Ghost towns are probably not the first thing you think of in the tri-states, but the lead rush was just as enticing to many as the gold and silver rushes of the wild West.
In fact, the lead rush came 20 years ahead of the gold rush, and towns sprung up quickly.
There are remnants of some of those towns in the tri-states — towns that had substantial populations of several hundred people. According to the site Ghost Towns of America, Iowa has 22 ghost towns within 50 miles of Dubuque and 56 more beyond that. Illinois has 82 ghost towns and Wisconsin has 155.
You might find a few buildings standing, but many of them have disappeared, except perhaps for a road name — Forestville, Higginsport or Council Hill, to name a few.
Here are a few of the most interesting ghost towns in the tri-states. The years indicate official post office designation.
If you visit an existing site, take safety precautions as buildings can be hazardous. Research the location ahead of your visit. Some places are privately owned or might have a small number of residents.
Buckhorn (Jackson County, Iowa) – 1892-1962. A creamery and farmer’s co-op were the center of Buckhorn, located off Iowa 64. When the creamery was bought out by a large dairy in the 1960s, the town died. The creamery building stands, along with an abandoned church and cemetery. Surprisingly, Buckhorn has 37 residents, according to the 2010 census.
Cottage Hill (Dubuque County) – 1854-1903. The 1860 federal census recorded 1,128 people in Cottage Hill, most born in Germany, Ireland and Iowa, with a smattering of those with English, Dutch and Eastern European roots. The overwhelming professions listed were farmer and laborer. Cottage Hill Cemetery, located in what is now Durango, buried its first settler in 1843 and its last in 1909, although the cemetery had subsequent burials until 1991.
Communia (Clayton County, Iowa) – 1847-1900. Located about six miles south of Elkader, Communia was founded by German pioneers whose intent was to create a communist Utopia. German Heinrich Koch was the first leader of the colony. Several log houses, a blacksmith shop and a brick kiln were built on the prairie, but soon, dissension among the ranks disrupted the group’s original purpose. Just two years after Communia’s founding, Koch was paid $600 to leave and never return He eventually settled in Dubuque. While the community prided itself on its kindness to natives and those in surrounding towns, by 1858 the Utopian social experiment had failed. Communia stayed on the post office rolls until 1900, but the town and its ideologies were long forgotten by then.
Rockville (Delaware County, Iowa) – 1845-1897. When its importance as a trading center dissipated, the town of Rockville did as well. At one time, the town had a grist mill, blacksmith shop, hotel and sawmill. The remains of the grist mill stand on the banks of the Maquoketa River’s north fork.
Rodden (Jo Daviess County, Ill.) – 1870s-present. The town most likely grew around the homes and farms of the Rodden family. Foundations of old stone houses, the Rodden General Store and post office and the abandoned Winston train tunnel are a few of the markers that indicate a once thriving rural community. The renovated general store now is The Inn at Irish Hollow, where resident names can be read on the post office slots behind the counter. You’ll find new homes and renovated farmhouses with Hanover or Galena addresses, since Rodden no longer has a post office designation. Rodden Road meets U.S. 20, just west of Elizabeth.
Sinnipee, Wis. (Grant County) – 1832-1859. Located across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Sinnipee once was a busy port city. North Carolina native Payton Vaughan and his family first settled the area in 1832. The Sinnipee Company officially founded the town in 1835. In 1839, the Stone House Hotel opened. President Zachary Taylor is said to have stayed there during its operation. In 1840, a flood followed by an outbreak of malaria caused all but the Vaughans and one other family to leave the town. The abandoned hotel was dismantled in 1859. In 1934, the site was flooded during construction of Lock & Dam No. 11.
Sources: Ghost Towns of America, www.geotab.com/ghost-towns; Ghost Towns.com, www.ghosttowns.com; “Ghost Towns in Grant County, Wisconsin,” Thomas B. Lundeen, University of Wisconsin-Platteville Arts and Sciences address – Oct. 30, 1981; Iowa Ghost Towns, www.iowaghosttowns.com; 1860 Federal Census, Dubuque County, Concord Township, www.iagenweb.org.