Most of the time, people hear about ghost towns that were abandoned nearly a century or more ago, with its residents just up and leaving. It's rare, however, to hear of a town that was not only abandoned but dried up as a result. The U.S. is full of ghost towns that have been explored by brave souls, but there are perhaps none more mysterious than that of Ardmore.
The town, it would seem, was quite fated from the start, with a plethora of problems that its residents thought were fixable. As it turns out, things such as droughts and toxic drinking water are not as easily fixed - or weren't, back in 1889. This, combined with the fact that the area was incredibly remote (as is evident from the drive there), made for a ghost town that was bound to be abandoned eventually. Visitors can still see the remnants of this town today, including its 19th-century frontier-style buildings.
How Ardmore Came To Be, And How It Came To Be Abandoned
Founded in 1889, Ardmore was what anyone would expect when it came to a midwestern frontier town. The goal of the town was to become a halfway point for the New Burlington Railroad which, unfortunately, never fully came to fruition due to the town's problems. In a bizarre twist of fate, the steam engines that were operating on the New Burlington line required periodic stops along the way to refuel with water. However, drought is one of the reasons why Ardmore never grew to more than it was when it was eventually abandoned. A temporary solution to the lack of water in Ardmore was for the steam trains to exchange their clean water for the town's highly acidic water, but this could never have been a long-term solution with a growing population.
The only water the town had access to was from Hat Creek, which would have been substantial - at least, to start - save for the fact that the water itself was highly acidic. This rendered it undrinkable but great for the steam trains that came through, creating a problem that needed to be solved. With the lack of water came the question of agriculture; how, exactly, is a town facing constant drought expected to produce crops? The answer came in the form of the experimental method of dry farming. This agricultural experiment proved increasingly difficult and, eventually, was abandoned - thus, the town was left without much aside from an acidic creek and the occasional steam train.
Despite that, it was still a place that was visited by outsiders, one of which included President and Mrs. Coolidge in 1927. Unfortunately, the town was almost completely abandoned only a few years later. One photographer described the town as a 'ghost town that [was] decaying as a result of drought' back in 1936. The final nail, so to speak, was the invention of diesel engine trains, which rendered steam trains unnecessary. This meant that the occasional small-town stop-off was no longer needed, and Ardmore was rendered useless and without a source of freshwater. Surprisingly, some residents held on until the 1980s, when the last census showed a dwindling population of only 16 people.
Visiting The Ghost Town Of Ardmore, South Dakota
Visiting Ardmore today is similar to visiting any other abandoned town with the exception of the fact that many of its buildings and homes are still intact. Since the town faced no major damage, there were no extreme environmental factors to destroy its last remaining structures - which makes for an eerie visit. Those wandering its fields and what would have been farmlands are likely to see ancient farm equipment that bears the rust of more than a century. Inside the homes that are still standing, random furniture and bits of a life left behind remain in various rooms throughout.
The timber wood-frame houses are entirely stuck in time, which makes any visitor feel as though they're is stepping back into an unusual, albeit sad time in history. In fact, if one didn't realize that Ardmore was completely abandoned, it would be easy to believe that it was simply just a rural town that was a little worse for the wear.
Getting To Ardmore, South Dakota
- The best way to reach Ardmore is to drive, and the ghost town can be reached via South Dakota Highway 7, roughly one mile north of the South Dakota-Nebraska border.
- Visitors should note that these buildings are more than 100 years old, and the risk of collapse or deterioration is present. Exercise extreme caution when walking around the town.