There is a unique beauty in abandoned places and the quiet stillness that has befallen these once vibrant and busy places. Trees have grown up around them and the earth has covered them with dirt as it reclaims the space as its own. There is no shortage of abandoned places in North Carolina. Visiting these sites you can almost feel the energy that once was apart of the place as it beamed with life and prosperity.
Now they sit abandoned and decaying, some being overtaken by the forces of nature, some weathering harsh conditions, and all of them just waiting to be explored and documented. If you are looking for the best-abandoned places in North Carolina, sit tight because we’ve got you covered. Our list includes a hospital, speedway, airplane boneyard, juvenile detention facility, and many more! Keep reading to learn about all of these abandoned places in North Carolina.
Need a strong camera to photograph abandoned places in North Carolina? Look no further than our two top recommendations, the Canon EOS 90D and the Nikon D7500. Find more DSLR options in our comprehensive guide.
Interested in venturing outside North Carolina? Here are a few guides to surrounding states that will be helpful in your explorations outside of the wonderful abandoned places in North Carolina:
- Finding the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Virginia In 2021
- Finding the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Georgia In 2021
- Finding The 10 Best Abandoned Places In Tennessee In 2021
The Best Abandoned Places in North Carolina
The Road To Nowhere
The Fontana Dam is high above the Little Tennesse River in western North Carolina. It is the tallest dam in the eastern United States. Building the dam was no easy task and what was lost during this journey can be seen in the nearby “Road to Nowhere”.
Builtin 1942 the Fontana Dam was turned over to the Tennessee Valley Authority by the Aluminium Company of American, ALCOA. With the United States involvement in the Second World War the demand for aluminum spiked. A deal was struck for the TVA to build a dam with ALCOA as the primary consumer for the dam. Aluminum was needed for aircraft and ships as part of the war effort. The aluminum company stood to make a great profit from the hydroelectric power coming in.
However, the people who did not benefit from the construction of the dam were the flooded communities on the banks of the rising river. What was previously small towns and villages along the side of the river was now overtaken by Fontana Lake. The people who used to live there were either bought out of their property or moved.
Part of the deal was to build a road from Bryson City to Deals Gap along the northern route of the river. The road was intended for people to make the journey and to provide access back to their ancestral lands and cemeteries where their ancestors were buried. The road cut straight through the newly created Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The people moved on and the water continued to rise. By the 1970s, 30 yeast later, only a small portion of the road had been built. This small section of road is still there today. It’s about 7 miles long before coming to an abrupt halt. It ends at a quarter-mile tunnel in the national park, dab smack in the middle of nowhere.
The Road to Nowhere was never finished because of environmental concerns. The rock had the potential to turn runoff acidic, which threatened wildlife in nearby streams. The only plausible solution was to stop all construction. The road continued to sit unfinished and abandoned for decades until the U.S. Department of Labor agreed to pay $52 million to Swain County instead of finishing the road project. As of 2016, the county saw $12 million of that settlement. In 2018, the final payment was made. The funds are held by the state of North Carolina and Swain County receives interest on the settlement.
And that is as far as the road goes. It remains unfinished and abandoned, leading to nowhere. Someone even hung a sign that reads “Welcome to the Road to Nowhere – a broken promise! 1943 – ->”
Laurinburg-Maxton Aircraft Boneyard
When you read aircraft boneyard you probably pictured a field of abandoned plane parts and you are spot on. Laurinburg-Maxton Airport is about two hours outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, and is currently home to a number of retired 727s, 747s, and DC-10s all in various states of disrepair and decay.
These vintage aircraft are all former Northwest Airlines planes that are now being sold for scrap. Many of the planes are missing rudders, engines, or other parts that have been purchased from the Airports salvage yard, which is owned by Charlotte Aircraft Corporation.
One of the abandoned planes, a Boeing 747-100, even had its nose cut off before being removed and transported to Washington D.C. where you can visit it in the National Air and Space Museum. This noble plane stands as a proud reminder of when these old birds ruled the sky.
Unfortunately at the time of writing this article the Laurinburg-Maxton Aircraft Boneyard is no longer allowing visitors on the property without permission because visitors were stealing and breaking the planes. Be sure to get permission before you visit or you can be arrested for trespassing.
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The Stonewall Jackson Reform School
What remains of the Stonewall Jackson Reform School are several dilapidated buildings that seem frozen in time. Set off from the road you’ll pass over an old ivy-covered bridge before coming upon the school. These buildings once belonged to Jackson Manual Training and Industrial School and are located in Concorde, North Carolina.
The school was established in 1909 as a place to house young offenders who had committed crimes but were not old enough to be sent to an adult prison. Named for “Stonewall” Jackson, a Confederate general in the American Civil War, during which the confederacy succeded from the Union over conflicts about slavery.
Young boys during the 19th century who were convicted of minor crimes were sentenced to the same harsh sentences as adults during the time and many of them served out their sentences here. James P. Cook witnessed such a trial of a 13-year-old boy who was sentenced to three years and six months for being convinced of petty theft. Cook and concerned citizens petitioned the General Assembly to create a school for these boys and the Stonewall Jackson Training School was established.
The school expanded from 1909 to 140 and built several different buildings. The main administration building was built in 1922. During its peak in the 1920s, the school housed a total of 500 students. These young boys were taught academics and trades such as farming, shoemaking, textiles, barbering, and mechanic work.
During the 1970s the population of the school began to dwindle due to the rise of new welfare and social programs geared towards minors. The school was renamed the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center and built a new building to house more violent offenders. Because of the nature of the new boys, the new building was wrapped in a barbed-wire fence.
The old Stonewall Jackson School site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but there has been little to no interest from the community in preserving these buildings or their history. Visitors are not welcome to the site and there are several no trespassing signs posted. The old buildings themselves are slowly being reclaimed by nature and decaying. The ceiling and floors are falling down and it won’t be too much longer before these abandoned places in North Carolina are gone forever if they are not properly restored.
Abandoned North Wilkesboro Speedway
Next on our list of abandoned places in North Carolina is a place that is very distinct to the state: the abandoned North Wilkesboro Speedway. Originally opened by Enoch Stanley in 1947 as a dirt track this speedway had perfect timing. NASCAR was fresh on the racing scene and eventually, this speedway would come to host some of the most memorable early NASCAR races.
Enoch drew inspiration for the speedway from stock car racing when he attended several races hosted by Bill France in 1945. When Enoch envisioned a new track for racing he reached out to France to promote the races he hoped to one day hold.
The initial investment for the speedway was only $1,500 and the track was completed with a downhill slope on the front stretch and an uphill slope on the backstretch.
France agreed to promote the first official race event and promised an expected audience of 3,000 people. In actuality, on opening day the attendance reached over 10,000 people who came to witness the famous Flock brothers win. On October 16, 1949, the 8th and final race of the 1949 NASCAR strictly stock division was held here at this speedway. Kenneth Wagner won the first Cup Pole at the track with a speed of 57.563 mph.
During the 1950s, North Wilkesboro gained a reputation as one of the fastest short-tracks in auto racing with cars reaching speeds of 73 mph. Many of the great racing legends took place in the races at the speedway. The track eventually became a paved track in 1957 and held the 93 Winston Cup Series races along with many other NASCAR events until it finally closed in 1996.
The speedway was briefly opened again in 2010 -2011 to host several stock car series races including ASA Late Model Series, USA Racing Cup ProSeries, and PASS Super Late Models, but these days the speedway is abandoned and its pavement is cracked and damaged. The stands are still intact and you can find older out of service ATMs near the entrance waiting for the crowds to one day return.
Pea Island Life Saving Station
Located on Pea Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina sits the Pea Island Life Saving Station. This was the first life-saving station in the country to have an all-black crew and the first to have a black man, Richard Etheridge, as its commanding officer.
Richard Etheridge was born into slavery in 1842 as the property of John B. Etheridge on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Here large plantations didn’t exist and slavery was limited. During his early life, Richard learned to work the sea, fishing, pilot boats, and combing the beach for refuse from wrecks. Even though it was illegal to do so, his master taught him how to read and write.
In 1861, after the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Outerbanks was one of the first sites of Northern invasion. General Ambrose Burnside, the Union commander, employed black labor to build fortifications for his armies, and the island soon became a refugee camp for fugitive slaves. The Union eventually realized the potential that the active recruitment of Southern blacks offered their forces, not only by bolstering the Union ranks but by simultaneously diminishing the opposition’s labor supply. Black troops began being enlisted by the summer of 1863; Richard Etheridge joined on August 28 of that year.
Richard was one of the first African Americans to hold the rank of keeper of a life-saving station. Because of the racial divisions at the time, this meant that the entire crew of men under his leadership had to be black. Although other black men had served as surfmen at Pea Island and other stations, Pea Island Station came to be manned entirely by a black keeper and crew. All other LSS stations, in North Carolina and throughout the country were manned and run by whites. Sadly, five months after Richard took charge of the station arsonists burned it to the ground.
On August 3, 2012, the Coast Gaurd commissioned the 154-foot Sentinal-Class Cutters, USCGC Richard Etheridge in his honor. The station was decommissioned in 1947 and Etheridge and his family are buried at the Pea Island Life Saving Station Memorial on the grounds of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Today, you can visit the memorial and get a glimpse into life at the life-saving station, and a very interesting example of abandoned places in North Carolina.
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Castle Mont Rouge
Deep in the middle of the North Carolina forest stands a fairy tale castle that has fallen on hard times. This castle is the work of local artist Robert Mihaly and it sits at the end of a long road past a handful of trailers and houses on top of a mountain.
Mihaly was a sculptor who built marble and cinder black statues to serve as his part-time studio and home. The castle was constructed in a mish-mash of styles ranging from European towers to fantastical Middle Eastern-looking minarets and cupolas covered in copper.
Unfortunately, the interior was never compelled and the site has been abandoned. It has become a draw for local graffiti artists who have marked up most of the interior of the building. The wooden floors are rotted and debris has blown in from opened or cracked windows. It is rumored that Mihaly still uses Castle Mont as his part-time studio event though the castle is in bad need of repairs.
In 2014, the sculptor kicked off a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for renovations, however, the castle still remains today and one of the most interesting abandoned places in North Carolina.
The Endor Iron Furnace
In the middle of a 426-acre nature park, the Endor Iron Furnace still retains most of the imposing nature it must have held as it spat out workable iron in North Carolina. The Endor Iron Furnace is one of the more stunning pieces of North Carolina history that has long been abandoned and forgotten by many.
The furnace itself is 35 feet tall and stacked with a layered stone at the end of a pathway that is sprinkled with remains of iron ore and pig iron. This furnace was used during the Civil war to make materials for the war effort.
It sits off the beaten path close to the nearby Deep River. Refined iron only steamed from the Endor Iron Furnace for ten years, but it remains today to keep the memory of this tumultuous time alive for well over one hundred years.
As of August 2020, the site has been fenced off, however, there isn’t a no trespassing signposted. People have reported signs of excavation and if you do plan to excavate here just no that you could face heavy fines and even jail time. If you find any historical relics at the site you are advised to call the NC Historical Society and it’s also a good idea to ask them for permission to view the site beforehand. The dirt road to the actual site is pretty well maintained although you can expect quite a hike to get to the fenced area. Bring bug spray, tick repellent, and some water for the hike.
Ghost Town In The Sky
Ghost Town in the Sky was the vision of businessman R.B. Coburn, a Virginia native who moved to North Carolina. Coburn wanted to create a Western-themed amusement park after visiting a few ghost towns in the American West.
He purchased Buck Mountain at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains in 1960 to be the location of his new park. The park was designed and constructed by Russell Pearson and cost around $1 million dollars at the time. Locals were hired to build replica buildings of a small town at the peak of the mountain. The town was completed in 1961.
The park was divided into several towns each located at different elevations along the mountain and each with its own theme. Every hour on the hour a gunfight was staged in the middle of the street for the guests to enjoy some authentic wild west activities. The Old West Town included two saloons, a bank, a jail, and a church.
Ghost town opened its doors to the public in May of 1961 and quickly became one of the state’s top attractions for tourists. It was promoted as North Carolina’s mile-high theme park. Over the years new rides and attractions were added. At its peak Ghost Town attracted 400,000 visitors each season.
A railway was constructed to bring visitors to the top of the mountain. Tourists could see every inch of the park by riding the railway of the chairlift on their way up the mountain. The chairlift was added in 1962 and is the longest in North Carolina and the second-longest in the United States. It moves at a rate of 310 feet per minute and scales 3,370 feet.
Ghost Town suffered from lack of maintenance and mismanagement under Coburn, Both the railways and the chair lift needed constant repairs and Coburn spent thousands to make sure guests could reach the park at the top of the mountain. In July 2002 the chairlift malfunctioned leaving passengers stranded for two hours in the rain. A few days later Coburn decided to close the doors and sell the park and the property.
Ghost Town sat empty and unmaintained for the next four years, giving many the impression that nobody would buy the park due to the condition of the rides. Without proper security in place, the park was subject to vandalism.
Coburn sold Ghost Town in 1973 but decided to buy it back a decade later in 1986. He hired Hopkins Rides to build a new $2 million steel roller coaster on the side of the mountain. The new coaster was a way to refurbish the park and present it as new to a younger generation of guests. Coburn hope the new coaster would attract excited guests but unfortunately, the reopening was delayed due to construction and weather concerns. The Red Devil coaster opened in September 1988 with little fanfare.
In 2009, after $11 million had been spent, $6 million of that on the coaster the park filled for bankruptcy. The Great Recession of 2008 was blamed for the park’s problems but owners insisted the park would reopen and continue to operate. In May of 2009, the rides were inspected and the owners would need to make $330,000 worth of repairs before they could reopen.
An anonymous donor provided the money which allowed the park to open for the season and saved 200 jobs for the local townspeople who worked at the park. Soon afterward the park struggled to make payroll and employees began to complain. In 2012 a massive mudslide occurred after the retaining walls on the property failed. There were no injuries but forty homes were damaged and needed o to be evacuated. The Ghost Town itself also sustained damage. After that, the park did not reopen for the Memorial Day season and a month later the property was in foreclosure and sold at auction.
The park’s new owners announced a rebranding to Ghost Town Village, due to the inability to reopen any of the roller coasters or rides due to repair costs in 2015. However, due to years of vandalism and neglect, the park remains closed. A local newspaper anticipated Ghost Town to reopen in 2019. Today, the park remains closed, although work is underway by a team of new investors to restore Ghost Town in the hopes of one day reopen. Today it sits as one ofNorth Carolina’s most fascinating abandoned places.
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Heritage USA Theme Park
Heritage USA was a Christian themed amusement park opened in 1978 by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. During its peak, it was the third most visited park in the US behind Disney World and Disney Land with almost 6 million visitors annually.
During the 1980s, Heritage USA was rocked by two salacious scandals. The organization had its tax-exempt status removed and Jim Bakker was indicted on multiple federal charges. He was later also accused of sexual improprieties with the church secretary. The park was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and shutdown shortly afterward for good.
Today only remnants of the park are still visible. The abandoned 21-story Heritage USA Hotel stands as an empty shell over the now suburban landscape. The Upper Room Chapel was purchased after the park’s closure and is now a local prayer room for a ministry. The Heritage Grand Hotel is now Heritage International Ministries and is used as a conference center.
Most of the land surrounding Heritage USA is housing developments and commercial buildings. All of the remnants are privately owned but you can drive in your car around the property to get a good look at one of the most interesting best abandoned places in North Carolina.
The Old Cannon Memorial Hospital
Last on our list of the best-abandoned places in North Carolina is the Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital. The hospital is located outside downtown Banner Elk, North Carolina.
Built in 1962 the hospital served as a replacement for the older and outdated Grace Hospital III which was opened in 1932. The building was abandoned and has sat vacant since 1999 when the hospital merged with a neighboring hospital in the nearby town of Linville. The building looks a little rough for wear. Many of the windows have been broken and graffiti litters the walls.
At this time there is no plan to demolish the old hospital but you never know what the future might hold for this abandoned place. If you are planning a road trip be sure to include this one on your list of best abandoned North Carolina places to visit.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in North Carolina
Thanks for reading our list of the 10 best abandoned places in North Carolina. North Carolina’s unique history can be seen by the type and variety of abandoned places and what each site can teach us of our past.
Whether you live in North Carolina or out of state making a trip to these top abandoned places should be apart of any urban explorer’s must-see bucket list. Did we miss a site you think should have been included on this list? Leave us a comment below and tell us if you know of a location that should have made our list.
Those who are into urban exploration in the North Carolina state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in North Carolina, should get comfortable with North Carolina trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of North Carolina, 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 North Carolina, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.