The Lost and the Dammed: Abandoned Towns and Railroads From Damming

The World has changed, and is in a constant state of change, as we human beings are especially good at changing things big and small to better suit our needs (or so we think, at least).

Dams are some of the earliest examples of human ingenuity, allowing water retention and flood suppression, among a number of other benefits. However, quite a few dams have also displaced people, railroad lines, and even entire towns.

Through my ongoing research our abandoned railroad lines, I began to discover there are quite a large amount of areas which look completely different before and after they were dammed. Here are some of what I'm sure are dozens more examples.

All of these former settlements are on our Ghost Towns map, and can be found using the GPS Coordinates if you're interested in seeing what they look like today for yourself. I also recommend checking out the USGS Topo Map Viewer, which will allow you to see these towns in greater detail.

1) Callville, NV (36.11333, -114.68888)

Source: 1886 St. Thomas USGS Topo Map

Callville, NV was the southernmost Mormon settlement, situated along the Colorado River. Established in 1864, the town was abandoned in 1869 after the US Military decommissioned the garrison located there, which was active during the Civil War.

It was a one of a number of settlements along the Colorado River that were ultimately submerged several hundred feet underwater as a result of the building of the Hoover Dam and the creation of Lake Mead. It is now directly north of the Arizona border within the lake.

Google Maps Satellite View of the area today. We aren't in Washington.

While the town is gone forever, it should be noted that it had been a ghost town long before the dam was built, as the last structure in the town had been razed in 1892.

2) Dugger, TN (36.33752, -81.99688)

Source: 1891 USGS Roan Mountain Topo Map
Dugger, TN was a settlement along the Watauga River, east of Elizabethton, TN. Not much is known about the settlement, which was gone in the early 20th Century. Later, the Southern Railway
ran a line along the river between Elizabethton and Mountain City, TN.
Source: Fish Springs 1935 USGS Topo Map

Google My Maps Satellite View, 2018
Today, both are underwater after the creation of the Watauga Lake in 1942 by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is also responsible for the damming of the Tennessee River at...

3) Johnsonville, TN (36.04542, -87.99825)

The building of the Kentucky Dam by the TVA in 1944 inundated the area of Johnsonville, TN. Residents relocated the town a new site south of the old Johnsonville, which was incorporated in 1949. This damming also necessitated relocating the Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis line which ran between Camden and Denver, TN.

Source: USGS Camden 1938 Topo Map

What the area looks like today. The former ROW of the railroad line to the north of US 70 is still quite visible. Source: Google Maps
New Johnsonville has a population of roughly 2000 people, so this is a case where the relocation of the town most likely helped it survive.

4) Hierro, Iola, Elkhorn, Kezar Station, and Cebolla, CO (near 38.4767, -107.09627)

All Settlements along the Gunnison River. Source: Uncomprahenge 1908 USGS Topo Map. 
The damming of the Gunnison River displaced many former town sites, which were all laid out on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which itself was abandoned when the Blue Mesa Reservoir was built in the early 1960's. The town of Iola still had an active post office at that time.

Google Maps showing the location of the former town sites now underwater.
Most of the former residents of these towns likely moved to Cimmaron or Gunnison, west or east respectively, of the dams.

5) Dillon, CO (39.61058, -106.05943)

Colorado comes up a lot with regard to former towns being inundated for dams, which makes sense given the ongoing scarcity of water in the Western US. 

Much like Johnsonville, TN, Dillon exists today, but has been relocated about a mile north, after the Dillon Reservoir was built. 
Source: Dillon 1938 USGS Topo Map
The area is much more populated today, and includes the towns of Silverthorne, located just north of the tourist destination Breckenridge, CO.

Google My Maps, 2018
6) Arboles, CO (37.02118, -107.39228)

Colorado shows up once more on this list, this time immediately north of the New Mexico border along the San Juan River. 

Source: USGS 1924 Topo Map Pagosa Springs 
Arboles was relocated west of the river after the construction of the Navajo Reservoir and Dam a few miles south, which began in 1958.
Google My Maps

This also forced the Denver & Rio Grande Western to abandoned their line between Carbon Jct and Chama, NM. 

There are more examples I'm sure of towns gone in Colorado, but let's move to the east, shall we?

7) Garrison, KS (39.37723, -96.68964)

Before the creation of Tuttle Creek Lake, a village known as Garrison existed in Pottawatomie County, KS. Founded in 1880, it was incorporated until 1959 when it was razed to make way for the Tuttle Creek Lake. Thankfully, there has been some history saved of the town as a result of Kansas State University's research.

Source: 1891 Junction City USGS Topo Map
Not one, but two railroads actually ran through Garrison. The Kansas Central, later becoming the Union Pacific, ran east-west between Miltonvale and Valley Falls, KS, and the Blue Valley and Manhattan Railroad ran along the Big Blue River in a north-south path, which I need to find more information on. Both railroads are obviously long gone today.
Google My Maps of the area today.
 8) Torino, IL (41.20603, -88.23806)

While Torino is unique on this list in that it was not abandoned as a result of damming, it is underwater along with the rest of these villages. At the far southern end of Will County, IL where it meets with Grundy and Kankakee County, Torino was a boomtown when coal was king in the area in the early 20th Century, according to David A. Belden in his book on Will County.

Source: USGS Herscher 1925 Topo Map
The town of Torino was mostly inhabited by Italian immigrants working the coal mines and at its peak had roughly 100 buildings. The boom would be short lived, however, and by 1952, the last building in Torino was condemned, as coal activity in the area had decreased, and villagers moved to other nearby areas. A former mining spur ran east of the town in later years, most likely to help haul gravel and earth from the area to create what Torino is today...

Google My Maps

The town site is now within the cooling lake created for the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station which was built after the town was gone.

9) Cannonsville, NY (42.09095, -75.31806)

Source: Deposit 1925 USGS Topo Map

Located in Upstate New York, Cannonsville was founded late in the 18th century, making it one of the oldest towns on this list, and survived until 1964, until the area was flooded to create the Cannonsville Reservoir along the West Branch of the Delaware River.

Google My Maps
Credited with "saving New York City" by providing drinking water to the region, the dam was breached in 2015, which required diverting water away from the river to prevent a catastrophe downstream. Thankfully, disaster was prevented in that case, but it is a good example of a large part of our infrastructure which requires ongoing maintenance, that few of us think about on a daily basis.

10) Greenwich, MA (42.35916, -72.29638)

Last on our list is the town lost to create the Quabbin Reservoir, which serves as water for the Boston area as well as much of the state. Greenwich was founded in 1739, making it by far the oldest town on this list.

Source: Belchertown 1890 USGS Topo Map
The Quabbin Reservoir was built in 1938, making Greenwich last for 199 years. The construction of the reservoir also required abandoning the Boston & Albany Railroad's Athol Branch.
Google My Maps

Know of another town or area which looks completely different today as a result of damming? Let me know in the comments as always, and thank you for reading!


  1. theblackbear2@gmail.comJuly 15, 2018 at 7:30 PM

    The Oroville dam project in California in the 1960's required a relocation of the Western Pacific mainline, a relocation of a mountain highway, the abandonment of a powerhouse and the company town adjacent to it, and the abandonment of 3(?) small towns and a number of operational mines, as well as a small railroad that serviced them. I haven't reviewed the details for years, but as a young boy I witnessed the completion of the dam and it's subsequent initial filling. My father was a field engineer on the project.

    1. OK, Checking Details: The Highway relocated was highway 162. The railroad that was abandoned was the feather river Railway that ran from the old WP line at Land, to the town of Feather Falls. Apparently up to it's it was a lumber carrier, more than an ore carrier. The towns were Land, Bidwell's Bar...and I'm still trying to find the name of the others, The Powerhouse was called the Big Bend, or in some sources, the Las Plumas powerhouse, which sat on the opposite side of the canyon from the original WP mainline.

    2. theblackbear2@gmail.comJuly 15, 2018 at 8:35 PM

      Here is the list of towns that I could find listed as inundated by Lake Oroville: Land, Bidwell, Bidwell's Bar, Nelson Bar (this is a placer mining district "bar" refers to a gravel bar in the river), Big Ripples, Blinzing, Bloomer, Enterprise, and Las Plumas (at the powerhouse). These were all very small mountain towns, many along the WP line. Additionally, some of the towns that existed along the line that was rerouted were subsequently abandoned because the only reliable access to them had been along the railroad.

  2. Thank you for your comments. Indeed there are hundreds if not thousands of forgotten and abandoned towns out there lost to damming, and this blog only listed a small handful, so I greatly appreciate the help in mentioning other towns, some of which have little or no information about their history whatsoever! Quite sad, really.

  3. The Aswan High Dam in Egypt not only displaced 90,000 people, it required the Abu Simbel temples to be relocated to higher ground.

  4. Dams are really important in order to make sure that flood could not affect that much . The Illinois Flood Maps will show you as how much they are prepared for such kind.

  5. Flagstaff Lake in Maine swallowed up a town and breached a highway. I don’t think a railroad was involved though. The lake is used as a reservoir to regulate the water supply for a power station down stream. They do not generate power at the Flagstaff Lake dam. You can see the sunken highway on Google Earth.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Flagstaff, ME is listed on my Ghost Towns Map:


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