Ghosttowning is a thing…
I started visiting many rural destinations within the Midwest part of the United States, and it didn’t take long before different abandoned sites, towns, farms, ranches, and different buildings started to pull at my heartstrings. (I think it all started with the Barn Quilt Tour in O’Brien County). The tour itself was set up for people interested in getting outside, but doing activities that encouraged social distancing – but got people exploring their own backyards! In the process of putting together a video of the tour (one of my first projects needing a fresh edit!) I began to get this sick feeling in my stomach that some of these big old “beautiful” barns, on the Barn Quilt Tour #1, Barn Quilt Tour #2, Barn Quilt Tour #3, and Barn Quilt Tour #4, would eventually disappear! We are losing some of these old buildings, and the history of some of these places is fading away quickly.
So, I began documenting the history and learned that the Midwest has nearly 2,000 different abandoned places and ghost towns – and sadly many of these towns have either been swallowed up by rivers from flooding, plowed under (because of the land they sit upon) or left rotting as reminders of the Great Depression; relics of the Dust Bowl that swept across the Midwest States during the ’30s and logging one of the largest droughts in history. Some were simply bypassed by the railroads, and economic migration took care of the rest-as people went in search of thriving communities for business and jobs.
What I found is – that people are interested in this type of tourism. They are heritage historians, in search of their family tree connections, looking for family plots, records, cemeteries, and yes … ghost towns. I’ve named it “Midwest Ghost Town” and I have been going alongside these fellow travelers and helping document these places and more importantly, the stories that go along with them.
Starting Midwest Ghost Town
My first episode on my YouTube Channel “A Pioneer Cemetery: Disease and Grasshopper Plagues” took me through two cemeteries in O’Brien County (Covey Church and Covey Cemetery – just outside of Primghar, Iowa) and further down the road on the corner of Tyler Avenue and 360th Street to Randolf Cemetery). Both cemeteries were what I would call “Pioneer Cemeteries” they held a story to be told (from the late 1800s) of perseverance and survival. Covey church is the oldest church in O’Brien County. It stands alone at a T – intersection and demands travelers to stop and take notice of its beautiful white exterior, with its cemetery sitting in front. Built to completion in 1874 – it was the story surrounding this place that captured my attention. Hardship after hardship, whole families being affected by diseases such as smallpox and cholera. Even the first pastor of the church (John Covey) had his own touch of grief when he lost his wife a year before in 1873 from Typhoid fever, his son the very next day, and his youngest daughter a week after. Losing three precious family members in the course of a week – and the stories of countless others shed a light on how extremely difficult it was to “make it” in the heartland during the late 1800s.
The Great Grasshopper Plague of 1874-75
If fighting disease and the elements weren’t enough – one of the worst plagues hit the area (during the same time frame time) with a massive infestation of Grasshoppers, known as “Rocky Mountain Locusts”. They were so great in number, and so thick they were observed to blot out the sun, turning day into darkness, with black clouds of insect layers creating clouds of crop destruction. The ravenous grasshoppers could mow down a field within a day, leaving the local farmers in total ruin. They would try everything to rid of the locusts – from burning them out with kerosene to digging up their eggs in the dirt and trying to destroy them before they hatched – but nothing seemed to work. The Grasshopper plague was mentioned in some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and can be read about in numerous journals. It lasted approximately seven years and spread from Canada to Mexico. You can hear a little more about it in Episode One below.
Why Midwest Ghost Town?
Country Pilgrim isn’t going away – but I wanted to make sure that some of my readers knew some of the side story – of a content creator, going out and documenting the stories of these places. It’s been a learning experience, and most of the story is a sad one – it’s never fun to come upon a place and find that there isn’t a single trace of its existence, except for a roadside named in its honor. I think about the people, the families, and the stories that deserve to be told and remembered. There are lessons to be learned – and isn’t that what history is for? Enriching our lives that we can learn from the past, and not make the same mistakes twice? Enriching our lives that we leave this world a little better than how we found it? Remembering and telling the stories of yesterday – because history matters!
Do you have any Ghost Towns near you? or are you familiar with any Ghost Towns or abandoned places in the Midwest? I would love to hear about it! The way I look at it – we can learn from each other – Let me know!
Fascinating history yet so sad and disheartening for those pioneer farmers.
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I think it just shows HOW HARD pioneer families had it back in the 1800’s. Yet, showed a sense of toughness and perseverance. I can’t imagine losing my entire family through the course of a couple of weeks!
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