The Best Ghost Towns in Wisconsin

Here’s how to visit the Wisconsin ghost towns of Pendarvis, Ulao, Fort Howard, and Ceresco.
Written by David Ghanizadeh-Khoob
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Updated on Jun 01, 2022
Take an adventure through Wisconsin to visit the historic ghost towns of Pendarvis, Ulao, Fort Howard, and Ceresco. These abandoned cities offer a fascinating opportunity to learn about the industrial, military, and social history of
Wisconsin has a storied past, and many old sites and relics are still intact for curious travelers to explore. While these ghost towns may not have boomed into modern cities or villages, they played a role in the state’s development all the same. 
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What is the story of Pendarvis?

In the 1830s and 1840s, the area encompassing southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois was a hub for lead and zinc mining. Mineral Point, where Pendarvis is located, was one of the mining boomtowns.
At its height, Mineral Point’s population reached over 4,000. Most of these miners were immigrants from Cornwall in Great Britain. This resulted in heavy Cornish influence on the culture and architecture, and houses were built out of readily available limestone and wood. 
Eventually, the mines were exhausted and people moved on in search of new opportunities. By the early 20th century, most of the zinc and lead mining towns were abandoned, including Pendarvis. 
In the 1920s and 30s, old miners’ homes were being torn down, but Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum stepped in to stop this. They purchased and restored as many of the old Cornish homes as possible. 
Today, Pendarvis is a historical site owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

What makes Pendarvis special?

Thanks in large part to Neal and Hellum, Pendarvis has been restored and well-preserved. Visitors can look forward to visiting Pendarvis to see these highlights:
  • There are plenty of old cabins and homes in good condition, most with limestone fronts built in Cornish style 
  • The first three houses purchased by Neal and Hellum now serve as the main attractions and were given traditional Cornish names to match their style. The Pendarvis house, Polperro, and Trelawny are all original buildings from the mine times, each with a unique history
  • The Merry Christmas Mine Hill Trails and Prairie offer a nice natural adventure dotted with hundreds of mine shafts and badger holes
  • The museum store features unique handmade goods and reproductions of period items

How to visit Pendarvis

Pendarvis is located in Mineral Point, Wisconsin at 114 Shakerag St. There is free onsite parking available for the public.
Pendarvis is only open from June to October on Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Entry to the grounds alone costs $5 per person, but for $12 (general admission) you can get access to the grounds and a tour through the town. 
Tours run at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm, and are a great way to see all of the sites while learning about the history of the town and its charismatic buildings.


What is the story of Ulao?

Ulao (“yoo-lay-oh”) has a unique history that begins in 1847 with James T. Gifford. Gifford was an entrepreneur who saw the potential for a successful port on Lake Michigan north of Milwaukee. Gifford built a 1,000-foot wooden pier with the intention of selling wood for steam-powered boats.
His next step was to build a town at the top of the bluffs and a chute from the top of the bluff down to the beach. He would buy wood from local farmers, cut it to size, and slide it down to the pier. 
At its peak in the late 1800s, Ulao had a tavern, dance hall, grain mill and elevator, a railroad station, and the first paved road in Wisconsin. By the early 1900s, though, coal became the favored fuel for steamboats, and Ulao was abandoned.
Ulao is perhaps most famous, though, for being the home to Charles Guiteau, the man who shot and killed President James A. Garfield in 1881.

What makes Ulao special?

Today, little remains of Ulao, and the landscape looks much different than it did in the 19th century. Lake Michigan has eroded the cliffs and shoreline, only a few pilings of wood remain on the pier, and only five buildings are still standing. 
Here are some of the sites that you can see when you visit Ulao:
  • You can appreciate a historical relic by visiting Charles Guiteau’s old home, as it is one of the remaining buildings. 
  • Also standing are the old farmhouse, dance hall, and the Ghost Town Tavern and Restaurant, which is still an open and functioning restaurant!
  • The old grain mill and elevator are now a part of the Grafton Antique Mall
  • Ulao Creek restoration area is nearby, where you can appreciate the natural wetlands. In the past, music festivals were held at Ulao Creek!

How to visit Ulao

Ulao is located in Ozaukee County, on the outskirts of Grafton, Wisconsin. The old town site is located at the intersection of Ulao road and the old Chicago and Northwestern railroad. 
If you travel east out of Grafton along Washington street, past highway 43, the road becomes Ulao road and you will soon notice the tracks. You will find the Guiteau house at 782 Ulao Rd. 
There are no fees for entry or parking to visit Ulao.

Fort Howard

What is the story of Fort Howard?

After the war of 1812, Americans began building military forts along the western Great Lakes to protect the river routes into the interior of the country. 
Fort Howard was built during this push in 1816 above the western bank of Green Bay to protect the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. (The site had previously been the site of the French Fort La Baye.)
The fort served as an active and useful military site for about 40 years and was occupied by various American regiments. The final troops left the fort on May 22, 1852, marking the end of the fort’s military occupation. In 1863 the government authorized the property to be dismantled and sold.
Most of the remnants of Fort Howard have since been lost during the expansion of the city of Green Bay. Today, you can find a few preserved buildings at the
Heritage Hill State Historical Site
in Green Bay.

What makes Fort Howard special?

The remnants of Fort Howard are easily accessible at Heritage Hill. Here are the remnants of Fort Howard that you can visit:
  • Fort Howard hospital: Built from 1834 to1835 in the architectural style popular from the 1780s to 1830s, the hospital was moved to Heritage Hill in 1975
  • Fort Howard Post School: The original school was built in 1824 for local children and the children of officers. The current school is a replica built in 1982
  • Company Kitchen/Orderly Room: Originally built in 1835, the building was moved to Heritage Hill in 1975
  • Officer’s Quarters: This replica building offers a view of how the officers and their families lived while staying at the fort in the 1830s
  • Fort Howard Guard House: Built from 1833 to 1835 on the west bank of the Fox River, the guard house served as the commander’s office, the on-duty guard’s keeping room, light prison, and post library.

How to visit Fort Howard

Heritage Hill State Park is located in Green Bay on Webster Ave and Greene Ave. The park is typically open from May to September. Open hours can vary, so check before you go. There is onsite parking and an entrance fee to access the park. 
You can explore the park yourself or book a tour. Heritage Hill also offers educational trips, weddings, and other ceremonies, and often hosts special events.
Pro Tip Heritage Hill State Historical Site has more to offer than just Fort Howard. When you visit, be sure to check out the Cotton House and the sites from the La Baye to learn about the fur trade and ethnic and agricultural history of the area.


What is the story of Ceresco?

Ceresco, now part of Ripon, Wisconsin, was first founded in 1843 as a utopian socialist commune based on the concept of the French philosopher Charles Fourier. Ceresco was originally founded by 19 people, spearheaded by Warren B. Chase.
Through the 1840s, the commune saw a good deal of success. They developed a hierarchical system in which they divided labor and compensated residents with shares of community assets. 
At its peak, Ceresco was home to around 200 residents and featured developments like a school, grist mill, blacksmith shop, and saw mill. The main building in town, though, was the long house, a large home built to house all of the families in the community.
The commune eventually disbanded in 1851, likely due to hierarchical and economic strain and ideological differences. In 1853, Ceresco became a part of the town of Ripon.

What makes Ceresco special?

Today, little remains of the town of Ceresco, save for the long house, Ceresco park, and a historical marker. The long house is still in good shape, though visitors cannot enter. 
Ceresco is a fascinating attempt at socialist utopia and serves as a contrasting symbol with the town of Ripon. Just down the road, Ripon was also the birthplace of the American Republican Party.

How to visit Ceresco

Ripon is located about 80 miles northwest of Milwaukee. Ceresco is in Ripon on Warren street. The longhouse is on the west side of the road across from Ceresco park, the old common area of the community.

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