Webster’s Dictionary defines a “Ghost Town” as: a town that no longer has any people living in it; an abandoned town. Example: After all the gold was mined, the place became a ghost town. 

Whereas in a physical sense these towns are very much desolate, they still posses a vibrancy teeming with the memories of their past. They provide a timeline of our socio-, politico, and economic development; a scar on the landscape to remind us of the promises, hopes, choices, needs and reality of our westward expansion. When visiting, one cannot help but be enamored whilst also thinking: why here and what happened?

The answer is seemingly simple: the ores and deposits ran dry or became too expensive to mine and the population moved elsewhere seeking new opportunity. However, if we dig a little deeper and add: why did “they” not stay and undertake other lively-hood, the answer becomes significantly more complex. Was the choice ever in the hands of “those individuals” or did other forces and factors play a role?

We don’t have to look much further than the location of those “ghost towns” relative to cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, and countless others. Without wanting to narrow our perspective, or deprive discourse and other research, I will simply reflect that: once extracted the mineral was immediately moved elsewhere, which might have deprived the “town of origin” the benefits of economic development. 

This might lend better perspective and context to the history and development of California: the migration of wealth from rural/country to “coastal” cities to develop the necessary infrastructure to further promote industry and growth (migratory and economic) for the state as a whole.

So I leave you here with questions to consider the next time you find yourself in a “ghost town.” Who or what decided the fate of these settlements and prosperity of cities? Was it a question of “railroads and ports” (as a function of viable business) vs. “promise and determinism” (striking it rich (miners), putting down roots (the Mormons), or finding a new beginning)?