The Most Insane Abandoned Places in the Midwest
Too decrepit to rehab, too pricey to demolish. This is the case for many abandoned -- yet eerily beautiful -- hospitals, factories, stadiums, and entire towns across the Midwest that have been taken over by nature, vandals, and the occasional brave urban explorer. When it comes to ruins, our region is rich with discarded territory and we’ve found 28 decaying properties that are hard to believe still exist. So explore (aka trespass) at your own risk or just gawk and be glad you’re not lost in an abandoned missile base right now.
A casualty of the Indiana steel-industry crash, the massive gothic church took over a million dollars to build in 1926 (translating to roughly $13 million today), half of which was donated by the United States Steel Corporation. By the mid-1970s, the congregation dropped from nearly 3,000 to the low hundreds with the town’s population dwindling significantly. Nine stories of ornate stonework, molded arches, towering pillars, and stained glass have attracted street artists, urban explorers, and filmmakers -- it was a backdrop for A Nightmare on Elm Street and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
2. Damen Silos
Abandoned structures like the Damen Silos on the South Side of Chicago harken back to the city’s past as a thriving industrial center. Grain elevators were the city’s first skyscrapers, but also extremely combustible. The state has been sitting on the Damen Silos since a 1977 disaster rendered the 24-acre property functionally obsolete. The skyline-framing silos just off the I-55 Damen Ave exit have been the site of many explosions, both real and staged for Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay: big fan of old creepy buildings). The 2013 production destroyed both bridges connecting two buildings along with pieces of rare machinery preserved in the control tower.
South Manitou Island, MI
There are plenty of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, buried treasure not so much. During a snowstorm in 1960, the SS Francisco Morazan, a 234ft-long cargo ship with a storied past in Germany, the UK, Norway, and Liberia, finally met her match on Lake Michigan after running aground on South Manitou Island. Only five tons of canned chicken were salvageable and she was declared a total loss.
In addition to coal mines, brickyards were also prominent in this tiny Iowa town. Lehigh Clay Works used the shale of the coal measures as a source of clay to manufacture brick and tile. The last user of the large, now defunct, property was Iowa Brick, where the kiln once fired up with local coal for "burning" the bricks and a building for manufacturing among other elements still stand.
Once one of the largest manufacturing centers in the US, Dixmoor produced everything from chicken feed to aerospace parts. By the 1960s, the Wyman-Gordon company was leading the pack in forging and titanium technologies, even creating parts for secret spy planes and fighter jets. Before closing the 780,000sqft facility in the 1980s due to competition, the community was already reeling from the recent departure of three other major manufacturing employers. All that remains is a scrapped and decaying power plant with coal hoppers, generators, and other equipment encased in a heavy layer of rust.
Affectionately known as “Rotting Acres,” Rolling Acres is one of the most infamous dead malls in America. It’s now covered in slick moss and bullet holes, and carefully guarded by security cameras. And if you don’t believe ALL of the Akron police have nothing better to do than hunt your mall-trespassing ass down in the middle of the day, believe it.
Often confused with the nearby Stateville Correctional Center, the Joliet Correctional Center (originally known as Illinois State Penitentiary) was a prison from 1858 to 2002. Limestone used to build the prison, featured in The Blues Brothers film and Prison Break TV series, was quarried on site and constructed by the first round of inmates. The correctional center detained everyone from 60-year-old drunk drivers who had never been in prison before to mass murderers like John Wayne Gacy before he was sent to Stateville Correctional Center.
Riddled with ghost towns, the entire state of North Dakota could be considered largely unpopulated. But a former tuberculosis sanatorium in the lush Turtle Mountains region, San Haven, is a crumbling majesty to behold. Thousands of TB patients were treated here between 1909 and the end of the epidemic in the 1940s. The facility later became a home for the developmentally disabled, where there were rumors of mistreatment and neglect, and it shut down in the 1980s only to mature creepily.
The 23,000sqft synagogue in Uptown once regularly drew crowds of more than 2,000 people for Shabbat services and packed the balconies during the High Holidays in the 1920s. But the ritzy hub for a large Jewish population eventually shifted to other parts of the city, and only a poor, elderly congregation remained in the elegant, although quickly deteriorating place of worship. With the older Russian Jewish community dying off and frequent vandalization causing even more costly disrepair, efforts to save the last remaining grand, cathedral-style synagogue in Chicago seem to have crumbled since its 2008 closing.
The Nike defense system played a huge role in both civilian life and military planning during the Cold War era in the US. Radar-guided, supersonic, anti-aircraft missiles addressed a new reality of warfare in the skies. Part of the Chicago-Gary defense ring, the C-47 base in Hobart/Wheeler, Indiana was one of about 20 sites designed to protect Chicago and the steel industry in Gary from an attack by the Soviet Union. A portion of the former missile site has been converted to a paintball park, but the rest is still “intact.”
Since 1848, the state’s mentally ill were housed just west of Indianapolis in the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane (later changed to Central State Hospital). Allegations of patient abuse plagued the hospital for decades and shrinking funds led to its closure in 1994. Some parts of the 150-acre former psychiatric complex were recently redeveloped: the Pathology building now houses the Indiana Medical History Museum and some brave college students are living in the old administration building that's been turned into dorm-style apartments. However, a few historic buildings still sit in various states of disrepair.
While some health institutions have transitioned into apartments, one of Indiana’s largest mental institutions became the Indiana Army National Guard's premier urban training center. After lawmakers planned to reorganize the state’s health plan, the 600-acre campus became the perfect mock town to train soldiers and civilians on how to react during an urban disaster.
Barbed-wire fences and warnings about unexploded landmines surround the vacant military buildings and igloo-shaped munitions bunkers at the former 13,062-acre Army depot. The facility processed, stored, and tested munitions, explosives, and chemicals from 1917 to 1995. A portion of the land situated on the Mississippi River has been absorbed by a public wildlife refuge, but much of it still remains off limits due to contamination. More than 600 tons of debris like grenades, landmines, rockets, and mortar rounds have been removed from the grounds.
As if the proposition of an abandoned amusement park wasn’t already glaringly terrifying, there was even a Stephen King novel coincidentally called Joyland! What’s even more creepy? After going missing for 10 years, the Wichita theme park’s infamous Louie the Clown finally emerged in the home of a local sex offender. Have fun sleeping tonight.
15. Lemp Brewery
St. Louis, MO
Most people visit the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, but some might prefer to tour the abandoned Lemp Brewery housed within the larger, semi-occupied Lemp Brewery Complex in the Marine Villa neighborhood. Natural caves running beneath the brewery, which are now difficult to get to, were once used by the early German brewers. You can sneak inside to explore the brewery or just watch this video.
Somehow a desolate and derelict stadium with a seating capacity of 82,000 makes even an abandoned factory seem less eerie. The former home to the Detroit Lions permanently closed in 2013 after briefly reopening from 2010 to 2013 for events, and is now an uncovered apocalyptic wasteland waiting for demolition starting in the spring of 2016. Until then you’ll just have to put in a bid for a urinal signed by Barry Sanders.
With the sale of the town’s grain elevator, its failed cluster box mail delivery after the post office shut down, and the bulk of the city’s debt literally in the sewer system, Searsboro successfully disincorporated after 135 years as a community. The fire department continues to operate separately, and the closed school makes for great material for your "Urban Decay" Pinterest board.
Located near the University of Minnesota and the Great Northern tracks, the Bunge grain elevator is a popular spot for trespassers to overlook the “Mill City” skyline. The flour mill’s concrete head tower remains a visual landmark of the Como neighborhood, but several urban explorers have plummeted to their deaths over the years despite sealed entries.
You probably wouldn’t expect to stumble upon a massive, abandoned castle in the middle of the Missouri Ozarks, but you’ll find the ruins of one prominent Kansas City businessman’s dreams high atop a bluff in Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Modeled after 16th-century European castles, Robert McClure Snyder’s stone mansion was never completed after he died in one of the state’s first automobile accidents. His sons finished the home, but it was gutted by fire in 1942.
20. Carr School
St. Louis, MO
Just north of Downtown amid vacant fields, public housing, and a park, the school built in 1908 was one of the many designed by architect William B. Ittner. Today, the building, which closed in 1983, is in catastrophic disrepair and perennially on the Landmarks Association’s list of the most endangered buildings in St. Louis.
While it’s been temporarily saved from demolition multiple times, the future is still uncertain for the Beaux-Arts mammoth, which was the tallest rail station in the world at the time of construction in 1913. Possibly one of the most photographed abandoned buildings in the city, the massive, battered shell of the once-bustling hub is now a symbol of the city’s economic problems within its own skyline.
Established in 1942 as the Sunflower Ordnance Works, the 9,065-acre plant eventually became the world’s largest for producing smokeless powder and propellants for small arms and artillery. Between 1942 and 1992, it was a significant supplier of ammo for World War II as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. During World War II alone, it produced more than 200 million pounds of propellants and employed nearly 12,067 people. While the Army has made use of some office buildings today, the eastern half of the compound remains abandoned.
Knox County, NE
Not far from the recreation areas on Lewis and Clark Lake in Northern Knox County, the Nebraska ski resort was destined to be part of a large luxury development. It operated for a few years in the 1970s, but banks foreclosed on the property in 1975. The cable and chairs seem to emerge from nowhere amongst the cottonwoods and evergreens.
East St. Louis, IL
In 1903, the Chicago-based meatpacking company that revolutionized the industry by building large plants near railroad tracks set up shop near the National City Stockyards on the outskirts of East St. Louis. Several rail-connected buildings, including the iconic generating station fitted with two 210ft-tall smokestacks, served various purposes of the process. Tourists even came to watch the assembly line that inspired Henry Ford in action. But the Great Depression soon forced the plant and others in the now-dissolved town of National City to close.
The abandoned Case Western Reserve University observatory on Taylor Rd was built by precision instrument-makers Worcester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey in 1919. A 9.5in refractor, then a 24in Burrell Schmidt telescope, and finally a 36in telescope was originally housed within the main dome. Light pollution from Cleveland resulted in the telescope's removal, and the property was later sold to real-estate broker Nayyir Al Mahdi, who ended up getting convicted of mortgage fraud in 2007.
If you want to really know what it feels like to be the last man on Earth, you don’t have to wait for a deadly virus to sweep the planet. You just have to visit South Dakota. Midwest towns like Ardmore barely survived the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, then a changing agricultural world and the young population departing for education and jobs elsewhere left the town deserted by the 21st century.
The Wisconsin manor house originally built in 1939 as a residence was converted into a novitiate for the Alexian Brothers. It’s most known for a hostile, month-long takeover by the Menominee Warrior Society in 1975 with demands that it be turned over to the nearby Menominee Indian Reservation. To avoid bloodshed, the Alexian Brothers Novitiate sold it to them for $1, but the property ultimately returned to Gresham when they immediately ran out of money for upkeep, and has since remained vacant.
At nearly 47 acres with railroad access and frontage on the harbor, the colossal Milwaukee Solvay Coke & Gas site became the largest contiguous parcel listed for sale in the city of Milwaukee in 2012. The US Environmental Protection Agency is still overseeing the site’s cleanup, which has put any demolition plans for the plant in limbo. Arsenic, lead, asbestos, and a whole host of other chemicals have been mixed into the ground.
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