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The Archaeology of Abandonment: Ghost Towns of the American West

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posted on 06.12.2012, 12:56 by Paige Margaret Peyton
Between 1901 and 1913, Newhouse, Utah, was a thriving mining community of 1,000. The town had all of the markers for success – the most sophisticated mining equipment and facilities; newly constructed commercial, medical, and residential buildings; a modern railroad and depot; a diversity of leisure properties and activities; and, most importantly, a state-of-the-art water supply system. By the close of 1913, Newhouse was abandoned and most of its physical representations had vanished from the landscape. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of communities in the American West were established and then abandoned within a few years or decades. The phenomenon created a vast landscape of ghost towns that has evoked interest and curiosity by western novelists and film makers, but very little attention from the academic community. Of the existing research, none has questioned the causes of their abandonment. This thesis is the first to consider abandonment within the western ghost town context. The research presents detailed information related to the historical and archaeological records of Newhouse and is broadly contextualized through comparisons with other mining sites across the West. The thesis also compares Newhouse with two settlements within Utah – Frisco and Silver Reef – and utilizes regional comparison data for 105 Utah ghost towns compiled specifically for the thesis. Results of the research reveal that there is enormous complexity in the histories and in physical, social, and economic environments of abandoned places. This diversity contributes to interconnected causes and processes of abandonment and exposes the reasons why settlements like Newhouse were so short-lived. Most importantly, the research demonstrates the potential importance of archaeological studies of western ghost towns and how that can enrich our understanding of this neglected aspect of recent history.



Edwards, David; Horning, Audrey

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University of Leicester

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