Special Report

20 American Ghost Towns

Source: Wikimedia Commons

20. Blackwell, Oklahoma
> Vacancy rate: 10.0%
> Vacant properties: 363
> 5 yr. population change: -3.5%
> Median home value: $48,600

In the town of Blackwell, Oklahoma about one in every 10 homes are vacant. Founded in the late 19th century, Blackwell thrived due to its location on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway. The town operated as a trading hub for a variety of agricultural products. At one point, Blackwell was home to a variety of companies and manufacturers, including several glass factories. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the town’s population peaked in 1960 at 9,588 but then began to decline. As of the 2014, the town had just under 7,000 residents.

As is the case with so many towns with a large share of abandoned residential properties, real estate in Blackwell is inexpensive. The typical home in the metropolitan area costs just $48,600, less than a third of the national median home value of $175,700.

19. Coffeyville, Kansas
> Vacancy rate: 10.1%
> Vacant properties: 474
> 5 yr. population change: -2.1%
> Median home value: $56,100

Coffeyville, Kansas located just north of the state’s border with Oklahoma, has one of the highest shares of vacant properties in the country. A high share of vacant properties can be indicative of several social and economic struggles. In Coffeyville, nearly one in four residents are poor, a far larger share than is typical nationwide.

The town was once home to a number of companies and establishments, although it was best known for its brick and glass industries. Ball Brothers Glass Factory and Mason Fruit Jar Company, among others, once operated in the area. Most of these factories closed in the early 1900s. While this may have been a burden on the local economy, the city’s population continued to rise, peaking in 1960 with 17,382 residents. The city is now home to only about 10,000 residents.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

18. Okmulgee, Oklahoma
> Vacancy rate: 10.2%
> Vacant properties: 522
> 5 yr. population change: -1.7%
> Median home value: $64,700

More than one in 10 homes in Okmulgee, Oklahoma are vacant, a far greater share than the 1.6% vacancy rate nationwide. As is typical in areas with a large share of abandoned homes, Okmulgee is an economically depressed area. More than 28% of area residents live at or below the poverty line, well above the 15.6% national poverty rate.

Things may be turning around for the eastern Oklahoma city, however. Currently, there are more than a dozen projects in the works to revitalize the Okmulgee downtown area, which could attract new residents and employment opportunities. And while property values in most cities with exceptionally high home vacancy rates have been plummeting in recent years, the typical Okmulgee home has appreciated 6.4% in the last half decade.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

17. Fairfield, Alabama
> Vacancy rate: 10.4%
> Vacant properties: 403
> 5 yr. population change: -4.0%
> Median home value: $94,900

As is often the case in towns with a high vacancy rate, property in Fairfield is relatively cheap. The typical area home costs $94,900, roughly half of the median home value of $175,700 nationwide. Areas with high vacancy rates and cheap home values are also typically economically depressed and impoverished. About one in four Fairfield residents live at or below the poverty line, significantly worse than the one in six Americans who do nationwide.

Perhaps in part because of the city’s declining population and tax base, Fairfield — a city of about 10,000 people — is in dire financial straits and on the verge of bankruptcy. In an attempt to avoid Chapter 9, the city council recently voted unanimously to disband the city’s police department. Further exacerbating the city’s economic woes has been the recent loss of major retailers. With Wal-Mart, Sears, and Kmart all leaving the area recently, the city’s sales tax revenue further declined.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

16. Breckenridge, Texas
> Vacancy rate: 11.2%
> Vacant properties: 298
> 5 yr. population change: 1.2%
> Median home value: $56,300

Few U.S. cities have a higher home vacancy rate than Breckenridge, Texas. More than 11% of area homes are effectively abandoned, a far larger share than the comparable 1.6% national share.

While in many U.S. cities with high vacancy the population is rapidly declining and property values are plummeting, Breckenridge is an exception. In the last half decade, the city’s population has increased slightly, by 1.2%. Improvements in the housing market have been even more dramatic. The typical area home is now worth nearly 12% more than its value five years ago. These trends suggest conditions may be improving in the north Texas city.