Elberton Washington Ghost Town, located in the picturesque Palouse region of southeastern Washington, is a testament to rural communities’ rise and fall in the early 20th century.
Positioned at the confluence of the North Fork of the Palouse River and Silver Creek, Elberton was once a flourishing town with a population of 400 at its peak. Today, it serves as a haunting reminder of the challenges faced by agricultural towns during the Great Depression and beyond.
The Beginnings of Elberton Washington Ghost Town
The Founding of Elberton
The story of Elberton Washington begins in the 1870s when Sylvester M. Wait platted the town in 1886, naming it after his son Elbert. The abundance of timber in the area led to the construction of a water-powered sawmill, which attracted residents to the region.
The Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. built a rail line through the area, further contributing to the town’s growth. Fruit orchards, particularly apple, and plum, became vital to Elberton’s economy during its heyday.
A Flourishing Community
At its peak, Elberton Washington was home to a flour mill, sawmill, post office, blacksmith shop, two general stores, grain warehouse, and three churches, including the United Brethren Church. The town’s population reached 400 by 1900, boasting the “region’s largest” prune dryer.
One of the most notable events in the town’s history was the annual Elberton Picnic, held from 1893 to 1924. This three-day, fair-like event attracted hundreds of visitors across Whitman County and even welcomed presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan during his 1896 campaign.
The Decline of Elberton Washington Ghost Town
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The prosperity of Elberton Washington Ghost Town was short-lived, as a series of setbacks during the early 20th century led to its demise. In 1906, deforestation forced the sawmill to relocate to Idaho.
The following year, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. ended its service to Elberton, and in 1908, the flour mill closed down. A devastating fire in 1908 and a flood in 1910 further contributed to the town’s decline, as many businesses were deemed too costly to rebuild.
The Great Depression’s Impact
The Great Depression of the 1930s dealt the final blow to Elberton Washington Ghost Town, as the already struggling community faced even more economic challenges. By the mid-20th century, only a few residents remained, and the town was disincorporated in 1966.
In the following years, local fire departments used many abandoned buildings for training exercises, leaving only foundations as reminders of the once-thriving community.
The Remnants of Elberton Washington Ghost Town Today
The United Brethren Church
The only remaining intact building in Elberton, Washington is the United Brethren Church, built in 1913. Though it has been unused for many years, the building remains in reasonably good condition and serves as a poignant reminder of the town’s past.
The church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was removed in 1990 but still stands as a testament to the town’s history.
The Elberton Cemetery
One of the few surviving landmarks in Elberton Washington Ghost Town is its cemetery, which rests on a hill overlooking the town.
The cemetery offers a glimpse into the lives of the town’s former residents and serves as a reminder of the community’s once-vibrant existence.
The Abandoned Railroad Trestle
Another remnant of Elberton’s past is the abandoned railroad trestle that once connected the town to the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. line.
This decaying piece of infrastructure stands as a symbol of the economic challenges faced by rural communities during the early 20th century.
The Overgrown Orchards and Gardens
Remnants of the original fruit orchards and private gardens that contributed to Elberton’s prosperity can still be seen today, particularly during the spring and summer.
These overgrown plots of land serve as reminders of the town’s agricultural roots and the impact of the Great Depression on rural communities.
Exploring Elberton Washington Ghost Town
For those interested in exploring the remnants of Elberton Washington Ghost Town, a trip to the area will not disappoint. With only 15 residents in its vicinity, the town offers a quiet and eerie atmosphere that can transport visitors back to a period when rural communities thrived.
What to See and Do
When visiting Elberton Washington Ghost Town, explore the United Brethren Church, the abandoned railroad trestle, and the old cemetery off Oral Smith Road.
In addition, keep an eye out for structural remains hidden beneath the overgrowth and the old obstacle course that may still be in use for private parties.
Preserving Elberton’s History
While Elberton Washington Ghost Town serves as a haunting reminder of the challenges faced by rural communities in the early 20th century, it also stands as a testament to the resilience of these communities.
Visiting and learning about the town’s history can help preserve its legacy and ensure that the story of Elberton Washington Ghost Town is not forgotten.
Elberton Washington Ghost Town is a fascinating and haunting destination for those interested in exploring the history of rural America. The town’s rapid rise and fall serve as a reminder of the challenges faced by agricultural communities during the early 20th century, particularly the impact of the Great Depression.
As visitors explore the remnants of Elberton’s past, they can gain a greater appreciation for these communities’ resilience and resourcefulness and help preserve the town’s legacy for future generations.