Ten Planning Lessons from Old West Ghost Towns

Shakespeare ghost town, New Mexico

On a recent visit to Arizona and New Mexico, my son and I had the opportunity to visit/view three ghost towns – Fairbank, Arizona; Shakespeare, New Mexico; and Steins, New Mexico. Each had its own history to tell about the folks who once lived there. 

Based on these visits, it seemed that a list of planning lessons from these communities was appropriate. The list is NOT presented in order of importance, though the last three (3) are truly the most critical towards ensuring the long-term care and protection of these rich historic resources.

  • Don’t stake your claim or your community’s economy on just one industry. Diversify, diversify, diversify!

Stage Station entrance in Shakespeare

  • Accessing and accepting new modes of transportation are critical to long-term viability. Being on a stagecoach line does your community no good if it’s later bypassed by the railroad.
  • The use of the term “ghost town” can be expansive and often misleading. Specific standards as to what actually constitutes a “ghost town” should be established.

Gravesite in Fairbank ghost town, Arizona

  • The stories told by ghost towns are critical to learning from past mistakes in order not to repeat them.

  • Weak regulations more often than not lead to a degraded environment that will hinder your community’s long-term prospects of avoiding ghost town status.

Building in Fairbank, Arizona

  • Mineral-based boomtowns explode onto the landscape, only to often die out with a whimper once the vein(s) run out.

  • Some fortunate ghost towns like Jerome, AZ or Madrid, NM have roared back to life when artists re-discovered them.

Interior scene in Shakespeare

  • Ghost towns across the country should be designated with protected cultural and historic status to help limit the damage done by vandals and relic hunters.

Interior scene in Shakespeare

  • Individuals, non-profits, and governmental agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, who strive to protect and/or conserve existing ghost towns, should be commended and supported.

Chuckwagon in Shakespeare

  • The planning profession should consider a new area of expertise and training that specifically tailors itself to the care, preservation, conservation, and maintenance of ghost towns: as well as how to address the unique challenges that await when a ghost town is rediscovered.

If you are as fascinated by ghost towns of the American West as I am, here are a few visual links to books on the subject via Amazon.com.*

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*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, Advocacy, agriculture, archaeology, architecture, art, cities, commerce, culture, economics, environment, fun, geography, Geology, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, Mining, pictures, placemaking, planning, pollution, Railroads, revitalization, spatial design, Statistics, sustainability, topography, tourism, Trade, transportation, Travel, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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