Ghost Town Tour Through
The Heart of the Heartland
If you live in
ACKWORTH (Warren Co.)
This little town is located five miles east of
· SW¼ Sec 23, T76N, R23W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Latitude: 41.36699373 / 41° 22' 01" N
· Longitude: -93.4727131 / 93° 28' 22" W
SANDYVILLE (Warren Co.)
On SH 92, five miles east of Ackworth
is another small cluster of homes, a repair garage, and an abandoned two-story
structure that looks as if it may have been a store at one time. Size-wise, the community is larger than Ackworth, but population-wise it is slightly smaller, with
only 51 people living here in 2010.
· Ctr of section line Sec 21 & 22, T76N, R22W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.3708263, Long: -93.3863220
· Lat: 41° 22' 15" N, Long: 93° 23' 11" W
Attica is a little larger than the last two
locations, and in the mid-1990s appeared livelier than its 2000 population of
80 would indicate. Located just
southwest of the junction of SH 5/SH 76, 11 miles southeast of
The Attica Post Office closed, and became a rural branch of the Knoxville Post Office on Dec 30, 1965. It shut down completely Dec 31, 1978. On May 30, 2008, an EF2 tornado struck Attica, causing extensive damage to buildings, but causing no fatalities.
· NW¼ Sec 11, T74N, R19W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.2297219, Long: -93.0160359
· Lat: 41° 13' 47" N, Long: 93° 00' 58" W
· S-Ctr Sec 26, T74N, R19W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.177806, Long: -93.014084
Red Rock Reservoir (Marion Co.)
Red Rock Reservoir is a huge man-made lake that
swallowed up the sites of at least four old communities along the
With a 2010 population of 10,352, Pella is no ghost! The only reason it is mentioned is because the restored boyhood home of Wyatt Earp is located in a small park just east of the downtown square. It is an interesting place to visit if you don't mind spending some bucks a shot for touristy glitz.
GRAN(D)VILLE (Mahaska Co.)
About ten miles northeast of
· SW¼ Sec 1, T77N, R17W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.4961096, Long: -92.7743601
· Lat: 41° 29' 46" N, Long: 92° 46' 28" W
GIBSON (Keokuk Co.)
Gibson is a dwindling incorporated city whose population
has seesawed a bit in the last half century, maxing out with 80 people in 1970
and dropping to 63 in 1990. It jumped to
92 in 2000, and in 2010 dipped to 61, the lowest since at least 1960. In 1994, all that remained were about 30 or
so neat homes, an elevator, post office, United Presbyterian Church, and a
fairly new bank building sitting at the intersection of
· NW corner Sec 17, T77N, R13W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.4811167, Long: -92.3935181
· Lat: 41° 28' 52" N, Long: 92° 23' 37" W
THORNBURG (Keokuk Co.)
Four miles north of WHAT CHEER on SH 21 is the junction with SH 22. A mile east a cluster of trees announces the incorporated city of THORNBURG. After passing the modern "Tri-County School", we entered Thornburg. This town looks like a ghost town is supposed to look like! Half the homes in town are abandoned, and "downtown" consisted of five buildings, four of which were unoccupied at the time of our visit in 1994. On the north side of the street from the east was a single-story brick structure; the tiny, wooden white-painted post office (opened Jan 19, 1880) and the boarded-up, brick McIntire Pump & Water building. Across the street was the moldering, red clapboard Thornburg Grocery, and just west of that was another combination brick and wood structure. There were also two churches in town, both of which appeared active. Like GIBSON, the railroad line and the former station had been removed, isolating the old community. Other than a slight bump up in population in 1980, Thornburg’s population has steadily decreased from 267 in 1900 to 67 in 2010. It was originally established in 1879 as a railroad station on the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway. The post office was established shortly afterward, and the town incorporated September 25, 1883.
· SW¼ Sec 23, T77N, R13W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.4547293, Long: -92.3357394
· Lat: 41° 27' 17" N, Long: 92° 20' 09" W
WHAT CHEER (Keokuk Co.)
On SH 21, 3.5 miles south of the Thornburg turnoff, we entered a long main street lined with one to three story brick buildings. What Cheer is an active little city with a population of 646 (2010 Census.). BUT, that is way down from the 3246 that lived here in 1890. Other than the addition of 29 folks in 1940, the population has declined through every census since. Even though What Cheer is technically no ghost, it fits neatly into my classification system and is in the center of what was an active coal mining area. Despite being a still-active community, about a half of the structures along the main street are unoccupied, or are used for storage, or at least were at the time of our visit in 1994. One of its two main sites is a three-story brick opera house, which was built in 1893, and is open for tours. The other is an 1884 two-story brick schoolhouse that houses the historical museum. The railroad is gone, as is the spirit of the town. The post office opened Jan 26, 1866 and is still active.
What Cheer was established in 1865 as Petersburg, and on December 01, 1879 it was renamed to What Cheer when the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway arrived to tap the rich coal mines of the area. As a result, What Cheer turned into a true boomtown and grew to 719 people by 1880 and over 3200 by 1890. In addition to the mining of coal, several manufacturing businesses that made coal mining tools and equipment also set up shop here. Through the mining years, the miners went out on strike numerous times and eventually all the mines were unionized. Several brick manufacturing plants also operated here.
By 1910 most of the mines had faded out, and the population figures reflect that decrease in production, registering “only” 1720 folks in town, about 50% of what was there just 20 years previously. In 1912, the united Mine Workers, Local 841 only tallied 18 members. The boom was definitely over. In 2010, there were 347 housing units, 293 of which were occupied.
· E½ Sec 9, W½ Sec 10, T76N, R13W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.4013970, Long: -92.3546288
· Lat: 41° 24' 05" N, Long: 92° 21' 17" W
DELTA (Keokuk Co.)
Four miles south of What Cheer, SH 21 intersects with SH 92. About a mile south of that intersection is the small incorporated city of Delta. Another covered bridge was located two miles south of the town, but it is well hidden in the trees east of SH 21. We visited it during our 1990s visit, but it no longer stands as it was burned by an arsonist on Sep 03, 2003. You may need local directions to find the site, as the signs were not real accurate when we tried visiting back in 1994. It was built in 1869, and was open only for foot traffic. It was on 148th Avenue where it crosses the Skunk River, just east of the Kensler Cemetery.
Delta itself is a sleepy little backwater burg with a 2010 population of 328. Where they all were (at the time of our visit in 1994) I didn't know, but the frazzled old downtown core didn't reflect much of a town on the move. The railroad and its station are gone, there were also a grocery store, post office (established Feb 01, 1876), Floden's Diner (closed) and Last Chance Saloon all still identifiable with signs. There were numerous other buildings that appeared to be closed but were without signage, so I couldn't tell what they were. Delta peaked in 1910 with a population of 728.
· SW¼ Sec 2, NW¼ Sec 11, T75N, R13W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.3227881, Long: -92.3301841
· Lat: 41° 19' 22" N, Long: 92° 19' 49" W
DELTA COVERED BRIDGE SITE:
· Ctr Sec 14, T75N, R13W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.2988998, Long: -92.3229618
· Lat: 41° 17' 56" N, Long: 92° 19' 23" W
ROSE HILL (Mahaska Co.)
Back in a rainy 1994 visit, I spotted the sign for Rose Hill, and turned south off SH 22 in search of another adventure. Rose Hill with a 2010 population of 168 is another badly faded farm town that seems so typical of rural central Iowa. At the time of our visit in 1994, over half of the commercial buildings were either converted to houses, or were unoccupied. I saw only a restaurant, feed store and body shop open. The wooden community center had recently burned and was wrapped in fluorescent red nylon netting to keep people out. The post office opened Sep 24, 1849, and changed name to ORNBAUM on Dec 17, 1875. It changed back to Rose Hill three months later on Mar 15, 1876. Unlike many of the other towns in this study, Rose Hill has not had any drastic drops in population. It peaked in 1930 with 275 people, and has maintained that 200 +/- level until the latest census when the vacancy rate for housing was about 16%, a bit over the state’s rate of 9.1%.
· SW¼ Sec 3, NW¼ Sec 10, T75N, R14W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.3219533, Long: -92.4621318
· Lat: 41° 19' 19" N, Long: 92° 27' 44" W
TRACY (Marion Co.)
Midway between Oskaloosa and Knoxville, just east
of the county line and 2.3 miles south of SH 92 is the small unincorporated
town of Tracy.
Its 1990 population of 300 (450 in 2000) is no match for what remains of the town, unless there has been a radical reversal in fortune. In 1994, it consisted of scattered commercial buildings and some 50-75 homes, which were mostly occupied. Its claim to fame however is the huge, brown-brick, two-story 1914 school standing on a grassy knoll. The town’s post office opened on Jan 31, 1876 and is still open (50256).
· SE¼ Sec 24, NE¼ Sec 25, T75N, R18W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.2763905, Long: -92.8754767
· Lat: 41° 16' 35" N, Long: 92° 52' 32" W
HARVEY (Marion Co.)
Just a mile or so west of the southern junction to
Tracy is a small turnoff to the north, marked Harvey. During our summer, 1994 visit, the rain had
let up so we decided this would make a nice last stop on our tour. Downtown Harvey with 235 people (2010
Census), is just a shadow of what it once was.
In 1994, it was just a handful of abandoned buildings with an active
post office (50119), a bar called the "Trucker's Inn", and an abandoned
· NW¼ Sec 10, T75N, R18W, Fifth Principal Meridian
· Lat: 41.3158330, Long: -92.9240884
· Lat: 41° 18' 57" N, Long: 92° 55' 27" W
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for April 2002.
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FIRST POSTED: April 01, 2002
LAST UPDATED: September 27, 2012
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