An Afternoon at Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine

Walk among the remains of an early 20th Century pyrite mine in this northern Virginia forest.

The 16,084 acres of Prince William Forest Park west of Quantico, Virginia was once home to at least three small towns, two mines, and dozens of homesteads. The Cabin Branch Mine, which operated from 1889 to 1920, was among them. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government bought up the land to form the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area.

Final eviction of the local residents came during WW2, when the Office of Strategic Services wanted to turn the land into a training ground. They forcibly removed dozens of residents without compensation. After the war, the National Park Service took over management and renamed it Prince William Forest Park, charging visitors $15 a week to walk the trails.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Not much remains of the old pyrite mine, but you can still see some concrete structures along the Cabin Branch Mine Trail, off Pyrite Mine Road northwest of the Visitor’s Center. Interpretive signs tell the mine’s history. Pyrite, Iron Sulfide, or “Fool’s Gold” was a source of sulfur used to make products as diverse as glass, soap, bleach, textiles, paper, dye, and even gunpowder.

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Adirondac and Tahawus Ghost Town

On September 6, 1901, Anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley in the stomach in Buffalo, New York. As he lay in agony, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who was vacationing in Vermont at the time, left to be at his side, but stayed with family at the Tahawus Club in the Adirondack Mountains along the way.

Since the President appeared to be recovering, Roosevelt decided to climb Mount Marcy. On September 13, word reached him that McKinley was dying. Roosevelt rushed down the rough mountain road on his way to Buffalo, where he learned he would become the next President of the United States.

The Tahawus Club ruins can still be seen today, at the Upper Works Trailhead at the end of Upper Works Road (County Road 25). The sportman’s club was built on the ruins of an older town, called Adirondac, which businessmen Archibald McIntyre and David Henderson built for their iron miners and lasted from 1826 to 1853. A titanium mine opened in 1940, and the newly christened town of Tahawus grew to over 80 buildings. That mine closed in the 1980s, however, and the structures quickly deteriorated.

Today, not much remains of this ghost town. Beautifully illustrated interpretive signs explaining the area’s history have been erected at the site, and one building, called the MacNaughton Cottage, has been preserved. Crumbling brick chimneys stand as memorials to the rest. The remains are roughly located at 44°05’12.6″N 74°03’21.0″W.

Ghost Town Graveyards of Prince William Forest

The 16,084 acres of Prince William Forest Park in northern Virginia was once home to at least three small towns, two mines, and dozens of homesteads. During the Great Depression, the Federal Government began buying up this land to form the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area. It purchased 79 properties and condemned 48 others.

Enforcement of the eviction was half-hearted, however, until WW2 when the Office of Strategic Services wanted to turn the land into a training ground. They forcibly removed dozens of residents without compensation. After the war, the National Park Service took over management and renamed it Prince William Forest Park, charging visitors $15 a week to walk around the woods. What a bunch of dicks.

There are approximately 45 family cemeteries dotting the park, reminders of the people who once lived there. It’s estimated over 300 people are interred there. Less than twelve are marked on the official park map.

Photo by Michael Kleen

Cannon-Reed Cemetery is closest to the Visitor’s Center, off Birch Bluff Trail. A small sign misspelling the family name points to the side trail leading to the graveyard. Revolutionary War veteran Luke Cannon is buried here, as is a young man who lost his life working in the local mine.

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The Vishnu Springs Ghost Town

A few miles west of Macomb, Illinois, deep in the woods outside the small village of Colchester, sits the remnants of Vishnu Springs. Since its final abandonment in 1982, this ghost town has attracted curious college students who have heard stories of the crumbling old hotel and weed-choked natural springs.

Headlines like “Vishnu Springs: Is the old place haunted?” and “Western’s Haunted Secret” entice students to risk fines for trespassing down the long, dark trail into the woods to catch a glimpse of the graffiti-sprayed clapboard facade of the old Capitol Hotel. A once-thriving resort community, Vishnu Springs has captured the imagination of visitors as much in its afterlife as it did in its heyday.

What remains of its three-story hotel, once majestic and full of energy, has become a haven for students from Western Illinois University looking for a thrill. Some of these unwanted visitors have returned with stories of harrowing encounters with the unknown (as well as with law enforcement, who routinely patrol the grounds).

According to author Troy Taylor, Vishnu Springs is home to a number of restless ghosts. It is rumored that Maud, wife of Vishnu founder Darius Hicks, died in childbirth in one of the rooms of the Capital Hotel, an event that left an “impression” behind. In Haunted Illinois (2004) Taylor claimed, “Visitors also told of sounds from Vishnu’s past, echoing into the present.” These sounds are remnants of an earlier, happier time dating back to the founding days of Vishnu Springs.

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Graffiti Highway and Centralia, PA Ghost Town

Centralia, Pennsylvania was nearly entirely evacuated following a coal mine fire, burning beneath the town since 1962. In 1992, Pennsylvania condemned the town and claimed it under eminent domain in an attempt for force the remaining residents out. Some sued, and were allowed to stay.

A section of State Route 61 was abandoned after it began to buckle and crumble from the underground fire. This has become known as “Graffiti Highway.” Smoke can still be seen coming through cracks in the ground in some places, but not on my trip. Centralia is rumored to have inspired Silent Hill. Check out my new video below!

Bathtub Messiah: The Strange History of the Koreshan Unity


At the turn of the last century, deep in the pine flat woods of southeast Florida near the small village of Estero, a group of religious believers sought to build a new Jerusalem on the Gulf Coast. These followers of Dr. Cyrus Teed, called Koreshans, believed the earth and universe were contained within a concave sphere. At its peak, their New Jerusalem was home to 250 people. Today, it is the Koreshan State Historic Site. Some visitors report eerie encounters with the vestigial remains of the so-called Koreshan Unity. Even without these stories, it is one of the most interesting ghost towns in Florida.

Cyrus Teed was born in 1839 in New York. He quickly gained an interest in science and medicine and opened a clinic in Utica. During one of his experiments, he was electrocuted and claimed a divine spirit had told him that he was the Messiah. He changed his name to Koresh and began to gather followers. This small group moved to Chicago in 1888 and established a commune. Apparently they were not well received. According to Jack Powell, author of Haunted Sunshine (2001), “The Chicago newspapers ran article after article on him. He was characterized to the public as the leader of a cult that took worldly goods from its followers and kept them enslaved through fear.”

Dr. Teed and his followers came to Estero, Florida in 1894 and acquired 1,600 acres of land through donation and purchase. There they held seminars for the public on Cellular Cosmogony, Teed’s own Hollow Earth theory. The group also believed in communal living, sharing property, gender equality, and various forms of celibacy. The Koreshan Unity was a thriving community with residences, gardens, a bakery, art hall, and store. The seven women who made up the Unity’s governing council lived in a large building called the Planetary Chamber.

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Happy Valley Ghost Town Cemeteries

Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area in Oswego County, New York holds a secret: in the 1800s, this area was home to a hamlet called Happy Valley. Little remains of this once thriving community. During the Great Depression, the government bought up foreclosed farms to form the basis of this game reserve.

The area is covered in marshy terrain and pine forest. In summer, biting flies and mosquitoes swarm the lowlands. Several unimproved, dirt roads travel through the area. A few wells, foundations, and stone walls remain.

Most commonly, the curious visit Fraicheur Cemetery, established in 1850 and christened after the original French name for the area. Headstones date from the mid-to-late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Preservationists have preserved and repaired over a dozen headstones.

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