With its (admittedly well-deserved) reputation as perhaps the craziest state in the country, Florida’s long list of abandoned places fits right in with that offbeat character.
From former reform schools with dozens of unmarked graves to dilapidated hovercraft shells, the 10 locations below are just a taste of the wild, weird vacant sites waiting to be explored in the Sunshine State.
The Best Abandoned Places in Florida
Note: The buttons at the bottom of each location mentioned below lead to the site Abandoned Florida. The owner of this site, David Bulit, is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for opening up the world of urban exploration in Florida to the masses.
His book, Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast, sits on my coffee table at home. His latest book, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City, was released on September 28th, 2020.
Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys (Marianna)
Though its notoriety among local residents stretches back decades, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys recently carved out a spot in popular culture thanks to the publication of The Nickel Boys, novelist Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional account of an African-American teen’s stint at the reform school.
The facility was established by the state legislature in 1897 and opened its doors in January 1900 as the Florida State Reform School. The facility went through several name changes—including the Florida Industrial School for Boys in 1914 and simply the Florida School for Boys in 1957—before finally being renamed for Arthur G. Dozier, one of the school’s previous superintendents.
Almost as soon as it accepted its first residents, the school became known for the harsh treatment inflicted upon the young men in its care. A 1903 inspection revealed that leg irons were frequently used to restrain the boys, and a 1914 fire resulted in the deaths of two staff members and six students. Rumors of students being brutally beaten, sexually assaulted, tortured and even murdered swirled around the school throughout its 111 years in operation.
Despite a 1968 inspection by Governor Claude Kirk that banned corporal punishment at the school, subsequent inspections in 1982 and 1985 found that isolation, restraints and other abuses persisted on campus. Still, the school continued business as usual until 2009, when it failed its annual inspection and reports of abuse, poorly-trained staff and other violations again came to light.
In 2010, the state announced a merger of the Dozier School and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center but closed both facilities the following year due to lack of funding.
Governor Charlie Crist ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a comprehensive investigation of reports of abuse and murder at the school, and many of the interviewees’ accounts referenced punishments doled out at the “White House,” a small white building on the southern end of campus.
They described torture sessions involving hundreds of lashes with a leather belt and being whipped until they lost consciousness. Other students referred to a “rape room” on campus where inmates were sexually assaulted by school staff.
When the investigation concluded in 2010, the State Attorney declined to file charges, stating that insufficient evidence existed to prove criminal wrongdoing. In 2013, Governor Rick Scott permitted researchers at the University of South Florida to excavate areas of the property where unmarked graves were believed to exist; the remains of at least 55 bodies were exhumed, though fewer than a dozen have yet been positively identified.
The state held a formal ceremony in 2017 to officially acknowledge and apologize for the tragedies that occurred at the school, although legislation establishing memorials in Tallahassee and Marianna and providing funds to rebury the remains and compensate victims’ families has yet to be approved by the State Senate.
After Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle region in 2018, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office relocated their facilities to the site, which is now known as “Endeavor.” However, ground-penetrating radar identified the likely presence of another two dozen bodies on the property, and investigations into the full scope of the horrors that occurred on campus are likely to continue for years to come.
The Neff House (Fort George Island, Jacksonville)
This distinctive home on bucolic Fort George Island was commissioned by Chicago entrepreneur Nettleton Neff, who sought a winter residence in the temperate climate of Northeast Florida. Jacksonville architect Mellen Clark Greeley designed the Tudor-Revival mansion with a cylindrical entry tower and a striking wrought-iron balcony over the front door; Greely went on to describe it as his most unique home.
Sadly, the Neffs never got to enjoy their southern escape. About six months after construction began in 1926, Neff’s wife perished in a fire while at their summer residence in Michigan. Two years later, the couple’s son William, a student at Harvard University, went missing; his body was found hanging from a tree in Stonington, Connecticut, in an apparent suicide. In 1931, the elder Neff also took his own life, with a bullet to the temple while locked in his office in Chicago’s Railway Exchange Building.
After construction was completed, the mansion remained vacant for years until shipbuilding magnate Kenneth Merrill purchased it as a vacation home for his family. In 1967, the Merrills sold it to the Betz family, who opted to live in the home full-time.
Marine biologist Antoine Betz and his wife Gerri, a real estate developer, moved in with their two youngest children and renovated the house, adding a kitchen wing and garage, installing a pool and completely rewiring the electricity.
The house sat vacant for many years until Kenneth Merrill, of Merrill Stevens Ship Building Co., the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Co., and the Merrill Dynamite Co., purchased the home as a holiday retreat for the Merrill family. The Merrills owned the home until 1967 when they sold it to the Betz family.
Antoine Betz, a marine biologist, and Gerri Betz, the president of a real estate and land development company, resided there full-time with two of their six children. They added a kitchen wing, a garage, a swimming pool, and had the house rewired.
In 1974, the family was outside surveying the damage from a nearby brush fire when they found a metal ball imprinted with a small triangle sitting in the grass. Believing it to be an old cannonball, they brought it home, but soon reported hearing the ball vibrate with musical notes similar to a tuning fork.
When a photographer from a local newspaper came to the home to report on the find, he claimed to see the ball roll across the floor on its own accord. The strange sphere made international news, and various “scientists” examined the object and arrived at wildly divergent conclusions: one declared the ball was transmitting a radio signal, while another reported that the ball was made of radioactive material and was likely a UFO.
An examination by the U.S. Navy determined that the sphere was comprised of stainless steel and therefore man-made, and it was later determined to be a component of machinery used at a local paper mill.
The Betzes sold the house to a private firm in 1985, which used it to house staff members during regional archaeological expeditions. The Florida Park Service acquired the property in 1989 and used the mansion as a residence and office space for Park Rangers. The addition built by the Betz family was demolished in 2002 due to safety concerns, and the home was sealed off completely soon afterward.
Howey Mansion (Howey-in-the-Hills)
Before his arrival in the Sunshine State in 1908, businessman William John Howey wore many hats: After beginning his career as an Illinois insurance salesman at age 16, he became a land developer in Oklahoma, founded an automobile manufacturing company in Kansas City and then moved to Mexico to sell pineapple plantations.
The turmoil of the Mexican Revolution sent him back to the U.S., and he moved to Winter Haven to launch a citrus farming empire, buying land at $10 per acre and selling it for 200 times as much after planting four dozen citrus trees on each acre. His enterprise was a roaring success, and he was soon considered the state’s top citrus developer.
By 1920, Howey had acquired almost 60,000 acres where he planned to establish his own township; four years later, he opened the Floridian Hotel. The Town of Howey was officially incorporated in 1925, and its name was altered to Howey-in-the-Hills in 1927 to capture the area’s rolling terrain that Howey called “The Florida Alps.”
The same year, construction of the 7,200 square-foot Howey Mansion was completed at a cost of $250,000. It was designed by groundbreaking New York architect Katharine Cotheal Budd, and Howey brought the 100-member New York Civic Opera Company to town for a performance commemorating its completion.
A heart attack cut 62-year-old Howey’s life short in 1938, but his widow continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1981. The National Register of Historic Places added the home to its rolls in 1983, and it was purchased the following year by Marvel Zona, who offered public tours of the mansion to raise money for charity.
Unfortunately, some unscrupulous financiers convinced her to take out an ill-advised adjustable-rate mortgage on the home in 2006, and she lost it to foreclosure within two years of the deal. The house sat vacant and in legal limbo for years, and when Zona died in 2015 at the age of 97, a Dallas-based mortgage company took ownership of the property.
In 2017, Orlando businessman Brad Cowherd purchased the mansion and spent more than half a million dollars restoring its former glory. It is now available for special event rentals and private tours, and the gardener’s cottage and guest cottage can be reserved for overnight stays via Airbnb.
The Arctic Discoverer (Green Cove Springs)
When more than 550 passengers boarded the S.S. Central America in Panama in September 1857, none could imagine that the 280-foot steamship and its precious cargo—21 tons of gold—would never reach their final destination of New York. Unfortunately, the unreliable nature of weather forecasting in that era meant that the ship would sail directly into a powerful hurricane.
After several days of battling the storm, the Central America began taking on water. A rescue crew managed to save 153 passengers, but the ship ultimately sank off the South Carolina coast, taking roughly 75 percent of those on board (and the 21 tons of gold) with it to the bottom of the Atlantic.
It sat for more than a century until an ambitious oceanic engineer named Tommy Thompson embarked on a mission to find its long-lost treasure, funding his expedition by promising to share the booty with investors.
In 1988, Thompson purchased and retrofitted a 30-year-old fishing research vessel—one of the first ships to be equipped with GPS—and named it the Arctic Discoverer.
That summer, he successfully located the ruins of the Central America and managed to extract three tons of gold, triggering an 8-year legal battle between Thompson and 39 insurance companies claiming some share of the treasure. A judge ruled that Thompson was entitled to 92 percent of the profits from the discovery, with the remainder split among the insurers.
The Arctic Discoverer and its crew spent roughly two years continuing to mine the shipwreck for gold, simultaneously discovering several new octopus and shark species. In 2000, Thompson sold 532 recovered gold bars and coins for $50 million but failed to share any of the windfall with investors and crew members as promised.
He disappeared completely at some point, failing to show up for a court hearing in 2012 and earning a warrant for his arrest. Two years later, Thompson was found 70 miles away in Boca Raton, living in a hotel with his girlfriend. He was sentenced to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Arctic Discoverer met a similarly sad fate: after being seized and auctioned off for $50,000 in 2012, the buyer stripped the boat of scrap metal and all other items of value and abandoned the remaining shell at a boat mooring yard in Green Cove Springs, where it still sits collecting rust.
Annie Lytle Elementary School (Jacksonville)
Opened in 1918, this two-story brick schoolhouse near downtown Jacksonville was originally named Public School No. 4 before it was renamed in honor of a beloved former teacher and principal. The $250,000 structure was considered grand for its time, with stately columns flanking the school’s entrance, a vast auditorium, high-ceilinged classrooms and a cafeteria with a large fireplace.
The construction of I-10 and I-95 in the mid-1950s left the school separated from the surrounding neighborhood, prompting its closure in 1960. Duval County Public Schools used the building for offices and storage space until 1971, when the structure was condemned.
The school sat vacant for several decades until a developer purchased the property in 1999 with the intention of demolishing the school and replacing it with luxury condominiums. Protests from historical societies and the general public scuttled the redevelopment plans, but beyond the city designating the school as a historic landmark in 2000, nothing was done to preserve the building.
A 1995 fire caused much of the auditorium’s ceiling to collapse, and graffiti and garbage cover the walls and crumbling interior, but it remains a popular destination for local teens, vagrants and intrepid explorers.
Miracle Strip Amusement Park (Panama City)
When it welcomed its first visitors in 1963, Miracle Strip Amusement Park featured a variety of traditional carnival attractions, including bumper cars, a carousel, a haunted house and arcade games. However, its main draw was the Starliner, the first roller coaster built in the state of Florida.
The park’s early success continued to grow over the following decades as the park acquired rides and games from traveling carnivals and amusement parks in other southern cities. Eventually, the park’s ownership group expanded Miracle Strip by constructing the Shipwreck Island Waterpark across the street from the original complex.
In 2003, the park announced that it would be closing at the end of the season due to declining ticket sales and increased expenses. Miracle Strip’s gates closed for good on September 5, 2003, and many of its rides were dismantled and sold to other parks, including the log flume, which went to Wild Adventures in Valdosta, Georgia but was never put into operation. The original carousel, the 1985 Zamperalla Balloon Race Ride and the Red Baron Plane Ride live on at Pier Park, a nearby shopping and entertainment complex.
Most of the remaining structures were demolished in 2010, but a few surviving elements serve as reminders of the property’s previous life as a destination for family fun, including building foundations, sidewalks, concrete bollards and Miracle Strip’s main thoroughfare.
Disney World’s Discovery Island (Bay Lake)
Originally known as Raz Island, this small patch of land in the middle of Central Florida’s Bay Lake was used for agriculture until the late 1930s, when it was purchased by Delmar Nicholson and renamed Isles Bay Island.
Nicholson lived there with his wife for two decades before selling the land to be used as a hunting retreat, prompting another name change to Riles Island. It again changed hands in 1965, when Walt Disney World acquired the island but left it undeveloped for nearly a decade.
In 1974, the Buena Vista Construction Company expanded the size of the island to 11 acres, transporting almost 15,000 cubic yards of soil as well as 1,000 tons of boulders and trees to the site. Their goal was to completely transform the landscape of the island into Disney’s newest attraction, Treasure Island, which would be accessible via ferry from resort docks as well as the Walt Disney World Cruise.
In 1978, Disney rebranded it as Discovery Island, increasing the emphasis on the location’s tropical setting, exotic animal exhibits and conservation efforts. The attraction received accreditation from the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums in 1981, lending legitimacy to the operation.
However, in 1989, a pair of state attorneys filed charges against several park employees, accusing them of mishandling the park’s wild birds, destroying their habitats and even shooting falcons and hawks on the property. Investigations revealed dirty, crowded, inhumane conditions in the bird exhibits, but the park remained open despite the negative publicity.
After Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened at the main campus a decade later, Disney decided to shut down Discovery Island. It has sat abandoned and neglected ever since, and only a few non-Disney employees have managed to access it, including a photographer who swam across the lake with several friends to document the derelict property’s conditions in 2009.
Glades Correctional Institution (Belle Glade)
This ill-fated institution opened its doors as Florida Prison Farm #2 in 1932, then had its name changed to Glades State Prison Farm in 1951 and finally to Glades Correctional Institution in 1962.
The facility achieved national notoriety in 1995, when six inmates—all of whom were serving life sentences—dug a tunnel under the chapel and managed to escape. One of the escapees was captured just outside the prison fence, but the rest made it off-site, prompting a massive manhunt involving the Miami Police Department, the Metro-Dade Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI.
A tip from the public led police to two of the other inmates, one of whom was fatally shot during the pursuit. Two more of the escapees were caught in Little Havana after being recognized by police on patrol, but the last inmate remained on the lam until 1997, when he was shot by Mexican police during a failed robbery attempt.
As the second-oldest prison in the state, Glades’ operating costs were significantly higher than other facilities in the system, so the state opted to close it in 2011 rather than include it in the prison privatization effort.
A private development group purchased the property in 2014; proposed plans for the site have included donating the property to the Atlanta Braves for use as a spring training facility, but so far nothing has been done with it. Photos published by urban explorers show dilapidated, decaying buildings filled with vacant cell blocks, faded paint and crumbling walls.
ATLAS Hovercraft (Green Cove Springs)
When it was founded in 2005, ATLAS Hovercraft planned to use its Green Cove Springs facility to manufacture commercial hovercraft to ferry passengers on the nearby St. Johns River and other waterways in the region.
Its founder, design engineer Kurt Peterson, envisioned his company becoming the world’s largest source of hovercraft design and manufacturing, with each vessel carrying a price tag of approximately $10 million. His plan also included the construction of a port in Palatka, which he hoped to open by 2007.
Unfortunately, the years ticked by with no tangible progress from Peterson or his team. In an online update published in spring 2008, Peterson promised the prototype vessel was “in the home stretch” and expected to be ready the following year. It was the last public statement he would make before the company shut down the same year, leaving the fiberglass hull of the unfinished craft at the mercy of the elements on the concrete tarmac of the abandoned facility.
Aerojet-Dade Rocket Facility (Homestead)
When the 1957 Sputnik launch triggered the fierce space race between the United States and the then-Soviet Union, American manufacturers jumped at the opportunity to lead the new industry. In 1963, rocket and missile propulsion manufacturing company Aerojet General received a $3 million cash infusion from the U.S. government to build a manufacturing and testing facility in Homestead.
Aerojet purchased property for the plant adjacent to Everglades National Park and immediately began construction on a canal that would allow transport of the completed rockets up the coast to Cape Canaveral.
Starting in 1965 and continuing through 1967, the facility completed three static firings of test rockets. The third firing resulted in hydrochloric acid-heavy propellant being released over the Everglades wetlands as well as homes and agricultural fields in the area, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to residents’ vehicles as well as their crops.
In 1969, NASA opted to use a different fuel type for its rocket engines, effectively rendering the Aerojet facility obsolete. Its workers were immediately laid off and the facility abandoned. In 1986, the company sold the land to the South Dade Land Corporation, which tried unsuccessfully to use the property as farmland before selling it to the state several years later.
In 2010, the Omega Space Systems Group proposed a plan to renovate the facility and reopen it for rocket manufacturing, but the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) refused to consider the idea. SFWMD removed the shed over the silo in 2013 and covered it with concrete bridge supports, and the road to the facility has been converted to a nature trail.
No future plans for the facility and its remaining structures are in the works. Due to its remote nature, the property has also seen its share of nefarious activity over the years, including bodies from several homicides being discovered on the site.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Florida
Those who are into urban exploration in the Florida area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Florida, should get comfortable with Florida trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Florida, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Florida, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.