1900s, with mercury miners venturing there when Howard E. Perry from Maine started the Chisos Mining Company. However, after World War II, the mine flooded, the mineral prices fell, and the rest is, well, history. While the place is pretty dormant — the population hovers around 58 people — it’s actually pretty trendy, as ghost towns go, anyway. A popular stop for Big Bend National Park adventurers and other road-trip warriors as well as artists and photographers, it boasts a few small shops and restaurants amidst the deserted debris.
What To See: The area is known for its beautiful sunsets and the deserted cemetery. The Starlight Theatre is open every day until midnight for dinner, drinks, and entertainment after your ghosting adventures. If you’re really feeling feisty, visit during the 52nd annual Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff from October 31 through November 4, 2018.
Austin: 7 hr drive; Dallas: 7 hr 30 min drive; Houston: 9 hr drive; San Antonio: 6 hr drive
A late bloomer in the ghost town population, Lobo didn’t experience rapid decline until the 1960s when the cost of agriculture made its principle crop, cotton, too expensive to produce. It was considered formerly abandoned in 1991, with the crumbling buildings, vacant motel (and pool!), and empty shops as proof. However, this ghost town has a major plot twist. About 10 years after its abandonment, three desert-loving individuals and their friends began the process of rebuilding Lobo. Now, it’s basically a private property and not intended for settlement or long-term visits. But, there are still artsy, niche events that happen periodically.
What To See: Go for the annual Desert Dust Cinema Festival that spotlights short films in this unique ghost-town setting. The 2018 fest is scheduled for August 31 through September 2. Road trip, anyone?
Austin: 8 hr 30 min drive; Dallas: 6 hr 30 min drive; Houston: 9 hr 45 min drive; San Antonio: 8 hr 30 min drive
Hanging out on the border between Texas and New Mexico, Glenrio had nothing short of a glorious past along Route 66. It even has Hollywood cred to its name — some scenes from the famous 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath were filmed there. The once-booming town was established in 1903 as a railroad stop and grew progressively with a hotel, cafes, stores, and service stations along with a local newspaper. While the town weathered the Great Depression with Route 66 travelers contributing to the local economy, Interstate 40 was arguably the town’s demise. When the highway was built in the 1950s, it bypassed the community and diverted business away, thus triggering the decline.
What To See: The abandoned Little Suarez restaurant, which you may recognize from the animated film, Cars; there's a business that looks nearly identical to it in the movie.
Austin: 3 hr 45 min drive; Dallas: 4 hr 15 min drive; Houston: 6 hr drive; San Antonio: 3 hr 30 min drive
One of the more picturesque ghost towns in Texas, Sherwood is the former county seat of Iron County and has the stately courthouse to prove it. When Mertzon was named the new county seat, the courthouse was abandoned in 1939. But, it was really the railroad that caused the decline of the would-be town and its beautiful tree-lined setting along the banks of Spring Creek. The Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railroads bypassed Sherwood starting in 1911, thus driving commerce away from Sherwood and undermining the town's economic base. Today, the town is little more than a rural community.
What To See: The courthouse, built in 1901, with its corresponding tower that bears a false clock with its hands set at the supposed time of Abraham Lincoln's death.
Austin: 3 hr drive; Dallas: 5 hr 30 min drive; Houston: 2 hr 30 min drive; San Antonio: 2 hr 45 min drive
Founded in 1844 as a port city — and potential competitor to Galveston and New Orleans — the town fell on hard times when devastating hurricanes blew through in 1875 and 1886, leaving nothing but ruins in their wake along with enough silt and sand in the bay to render it useless to the ships that mattered.
hat To See: A few beach houses line the coast along with a granite statue of the French explorer Robert de La Salle, who had a colony there in the 1600s.
Austin: 6 hr drive; Dallas: 6 hr drive; Houston: 8 hr drive; San Antonio: 5 hr 15 min drive
A rare town where the founder is buried in the local cemetery, Barstow was founded by George E. Barstow, a leading expert in irrigation who traveled from Rhode Island to Texas in the 1890s. Irrigation was even successful enough for Barstow to win a silver medal for grapes at the 1904 World Fair. But, despite its early successes as a farming hub, not even Barstow’s savvy could remedy the disaster that ensued when the Pecos River dam broke in 1904 and flooded all the crops. After the severe droughts that followed the next few years, there wasn’t much hope for restoration.
What To See: The water tower and brick buildings are everything you’d expect in a classic ghost town. Supposedly, there’s an old stadium scoreboard floating around, too.
7. The Grove
Austin: 1 hr 30 min drive; Dallas: 2 hr drive; Houston: 3 hr drive; San Antonio: 2 hr 30 min drive
It doesn’t sound like a ghost town — more like a lush destination surrounded by trees. But, this place that was established in the early 1870s is definitely pretty much abandoned. The Grove was economically based on farming and stock raising, so when agriculture consolidated and a new highway bypassed the area in the 1940s, the population began to decline. That said, The Grove is relatively well-kept, with a restored row of commercial buildings.
What To See: The Coffins and Drugs building — yes, it is one building that had both services. The Cocklebur Saloon, established in 1910, is another good one, with a good name, too.
Austin: 1 hr 45 min drive; Dallas: 3 hr drive; Houston: 1 hr 30 min drive; San Antonio: 2 hr 45 min drive
Baylor University was originally built in this town. Surrounded by cotton-producing plantations, Independence had become the wealthiest community in Texas and a Baptist stronghold — so it’s no surprise Baylor selected it as the site and formally opened its doors in 1846. Independence peaked during the 1850s and was recognized as an educational, economic, and religious center. The town has another claim to fame, too. Sam Houston lived there from 1853 to 1858. As for what led to its demise, the Civil War, the railroad skipping the town, and Baylor’s relocation in 1886 all spelled disaster although the surrounding farmland remained productive and was often worked by European immigrants. Today, it’s one of the more active and pretty ghost towns, with tours available of its rich and varied history as well as the rolling meadows and fields of bluebonnets.
What To See: The ruins of the former Baylor Female College campus that amount to four stately columns in Old Baylor Park.
9. Medicine Mound
Austin: 5 hr 30 min drive; Dallas: 3 hr 15 min drive; Houston: 6 hr 30 min drive; San Antonio: 6 hr 30 min drive
Healing hills? That’s the origin of this town’s name, anyway. Early inhabitants of this area were Comanche and Kiowa Indians who believed the nearby dolomite hills had metaphysical healing and protective powers, hence their name: Medicine Mounds. The mounds eventually had a namesake town, too, completed with doctors, dry goods store, barber shops, grocery stores, and churches that sprang up in 1907 as railroad construction boomed. Most of the town was destroyed by fire in the early 1930s and its demise continued through the 1950s.
What To See: You’ll spot the namesake “medicine mounds” in the distance, plus the former Hicks & Cobb General Merchandise Store and a gas station that has the old-fashioned gas pumps still standing to this day.
10. Belle Plain
Austin: 3 hr 15 min drive; Dallas: 2 hr 30 min drive; Houston: 5 hr 30 min drive; San Antonio: 3 hr 45 min drive
Home to one of the first higher learning institutions in West Texas, Belle Plain held high potential and promise. Built in the 1870s, it boasted mercantile stores, a hotel, newspaper, professional services, and that local college. But, a drought in 1886 all but spelled the end of Belle Plain’s reign, and the school closed shortly afterward in 1892.
What To See: Reaching the site requires a circuitous route on graded country roads, but if you decide to go, you’ll see what’s left of the college — and little else.
Austin: 1 hr drive; Dallas: 2 hr 15 min drive; Houston: 2 hr 45 min drive; San Antonio: 2 hr 15 min drive
If you watched the NBC television series Revolution, a trip to Bartlett will likely be déjà vu. Parts of the show were filmed there, taking advantage of the late 19th and early 20th-century architecture that’s quite beautiful — even in its shabby state. The town started declining when the cotton sector lost steam during the Great Depression. But, it’s had quite the filmography to its name since and has also appeared in movies including The Stars Fell on Henrietta, The Whole Wide World, and The Dalton Boys. The “ghost town” categorization of Bartlett is debatable, as there’s a tiny number of residents that still call the place home. But, we’re still counting it as worth a visit.
What To See: Several abandoned churches and neglected Victorian-style homes within the town are both forlorn and fabulous at the same time.
Austin: 5 hr drive; Dallas: 4 hr drive; Houston: 7 hr drive; San Antonio: 5 hr drive
It’s jailhouse rock at this ghost town, originally established in 1892 as the county seat. Clairemont declined around 1954, and there’s not much left of it to speak of — except the jail ruins.
What To See: The Clairemont jail, built in 1895, is a spooky standalone structure — enter at your own risk!
Austin: 3 hr drive; Dallas: 6 hr drive; Houston: 4 hr 30 min drive; San Antonio: 2 hr drive
The shell of a vibrantly colored hotel provides a peek into what Catarina could have been, had the town not dried up — literally and figuratively. With broken promises of abundant water, empty wells, and a Great Depression to contend with, people left in droves.
What To See: The striking Catarina hotel built in 1926.