Introduction: The United States is full of abandoned ruins to explore and while I do not in any way promote trespassing or the destruction of property, there are plenty of legal options for urban exploration. What is urban exploration? Urban exploration is the exploration of man-made structures that have been abandoned for the purpose of history preservation and photography. There is something about ruins that tell the story of years past and get your imagination running.
Highlights: Enjoy a hike up Overlook Mountain to the abandoned ruins of a once popular vacation destination hotel, walk the eerie halls of the first real penitentiary in the US, explore the homes of a once thriving mining village, explore the grounds of an abandoned zoo, take a step back into history at the Ellis Island hospital complex, brave a ghost hunt at an abandoned asylum, and wander the overgrown grounds of a once prosperous estate.
The Overlook Mountain House
Overlook Mountain is located in Woodstock, New York. Sitting just before the summit of Overlook Mountain adventurers can find the concrete remains of one of the area’s once premier vacation spots-The Overlook Mountain House. The hike up Overlook Mountain is an adventure in itself. The hike is along an old carriage road, so the terrain is not overly difficult. Be aware, however, that it is a steady incline for the majority of the hike. After about 1.6 miles you will reach the ruins of the Overlook Mountain House. After exploring the ruins be sure to continue on to the summit where you will find a fire tower, stunning 360 views of the Catskill Mountains, and maybe even some rattlesnakes (watch your step)!
The History: The Overlook Mountain House was originally built in 1833, however due to fire was destroyed. The ruins that remain today are those of the third building that sat in the area. This building was built after a fire destroyed all previous buildings in 1923. The building functioned as a hotel, but the doors were closed in 1940. The building would then be ravaged two times with, you guessed it, fires. What is seen today is what was left after the final fire.
Getting There: Get off of interstate I-87, the New York State Thruway at exit 19 Kingston. From here take route 28 about 6 miles, turn right on route 375, followed by a left on route 212 where you will come upon the Woodstock Village Green. From there you will take a right on Rock City Road and continue on to Meads Mountain Road until you reach the clearly marked parking area for Overlook Mountain. If the parking lot is full (which happens frequently as this is a popular trail) continue down the road about a half mile and you will find a second parking area.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The Eastern State Penitentiary is a former prison functional from 1829 to 1971, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eastern State Penitentiary is known for being the first “real” penitentiary in the world. Today the remains of the prison are open for self guided tours most days of the year from 10am to 5pm. Admission fees are $16 a person. If you are looking for even more of an adventure visit during the fall for Eastern State’s massive haunted house.
The History: Eastern State Penitentiary was opened in 1829 and served as one of the largest prisons in the world. During it’s time Eastern State would serve as a model for solitary confinement with the implementation of strict isolation policies. Prisoners in solitary confinement were visited by guards only once daily. The prison was designed to inflict true regret into it’s prisoners. The prison was home to many famous names, including “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.
Getting There: Eastern State is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130. Eastern State can be reached via personal car, but be aware that you will have to pay for parking. There is free parking available near the site, but it is often pretty full. There are nearby parking areas, but they do charge small fees, usually between $3-$10. You can also reach the site via public transportation or on a city hop on/hop off bus tour.
Yellow Dog Village
Yellow Dog Village is an abandoned mining town located in Worthington, Pennsylvania. Yellow Dog Village consists of 19 houses, the large manager’s home, and a boarding home. The current owner offers guided and self guided photography tours of the abandoned ruins, but be aware that there is a fee and reservations are required ahead of time.
The History: Yellow Dog Village was built by the Pittsburgh Limestone Company in an effort to offer workers easier access to their mines and prevent them from developing a union. The name Yellow Dog Village is derived from the term yellow dog contract, which is an agreement between a company and its employees to prevent a union from forming. The homes in the village were built from 1910-1920. The mines closed in the 1950’s and slowly families would begin to move out. The last family moved out in 2010 and the homes were left to the elements.
Getting There: Yellow Dog Village is located in Worthington 20 minutes west of west of Kittanning, Pennsylvania at 126 M A K Square, Worthington, PA 16262.
The Catskill Game Farm
Nestled within the Catskill Mountains you will find the abandoned ruins of a once popular destination that was the attraction of many family day trips. The Catskill Game Farm, the first privately owned zoo in the United States, opened its doors in 1933 and would become the home of over 2,000 animals. Today the abandoned ruins can be toured with prior permission from the owners. While there is no set fee the owners do ask for a small donation to tour the grounds, which goes towards maintaining and restoring the area.
The History: The Catskill Game Farm opened in 1933 by Roland Lindemann and started out as a hobby. Lindemann started the farm with a variety of deer, but as the farm spiked in popularity it was expanded to include bison, buffalo, yaks, llamas, alpacas, camels, antelopes, mountain lions, and goats. By the time of its closing it was home to over 2,000 animals of 150 different species. In 2006 equipment and the animals were auctioned off and the farm closed its doors, citing financial difficulties and dropping attendance as reasons.
Getting There: The Catskill Game Farm is located at 400 Game Farm Road, Catskill, NY, 12414. The Game Farm can be reached via I-90 to NY-162 S, NY-30 S, to NY-145 S, and finally to Game Farm Road until you reach the parking area for the Old Game Farm.
Ellis Island Hospital Complex
The abandoned ruins of the Ellis Island Hospital Complex sit on the south side of Ellis Island just outside of New York City. The hospital complex consists of the general hospital, which is not safely accessible and not included in the tour, and the infectious disease ward, which comprises a large section of the tour. Also included in the tour is the doctors house, which sits at the end of the infectious disease ward.
The History: The Ellis Island Hospital Complex was functional from 1902 to 1930. It served as the first public health hospital in the United States. Immigrants trying to gain entrance to the country that were found to have an illness were sent to the hospital complex either until recovery and they were cleared to enter the country or until being returned to their country.
Getting There: The Ellis Island Hospital Complex is only accessible via a hard hat tour by Statue Cruises. The cruise will take you to Liberty Island to visit the Statue of Liberty before continuing on to Ellis Island. You will have access to the restored section of Ellis Island and will be given a 90 minute guided tour of the abandoned hospital complex of Ellis Island.
Rolling Hills Asylum
While Rolling Hills is not completely abandoned (it is now used for ghost hunts), you will find many areas within the asylum that have been left to decay. A variety of different tours are available of Rolling Hills, including a 2 hour historical tour, flashlight tour, and 3 to 8 hour ghost hunts.
The History: Rolling Hills served as a poorhouse in Bethany in Gennese County, NY , opening in 1826 and remaining functional until 1974. The poor house became an independent 200 acre farm. The “inmates” as all residing in the home were called, worked on the farm to help with the cost of living. in 1828 a stone building was built connected to the poor house for those considered lunatics and those accused of misconduct. The poor house closed in 1974 and remaining residents were transferred to other homes in Batavia, NY.
Getting There: Rolling HIlls is located at 11001 Bethany Center Rd, East Bethany, NY 14054. Take route 20 to Old Telephone Road and then continue on to Bethany Center Road to the Rolling Hills Asylum.
The Welwyn Preserve is a 204-acre public nature reserve located in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York. It was once the estate of the industrialist Harold Pratt. The abandoned ruins of the estate can be found scattered along the reserve as well as access to beach area on the Long Island Sound. Along with the ruins and shoreline you will find nature trails, fresh water ponds, swamps, and a salt marsh. You can also visit the Holocaust Memorial & Educational Center located on the preserve.
The History: The Welwyn Estate was built in 1906 for Harold Pratt, where he and his wife lived until their deaths in 1939 and 1969. After their deaths the estate was left to Nassau County. The estate was left to the elements and began to decay. In the 1990’s the home of the basement was used as a training area for the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department. In 1993 Boris Chartan decided to transform the home into a Holocaust Museum and it remains open to this day. The rest of the estate remains in ruins and is open to the public.
Getting There: The Welwyn Preserve is located at 100 Crescent Beach Rd, Glen Cove, New York. The preserve is accessible via car and there is a free parking area available within the preserve.
This post is intended only for the lawful exploration of these properties with permission from the owner or via guided tours. Trespassing and property damage/destruction is condoned. Be mindful and respect your surroundings for yourself, the location, and others wishing to explore the site.