Historic America

Coles County Ghost Towns: Bachelorsville, Dog Town, and String Town

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Dog Town/Diona

Dog Town, on Clear Creek in Hutton Township, straddled Coles and Cumberland counties (Cumberland County separated from Coles in 1843) and was among Coles County’s earliest settlements, getting its nickname from the large number of dogs kept there. Among the first white children born in the county was a son of James Nees, a resident of Dog Town, in March 1827.

When Abraham Lincoln’s family first entered Coles County in 1830, they came through this quiet hamlet before ultimately settling west of Decatur. Nicholas McMorris was appointed its first postmaster on October 12, 1869.

According to The History of Coles County (1879), Dog Town was “an accidental collection of houses” with a store, post office, shops, and a Presbyterian church. It was also known as Diona. The L.D. Rothrock General Store, a two-story brick building with a meeting hall on the second floor, was erected in 1880. The post office closed in 1904.

Mysterious America Photography

Graffiti Highway

Centralia, Pennsylvania was evacuated following a coal mine fire, which has been 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.

Historic America

Bulltown Historic Area and Battlefield in Braxton County, West Virginia

Camp on a Civil War battlefield and explore historic Bulltown in the Allegheny wilderness along the Little Kanawha River.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of Bulltown was fought on October 13, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Capt. William Mattingly and Confederate forces commanded by Col. William L. Jackson in Bulltown, West Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle was a Union victory, with Confederates failing to take take their objective and cut Federal communications. It resulted in a dozen or so total casualties.

In April 1863, a small Confederate force under Brig. Gens. William E. Jones and John D. Imboden embarked on what’s become known as the “Jones–Imboden Raid” into western Virginia, a few months before West Virginia formally separated and joined the Union. They burned railroad bridges, captured supplies, and temporarily reversed Confederate military fortunes in the area. Col. Jackson had served under Brig. Gen. Imboden during the raid.

That fall, Jackson and a force of 775 men and two artillery pieces sought to capture the small Federal garrison at Bulltown in Braxton County. Capt. Mattingly had between 125 and 400 infantry with which to defend his “fort”. On October 13, Jackson divided his force and attacked piecemeal. At 8am, Jackson called on Mattingly to surrender, and he replied: “Come and take us.” Though Mattingly was wounded in the thigh, miraculously his was one of the few injuries sustained by his command all day.

Historic America

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.

Historic America

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.

Historic America

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.

Mysterious America

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).