Each ghost town has a different story about why it was abandoned; usually these stories are pretty sad. But every once in awhile, you hear about a ghost town that was left to decay for a good reason, like the settlement of Humbug, California, a gold rush town that was abandoned after nearly filling up the San Francisco Bay with dirt. On accident, of course. Here's the town's fascinating story:
By the 1850's, most of the streams in California had been cleared of gold-- it's easy to find and sort out large amounts of gold nuggets from water, like when you pan for gold. But plenty of gold remained in dried-up riverbeds: it was just a little harder to spot and extract. A prospector found a few nuggets of gold in a dry creek slightly north or Virginia City-- he returned to town to show everyone his findings, but when others went to gather some gold for themselves, they found it a little more difficult to dig up anything, declaring the site to be "Humbug". The name stuck, and when people began to move up to Humbug Creek, they called their little village Humbug.
By 1853, a new method of digging up gold had been invented: hydraulic mining. Basically, miners diverted massive amounts of water from streams high in the mountains and funneled it through powerful hoses into these dry riverbeds to wash dirt and gravel into huge sluices to extract the gold. The town grew to 500 citizens, and then to 2,000 residents, and eventually had as many as 7 water cannons working around the clock. They also decided that the name "Humbug" was undignified, and re-christened their town "North Bloomfield". In 1880, the town got electric lights and a telephone... things were going pretty well for them.
Unfortunately, things weren't going well for anyone else. The water from the hydraulic mining was flooding farmers' fields, and dirt and rock were being washed downstream in massive amounts-- two ghost towns were buried under 25 feet of dirt. Sacramento was flooding constantly and, most alarmingly, by 1883, the San Francisco Bay was filing up with silt washed downstream by hydraulic mines at a rate of 1 foot per year. Eventually a group of fed-up farmers sued North Bloomfield, and won. Hydraulic mining was declared illegal, and the town didn't last much longer after that.
Humbug AKA North Bloomfield (or what remains of it, at least) is now a part of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park. The buildings have been restored, and some have even been rebuilt, and house artifacts and displays about the history of Humbug and hydraulics. You can also find plenty of hiking throughout the park, plus tent camping and several rustic "miners' cabins" for rent. But however you explore the park, it's nice to see a place that was once notorious for the damage it did to the environment being preserved as a natural park!
Can't get enough abandoned beauty and history? Here are some other unique ghost towns!
Header via Flickr/jcookfisher