12 U.S. Places Where Your Visit Could Double the Population

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Lonely locations

Photo: Idunno00923 [CC by 1.0]/Wikimedia Commons

You've heard of a one-horse town, but what about a one-person town? Scattered throughout the U.S. are places with populations you can count on one hand — and sometimes one finger. Some of these places were evacuated after devastating environmental disasters, others simply saw residents move away as local businesses closed and economic opportunities faded. But each of these places has an intriguing story worth telling, and each one is home to some unique residents — or at least one. So check out these lonely locations, grab some friends, and plot out a population-doubling road trip.

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Monowi, Nebraska

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When you enter this Nebraska town, a road sign will tell you the village has a population of two, but Elsie Eiler is the only remaining resident. Eiler's husband, Rudy, died in 2004, which halved the population. Monowi's population peaked at 150 during the 1930s, but like many small towns in the Great Plains, it lost residents to larger cities with more job opportunities.

Today, Eiler is not only Monowi's sole resident, but she’s also the mayor, librarian and bartender. She manages the town's budget (about $500 a year) at "city hall," an old desk inside the town's only business, the Monowi Tavern, and once a year she raises "taxes" to keep the village's four streetlights functioning. Nearby towns supply most of the tavern's customers who say the $2.50 hamburgers and $2 beers are the best in town. (Eiler granted her own liquor license.) Behind the tavern sits a 5,000-book library that Eiler constructed in 2005 in memory of her husband. The library (pictured) was her late husband's dream, and it's become a hit with residents of surrounding towns.

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Centralia, Pennsylvania

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At its peak, this Pennsylvania coal-mining town was home to almost 3,000 people. Today, it has a population of seven. What happened? In 1962, workers set trash on fire in an abandoned mine, but an exposed vein of anthracite coal also caught fire. The fire spread throughout mines beneath the town, and for the next 20 years, numerous attempts were made to extinguish it. Then in 1981, the ground crumbled beneath 12-year-old resident Todd Domboski, and Pennsylvania basically condemned the town and spent $42 million to relocate residents.

The fire continues to burn today — in fact, experts say there’s enough coal to feed the fire for 250 years. Although a handful of people remain in Centralia, all properties in the town were reclaimed by the state under eminent domain, and the borough's ZIP code was revoked in 1992. Residents have filed lawsuits to reverse the eminent domain claim — they believe the state simply wants to get the mineral rights to the coal, which is estimated to be worth $1 billion. In 2013, a court settlement was reached between the town's remaining residents and state officials in which the residents would be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in Centralia and a cash payout of $349,500

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Lost Springs, Wyoming

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Lost Springs was first inhabited in the 1880s and received its name from railroad workers who were unable to find the springs shown on survey maps of the area. When the town was incorporated in 1911, 200 people lived there, mostly coalminers.

The road sign that lists Lost Spring's population as one, which is based on the 2000 census, is a source of contention for the town's few residents. Lost Springs Mayor Leda Price says she's lived there for 37 years and there has always been more than one person. In fact, before the 2010 census, a woman moved in with one of the town’s three residents, increasing the population by 33 percent. As of the 2010 census, Lost Springs is home to four people and two businesses: the general store, which is owned by Mayor Price, and a post office.

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Tortilla Flat, Arizona

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This small, unincorporated community is the last surviving stagecoach stop along the Apache Trail, and with a population of six, it’s Arizona’s smallest official community that has a post office and voter’s precinct. Today, Tortilla Flat consists of a restaurant, a gift shop and a saloon (pictured), which is the kind of place where visitors can enjoy a cold beer or sarsaparilla and even take in a gunfight. The town is owned by Alvin and Pam Ross, who bought it in 1988, but they're willing to part with this piece of Old West history for the right price; they once listed the town as for sale on eBay for $5.5 million.

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Picher, Oklahoma

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The Environmental Protection Agency calls it the most toxic place in America, but six determined residents still call Picher home. The city was once the most productive lead and zinc mining area in the world, but today it’s full of abandoned buildings and enormous piles of mine waste. In 1967, contaminated water from the mines turned the local creek red, the giant chat piles were found to be laced with lead, and Picher’s cancer levels skyrocketed. The area was declared the Tar Creek Superfund site in 1981, but most residents didn’t leave until 2006 when it was discovered that the town was in imminent danger of collapsing into the mines. Picher was declared too toxic to clean up, and a federal buyout program began paying residents to leave. In 2008, the city was further destroyed by a tornado.

Picher’s post office, city hall and high school closed in 2009, and the city ceased operations as a municipality on Sept. 1, 2009. In January 2011, Picher’s remaining commercial structures were demolished, with the exception of the Old Miner’s Pharmacy. Its owner, Gary Linderman, refused to leave his home, and his business survived only because he serves customers in surrounding areas. But in June 2015, Linderman died, rendering Picher a ghost town.

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Tenney, Minnesota

Photo: Benjamin Tighe/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 1.0]

Tenney was incorporated as a city in 1901, its main economic feature being a single grain elevator. It encompassed 4 square miles, but it never grew to reach its boundaries, and it most recently consisted of just two and a half blocks. The town experienced a steady decline in population during the past century, and the post office was discontinued in 1980 when the population reached 19.

As of late June 2011, Tenney is no more — its remaining three residents voted 2 to 1 to dissolve the town and have it become part of Campbell Township. A few months prior to the vote, Mayor Kristen Schwab called a hearing to discuss a potential dissolution, thanks to a petition she signed herself. (Because the town consisted of three people, only one signature was needed to meet the legal requirement of getting a third of all voters to sign.) Schwab and City Clerk Oscar Guenther voted to dissolve Tenney; the dissenting vote came from Guenther’s sister. Dissolving the city means the township will take over Tenney's four vacant lots and two buildings, a church that was renovated into City Hall and another church renovated into a community center.

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Weeki Wachee, Florida

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Weeki Wachee is home to just four residents according to the city's homepage, making it the only city in the world with more mermaids than people. The deepest naturally formed spring in the U.S. runs through this small town, and Seminole Indians named it "Weeki Wachee," meaning "little spring." The spring is so deep that the bottom has never been located, and every day more than 117 million gallons of fresh water flow into the spring from subterranean caves.

When former U.S. Navy SEAL trainer Newton Perry came across the spring in 1946, he saw a business opportunity and built a theater into the limestone below the surface of the spring. Perry trained women as "mermaids," teaching them to swim, dance and perform beneath the water, and the Weeki Wachee mermaids were born. The mermaids transformed Weeki Wachee into a tourist hotspot in the 1960s, attracting thousands of people to the small town, including celebrities like Elvis Presley. The city incorporated in 1966, making it one of the nation’s smallest cities — and the only one with a mermaid mayor. Mayor and former mermaid Robyn Anderson now oversees both the city and her underwater kingdom of mermaids.

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PhinDeli Town Buford, Wyoming

Photo: Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons [CC by 1.0]

Buford was originally an unincorporated community that was formed as a military outpost in 1866 to protect railroad workers. It was named after Civil War General John Buford and was once home to 2,000 people; these days, it’s home to just one. The town's entire amenities — 10 acres and five buildings — were purchased and the town renamed by Phạm Đình Nguyên, a Vietnamese businessman in 2013.

Buford, as it was then known, was purchased by Don Sammons when he left Los Angeles in 1980 in search of a quieter lifestyle. He and his wife bought the tiny town that consisted of six buildings and seven people, but by the mid-1990s, everyone except Sammons, his wife and son had moved on. Following his wife death's and his son moving away, Sammons was completely alone.

In 2012, Sammons put the entirety of Buford's holdings up for sale, and after competitive bidding, the town was sold to Nguyên. After a year of quiet, Nguyên announced that he had purchased the town and renamed the town PhinDeli Town Buford as a way to promote PhinDeli-brand coffee.

As of 2017, the town's only resident is Brandon Hoover, and he runs PhinDeli Town Buford's gas station. Ironically, the town's manager, Jason Hirsch, actually lives three miles south of town.

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Freeport, Kansas

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Founded in 1885, Freeport’s biggest claim to fame used to be that it was the smallest incorporated place in the U.S. with a bank — but in 2009, the bank moved. In 2016, after a nearly 10-year-long struggle, the town's post office was closed. Following the post office's closing, four of the town's residents began mulling dissolving the town, despite the fact that four more people had moved to Freeport.

In a 4-0 vote in November 2017 — the four new residents were not eligible to vote — Freeport was dissolved and would be made part of Silvercreek Township.

At its peak in 1892, Freeport was home to 700 people, had a bank, two hotels, two newspapers, five different dry goods stores and even a police department. After 1892, the town's population plummeted, going from 700 to 54 in a matter of three years, thanks in no small part to land rush of 1893. It was never able to again reach its 1892 heights, or even come close.

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Bonanza, Colorado

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This Colorado silver mining town is largely abandoned. The majority of it burned down in 1937 — today, deteriorated structures outnumber those that still stand. Bonanza was never much of a boom town, or one for counting its residents. According to one former resident, the town's population was often estimated by the number of saloons and pool halls that were open. Today, Bonanza doesn't have a functional single business and it has no post office. Despite that, it has at least one resident.

As recently as 2014, Mark Perkovich is the only person living in Bonanza. Perkovich is a retired Hotshot firefighter and Army veteran, and he's lived in Bonanza for almost 25 years. Perkovich spends his days wandering the wilderness, and when he wants company, he reads the Bible. He revels in the isolation that Bonanza affords him.

Which is why efforts to abandon the town by the state in 2014 and why people who own land in Bonanza but don't actually live there — of which there are about 200 — fought the state over the issue bemused Perkovich. He pays property tax to the county, but the county itself has no jurisdiction over the town, he doesn't receive any services for those taxes. Should a government ever form, something required by state law to avoid the town being abandoned by the state entirely, Perkovich would expect that to change.

"No matter what happens, it's still going to be Bonanza. It’s still going to be on the map," he told AlJazeera America.

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Gross, Nebraska

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Gross was established in 1893 by homesteader Ben Gross and his wife, who opened a general store there. In anticipation of railroad that was to be constructed, a bustling town developed and by 1904, Gross was home to multiple businesses, churches and factories, in addition to about 600 residents. However, the railroad ended up bypassing Gross, and there was an immediate exodus. A few years later, two large fires destroyed most of the businesses, prompting even more residents to leave. By 1970, only eight residents remained. Today, Mike and Mary Finnegan are the only two people who inhabit Gross, and their restaurant and bar, the Nebrask Inn, boasts over 2,000 Facebook fans — more people than Gross has seen in a century.

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Emblem, Wyoming

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Emblem is an unincorporated community with a population of 10, but it has its own post office and its own ZIP code. It was founded in 1896, and the area was once known as Germania Bench because German Lutherans were the first people to settle the land. However, the town’s name and its residents became a source of prejudice during World War I, and the surrounding towns demanded that its name be changed to something more patriotic. Specifically, residents were told that the name should be an "emblem of liberty," so the name was changed to Emblem.