Ghost towns are usually the husks of communities abandoned in some far-off place. But if you know where to look, there are ghost towns right here in Florida! These places have seen better days, and now they’re just picturesque ruins left behind for visitors to explore.
No matter which one is your favorite, these 15 ghost towns offer plenty of history and scenery that will take your breath away. Pick up a camera or sketchpad on the way – you’ll never want to leave!
This little ghost town is located in Volusia County and is home to just a few historic buildings. Barberville was once a thriving community, but now it’s a quiet spot perfect for a nature walk or bike ride.
Barberville was first settled in 1875 by John Barber and his family. The town grew rapidly and soon became a popular stop for travelers on the way to St. Augustine. At its peak, Barberville had a population of around 200 people. Today, the town is home to a few historic buildings, including the Barberville Presbyterian Church and the Barberville Schoolhouse.
Barberville is a quaint little town located just south of Orlando. Reminiscent of something out of a Stephen King novel, the entire village has been abandoned and now sits as a ghosts-of-what-once-was.
2. Dickinson School or Fish City
The Dickinson School might be the only historic building standing in the ghost town of Fish City. The school was built in 1921 and closed down in 1945 due to a lack of students. It’s now maintained by the Florida Bureau of Archeological Research, which oversees all state-owned historic sites in Florida.
Fish City was once a thriving community located in Levy County. The town got its name from the large population of fish found in the nearby river. At its peak, Fish City had a population of around 1,000 people. The town was home to various businesses, including a grocery store, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, and post office.
Today, Fish City is nothing more than an abandoned ghost town. All that remains are the ruins of the schoolhouse and a few scattered foundations.
3. Fort Christmas
Fort Christmas is located in Orange County and was built in 1875 as part of Tampa’s coastal defense system. The fort was never actually used in combat and was abandoned in 1901. Today, it’s a great place to explore on foot or by bike.
The fort was first known as “Camp Heileman” and was built during the Third Seminole War. It was used as an outpost before being abandoned in 1877. Eleven years later, it had another life when it was resurrected as Fort Christmas during the Spanish-American War. The fort housed some of General Fitzhugh Lee’s men during the war but again fell into disuse once hostilities had ended.
Fort Christmas has remained abandoned ever since 1901 and is now part of Ocala National Forest. Originally named after Colonel Charles W Heilman, who died in 1872 at age 37, today, this historic fort is known more commonly by its common name, “Christmas.”
Istachatta was a small community located in Hernando County, just south of the Withlacoochee River. The town’s name comes from the Seminole word meaning “red crawfish,” which is what you’ll find when you go looking for their well-known red dirt.
John S Williams first settled Istachatta in 1883, and he built a sawmill there to take advantage of the river’s natural resources. By 1886, Williams’ little town also had a post office and general store. In 1890, Williams moved his mill operations closer to the railroad that would soon open up the area for development. The never-completed Istachatta Railroad and Lumber Company had plans to build a railroad from Fort Meade to Citrus County but ran out of money before completing the route.
Today, Istachatta is nothing more than an abandoned ghost town in the middle of Hernando County’s Withlacoochee State Forest. Yet, red dirt can still be found throughout this area, and it’s considered one of Florida’s natural wonders.
5. La Crosse
La Crosse was once a thriving community located in Taylor County along the old Seaboard Railroad line between Perry and Tallahassee. The town got its name from Old French and meant “the cross” or “crossroads.” By 1875, La Crosse was home to several businesses, including a boarding house, post office, school, gristmill, and sawmill.
La Crosse began to suffer in the early 1900s when the Seaboard Railroad Company bypassed it for another town located 1/2 mile away. As a result, businesses began to close down, and people started relocating to Perry or Cottondale. Eventually, La Crosse became an isolated ghost town inhabited only by settlers who lived in shacks along the railroad tracks.
Today, all that remains of La Crosse is one old abandoned building. The last known resident was Bennie Jackson, who died at age 97 in 1943. You can find his grave behind the old church cemetery’s fence row with no tombstone to mark his final resting place.
Perry is located in Taylor County and was founded in 1845 by Elijah Jenkins, a U.S. Indian agent who helped relocate Seminoles to the area west of the Suwannee River known as “Seminole Wars Reservation.”
The town’s name comes from Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who defeated the British Fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. By 1850, Perry had roughly 600 residents, although that number declined after Florida became a state in 1845 when most Seminoles left for points westward. By 1925, only 300 people lived here, and today there are around three dozen full-time residents.
Perry is now home to several museums and attractions like the Taylor County Historical Society Museum, the Old Jail Museum, and the Perry Area Arts Council Gallery. The town is also well-known for its annual Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival every October in downtown Perry.
7. Fort Meade
Fort Meade is located in Polk County and was initially built in 1838 as a frontier fort to protect settlers from Seminole attacks. The defense was later used during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), and the American Civil War (1861-1865). In 1901, it was abandoned by the military and fell into disrepair.
Fort Meade was resurrected in 1926 when it became an Army mobilization center for troops heading to the Caribbean during the Haiti and Dominican Republic crises. During World War II, the fort continued to grow and became a vital training post when it was used to train anti-aircraft battalions and quartermaster replacement troops.
Today, Fort Meade is home to several military and government agencies like: U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). More than 8,000 people now work at this active military base, which plays a critical role in American defense operations today.
Yankeetown is located on U.S. 19 in Levy County, about 20 miles west of Cedar Key, and was once a thriving port town along the Suwannee River. The settlement, which got its name from Jeremiah A. Yates, who settled here in 1858, was initially established as a trading post known as Martindale’s Bluff.
Yankeetown began to boom during the Civil War when people started moving here to escape the violence along the coast near Cedar Key. During this era, several large homes were built by wealthy northerners looking for investments in Florida. Although many of these homes are long gone today, some have been restored, including “The Governor” (built by Dr. Francis LeJau) and “The Hermitage” (produced by William Wirtland).
Yankeetown has never had a vast population and, as of the 2010 Census, only had 527 residents. However, it does remain an important port town with several businesses and attractions like the Levy County Museum, the Yankeetown-Inglis Ferry, and the Istachatta Fish Camp.
Cottondale is located in Jackson County and was founded in 1885 by David L. Cottondale, a former slave who purchased a plot of land here after the Civil War. The town’s name comes from a cotton mill established here in 1889 by John W. Robbins.
Cottondale quickly grew into a thriving community and by 1910 had over 1,000 residents. Its population peaked in the 1930s with more than 2,500 residents. However, the Great Depression and the arrival of the Interstate Highway System (which bypassed Cottondale) led to a decline in population which continues to this day.
Cottondale is home to several historic sites and attractions like the Cotton Mill Museum, the Old Town Jail, and the Ruthven-Ayrshire Covered Bridge. It is also the birthplace of country music legend Hank Williams Sr., born here on September 17, 1923.
Sopchoppy is located in Wakulla County and was founded in 1890 by J.D. Pitts, and a railroad worker named the town after the nearby Sopchoppy River.
Sopchoppy quickly grew into a significant lumber town in the early 1900s, with three large mills bringing in hundreds of jobs to this rural community. One of these mills also contained a company store (similar to stores in coal mining towns) that virtually sold everything but groceries. As a result, Sopchoppy’s population swelled to over 3,000 residents during this period, with African-Americans making up about one-third of its populace.
The Great Depression and the decline in the heavy industry led to a reduction in population which left just 1,000 residents by 1960. This number has remained steady since then though there are still several hundred more people living here today than at any other time in its history.
Bronson is located in Levy County, about 12 miles south of Chiefland, and was first settled by a group of pioneers from South Carolina who came here in 1826. These early settlers founded a town on the east bank of the Suwannee River, which they called “Stevens” after Greenleaf Stevens, one of their number. However, today this site is better known as Old Town.
In 1858, a land speculation company from Cincinnati purchased 25,000 acres and established a colony known as “New Switzerland.” They attempted to establish cotton plantations on lands where most people grew corn for generations but failed to make any headway with this crop. Within three years, the company went bankrupt, and many colonists returned north while those who stayed turned to timber and turpentining.
However, its boom years were short-lived, and the town’s population began to decline in the 1920s. Today, Bronson has a population of just 479 residents.
Trenton is located in Gilchrist County and was founded in 1893 by Hamilton McMillan, a former state senator from Alachua County. McMillan named the town after his friend, James G. Trenton, who had been killed in a hunting accident the year before.
Ton quickly grew into a small but prosperous town with over 1,000 residents by the early 1900s. Many of its early residents were farmers and citrus growers. The town’s prosperity continued until the Great Depression led to a decline in population, which peaked at just 319 residents in 1970.
Chiefland is located in Levy County and was founded in 1875 by Hamilton McMillan, a former state senator from Alachua County. McMillan named the town after a friend, James G. Trenton, killed in a hunting accident the year before.
Chiefland quickly grew into a small but prosperous town with over 1,000 residents by the early 1900s. Many of its early residents were farmers and citrus growers. The town’s prosperity continued until the Great Depression led to a decline in population, which peaked at just 319 residents in 1970.
Williston is located in Levy County and was founded in 1881 by Hamilton McMillan, a former state senator from Alachua County. McMillan named the town after his friend, James G. Trenton, who had been killed in a hunting accident the year before.
Williston quickly grew into a small but prosperous town with over 1,000 residents by the early 1900s. Many of its early residents were farmers and citrus growers. The town’s prosperity continued until the Great Depression led to a decline in population, which peaked at just 319 residents in 1970.
Yankeetown is located in Levy County and was founded in 1854 by Jonathan Williams, an early settler who moved here from North Carolina with his family. Williams named his new homestead after his hometown of Yanceyville, but when county officials asked him what he wanted to call the town he had platted here, he said that they could call it whatever they wanted.
The town’s early years were prosperous, and it soon had a population of over 1,000 residents. However, its boom years were short-lived, and the town’s population began to decline in the 1920s. Today, Yankeetown has a population of just 109 residents.
There you have it, 15 small ghost towns in North Central Florida are great day trips from Gainesville and excellent weekend getaway destinations.