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The fascinating stories behind 7 Wisconsin ghost towns

The fascinating stories behind 7 Wisconsin ghost towns

Photo courtesy of Bella Vita Images via Shutterstock

By Britteny Dee

February 21, 2024

Wisconsin has plenty of bustling cities and thriving suburban neighborhoods. But the Badger State is also home to hundreds of ghost towns — once-prosperous settlements that were deserted due to natural disasters, economic challenges, and other issues.

Some of these towns have been restored and turned into tourist attractions, while others remain abandoned and offer a more traditional ghost town experience.

Keep reading to discover Wisconsin’s most interesting ghost towns and learn more about the stories behind their initial success and eventual downfall.

Pendarvis

Visiting Pendarvis is like taking a step back in time. Founded by Cornish immigrants in the 1800s, Pendarvis and its quintessential limestone and log buildings have been almost perfectly preserved.

Pendarvis’ founders came to the area — located about an hour southwest of present-day Madison — in the mid-1800s hoping to strike it rich mining lead and zinc. While they initially found success, most eventually left and headed west when gold was discovered in California.

In the 1930s, many of Pendarvis’ unoccupied buildings were slated for destruction, but one couple started purchasing and restoring the structures. Eventually, the Wisconsin Historical Society bought Pendarvis and began welcoming visitors to tour the grounds and buildings, many of which are so well-preserved it almost seems as if there are still miners living in them.

While it’s no longer an energetic mining town, Pendarvis remains relevant thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s efforts. In 2022, Thrillist even named Pendarvis to its list of the Creepiest, Coolest Ghost Town in Every State.

Plainfield

Plainfield is a small town with a dark past that still looms large. Most notably, it was the site of the infamous murders carried out by Ed Gein.

Gein — also known as the “Butcher of Plainfield” — was arrested in 1957 after the local hardware store owner went missing. Her body, along with the bodies of many others, was found in Gein’s farmhouse by investigators. It was later learned that Gein dug up bodies from Plainfield cemeteries, dismembered them, and used the parts to create household items like lampshades and furniture upholstery.

Gein’s house was mysteriously burned to the ground in 1958 after it was rumored that someone planned to purchase it and convert it into a “House of Horrors” tourist attraction. The other buildings on the property were eventually destroyed as well, and now the site is nothing more than an overgrown lot. Gein is buried in the local cemetery, and many claim his spirit haunts Plainfield.

Gein inspired many now-famous fictional serial killers, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.

Imalone

Imalone is a mostly forgotten town located in Northern Wisconsin, but it still makes headlines from time to time for its unique name. It’s said that a misunderstanding is the reason for the former logging region’s head-scratching moniker.

The story goes that gas station owner Snowball Anderson left a man named Bill Granger in charge of his business while he was out of town. When a salesperson stopped by to get an invoice signed and asked for the name of the place, Granger shrugged and replied, “I’m alone” because he was the only one working. The salesperson wrote “Im A Lone,” and the name stuck. Another version of the story suggests Anderson named his gas station Imalone because he was often alone.

In addition to the gas station, the Imalone Bible Camp and Church, founded in 1940, was another popular business in the area. A few years after the founder died, though, the church split over the issue of baptism and members formed new churches.

According to a 2007 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, all that’s left of the community is a bar by the name of Wagon Wheel and some houses. In 2016, a blogger traveled to Imalone and came across several abandoned buildings, deteriorating homes, and an old concrete stave silo.

Sinnipee

Once a very prosperous port community, war and disease devastated Sinnipee and ultimately led to its demise. During the Black Hawk War in 1832, an attack by hostile Indians caused many settlers to flee the area. Then, around 1839, large puddles formed by melting snow became a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which led to a malaria outbreak that killed a large majority of Sinnipee’s population.

Present-day Sinnipee is an isolated, quiet area. Much of the land is underwater thanks to permanent flooding caused by the construction of a dam in 1934. In a 2001 article in Julien’s Journal-The Dubuque Area Magazine, Sinnipee was dubbed “Atlantis on the Mississippi.”

Pokerville

Pokerville was once one of the most happening communities in Wisconsin. Originally named Blue Mounds West, the name Pokerville was given to the community because of the frequent gambling that took place there. Liquor flowed freely and fights were common, but Pokerville remained a popular place to gather until around 1880 when a railroad was built east of the town. Residents left soon after, and today, nothing much remains.

Donaldson

During its peak, Donaldson was a thriving lumber town with a hotel, post office, blacksmith, general store, and schools. But a fire destroyed most of these businesses, as well as the sawmill that fueled the economy. With nowhere to work, most of Donaldson’s residents relocated, and the town has been abandoned ever since.

Today, there isn’t much left of the town, but visitors can see the old-school steps and foundations of some of the buildings.

Dover

In the mid-19th century, settlers traveled to Dover from the British Temperance Emigration Society in Liverpool with the goal of securing land in the United States for immigrants from the United Kingdom.

In its prime, Dover boasted all the businesses a proper town during that time needed, from hotels and general stores to saloons, post offices, and blacksmith shops. Dover’s prosperity didn’t last though. After the Milwaukee Road built a railroad that bypassed Dover in favor of a neighboring town, residents relocated and Dover became a ghost town.

Not much of the original town is left, with the exception of a few graves.

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.The fascinating stories behind 7 Wisconsin ghost townsThe fascinating stories behind 7 Wisconsin ghost towns

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CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | LOCAL HISTORY
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