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There are multiple historically interesting—and spooky—ghost towns to see throughout Iowa. Rockville, Sunbury, Elkport, and Buxton all make the list of Iowa’s best ghost towns for explorers to enjoy.
Some lesser-known windows into Iowa’s history include abandoned mining towns and small communities that fought to survive during some of the state’s disastrous floods.
Keep in mind that these ghost towns may be in isolated locations or otherwise difficult to reach. You can stay prepared for any unexpected driving situations by using car insurance super app Jerry to find the right coverage.
Without further ado, let’s explore what makes each of these four Iowan ghost towns worth a visit.
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What is the story of Rockville?
Established in 1845, Rockville was first founded by Oliver A. Olmstead. It was one of the oldest settlements in its county, second only to Delhi.
Rockville served as a stagecoach station for travelers heading west of the Mississippi River. Among other buildings were a sawmill, a gristmill, a blacksmith, a hotel, and a log schoolhouse.
The town’s decline began not long after the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad Company began laying track in the newly-founded Dyersville.
Rockville’s significance as a stagecoach stop dwindled as adjacent towns attracted more business, and by the end of the 1890s, Olmstead’s settlement was all but deserted.
The region is now a rural area on the outskirts of Worthington.
What makes Rockville special?
Though there isn’t much remaining in Rockville, there are still a few unique sites to see:
- The Rockville Cemetery, which includes graves of soldiers from the Civil and Mexican Wars
- The remains of an old mill
- The nearby Maquoketa River
Pro Tip: The hilly area surrounding Rockville now primarily consists of farms and woodland, so be careful not to tread into private property when exploring!
How to Visit Rockville
Rockville is closest to the town of Dyersville, which lies only six miles north.
To reach Rockville, take IA-136 S/9th St SE until you reach Rockville Rd, where you’ll turn right.
There are no gas stations or stores in the immediate area surrounding Rockville, so make sure you’re well prepared before heading out.
What is the story of Sunbury?
The ghost town of Sunbury was founded when the railroad was first introduced to Cedar County in the 1800s.
Small farms in the surrounding countryside supported the town proper. The majority were family farms that thrived thanks to the fertile, loamy soil.
Sunbury’s dance hall, originally opened in 1895 and closed in 1964, was a popular place for congregating.
The Sunbury Bank was built in 1901 but failed during the Great Depression and was abandoned. It was ultimately torn down in 2014.
A few residents remain, but the majority of Sunbury is deserted due to its years of economic hardship.
What makes Sunbury special?
Many of Sunbury’s original structures were razed over the years. Even so, explorers can check out abandoned houses and decrepit stores for a creepy and intriguing experience.
How to visit Sunbury
Sunbury is located about 25 miles northwest of the city of Davenport.
To get there, take I-80 W/US-6 W until you reach exit 277 in Cedar County. Continue on Yankee Ave and 290th St to arrive in Sunbury.
What is the story of Elkport?
Elkport was founded in 1855 and named after the nearby Elk Creek. This slightly later founding date—and a 21st-century abandonment date—make it a “newer” ghost town in Iowa.
The population fluctuated over the years, but at one time there were enough residents to warrant over 30 homes, a bank, stores, and a church.
Unfortunately, the town was severely damaged by flooding in May 2004. Most structures in the town were left underwater, prompting the majority of residents to abandon the town.
Following the floods, the community received relocation money from federal buyouts. Most of the town’s buildings were set to be demolished.
The majority of Elkport (at least what was above ground) was razed by 2006.
What makes Elkport special?
There isn’t much left standing in terms of original Elkport buildings. You’ll be able to see a few houses, a blacksmith shop, some farmland, and a lot of empty space—which has its own special effect on the viewer.
Sometimes, listening to the silence of complete abandonment is equally as unsettling as checking out a still-standing old structure.
How to visit Elkport
The nearest location for you to stock up on supplies and fill up your gas tank is the nearby city of Guttenberg, located right by the Mississippi River.
To get to Elkport from Guttenberg, take N 5th St/Hiawatha Pioneer Trail until you reach Garber Rd, where you’ll turn right.
Follow that until you turn left onto Colesburg Rd and you should see what remains of Elkport.
What is the story of Buxton?
Buxton was a planned community founded in tandem with B.C. Buxton’s coal mining camp. The town was established around 1873 and included miners’ houses, churches, and a school.
A majority of Buxton residents were African-American, who mingled with white immigrants to create an integrated town in an otherwise rural area.
African-American doctors, lawyers, and other professionals were supported in the community. Residents could take advantage of an African-American YMCA with a gymnasium, an indoor swimming pool, and other activity programs.
The demand for coal in Buxton peaked during WWI, after which mechanization and a switch to diesel fuel caused demand to cease. As if a symbol of the changing times, several major fires swept through the community, destroying public buildings and mines.
Buxton’s population plummeted to only 400 people by 1919. Buxton was completely abandoned by the late 1930s after the final mine closed in 1927.
What makes Buxton special?
The abandoned land that Buxton once stood on has since been converted into farmland. There are only a few spots where ruins still stand.
In the 1980s, the town was the site of an archaeological survey examining the economic and social aspects of African-American material culture in Iowa.
Luckily, the archaeological site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Scientific findings of the regional and national significance of Buxton helped preserve it for modern viewers to see.
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How to visit Buxton
The closest starting point to Buxton is the nearby town of Lovilia. Stop there if you need any essentials along the way.
You’ll just need to follow 110th St, 620th Ave, and 340th Street out of Lovilia. Once you reach 102nd Lane, you’ve arrived at the spot where Buxton once stood.
Why you need good car insurance
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