Ghost Towns in Hampton Roads
Ghosts inhabit the landscape of Virginia, but not the walk-through-the-walls specters you may be thinking of. Virginia teems with the physical remnants of communities where no one has lived for decades. Here are a few of the places erased from the map of Hampton Roads by time and progress.
Magruder and Bigler’s Mill
Locals have long suspected that Camp Peary is a boot camp for Central Intelligence Agency operatives, but there’s another secret about “The Farm” that you may not know. In the early 1940s, the federal government removed the communities of Magruder and Bigler’s Mill to make way for a Navy Seabees training facility, Camp Peary’s predecessor. Residents were given as little as two weeks to pack up and leave.
A corner of Yorktown National Battlefield that’s mostly out of public view contains a grid of vacant and overgrown streets. This is Slabtown, also called Uniontown, a village originally settled by enslaved African Americans fleeing to the U.S. Army and freedom. But officials feared the timeworn village would blemish the battlefield ahead of the bicentennial in 1981, so residents were bought out and told to leave.
Make the harrowing journey to the southeastern-most point of land in Virginia and you will find what’s left of Wash Woods, a onetime station for the United States Life-Saving Service, a precursor of the U.S. Coast Guard. A scattering of headstones and a church steeple attest to the hardy village that once thrived here, but became obsolete when coastal lifesaving stations every few miles were no longer needed.
Maroon communities in the Great Dismal Swamp
The Great Dismal Swamp is a dark, dangerous and forbidding expanse—exactly the type of place to hide from pursuers. Thousands of so-called maroons, or runaway slaves, inhabited the scattered high spots throughout the vast swamp and developed their own villages and economies with little contact from the outside world. With the end of the Civil War, the maroon communities dwindled when there was no longer a threat of returning to slavery.
About 25 miles west of Coastal Virginia, the Lost City languishes deep in the woods of Henrico County. This ghost town, also called the Elko Tract, is actually a twofer. Part of it is a dummy airfield built during World War II that military officials hoped German bombers would destroy instead of the real airport four miles west. The other is a crumbling collection of streets, sewers and a water tower built ahead of a state hospital for African Americans that never came to fruition.