Ghosts & Ghost Towns of Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth (used with permission)

Washington state may be as far west as you can go in the continental United States, but as far as I can tell, most people don’t associate it with the Far West, also known as the Wild West. Probably because when many people think of Washington, they think of urban Seattle. In fact, may people think that Seattle is all there is to Washington. Not true, there is much more to our state than the mostly urbanized west side. However, the Old West can still be encountered in Eastern Washington.

This isn’t a blog dedicated to tourism, but there are some places in my state that I’m particularly fond of and want to write about. It’s been a long time since I visited Okanogan County, but I still have fond memories of it and immediately recognize much of its landscape and many of its buildings in photographs, even though it’s been years since I last saw them.

All these photos were taken in Okanogan County, which is Washington’s largest county and is located in the north central regions of the state. It adjoins the Canadian border.

You can no longer stay at the Nighthawk Hotel, unless you’re a ghost. Nighthawk is supposedly the quintessential ghost town. I love the name. I was there for a Ghost Towns of Washington photography workshop. We were warned that we wouldn’t be welcomed by whatever human presence remained. Nevertheless, I did a bit of wandering around and photographing. Nobody drove me off with a shotgun. I also love this old hotel. It’s just the sort of thing you’d see in a Western movie or TV series.

Before European settlers arrived this area was home to various indigenous peoples. The name of the county derives from the name of an indigenous nation.

Mining, forestry, and fur trade fueled the county’s economy in its early days. Agriculture and tourism dominate the local economy now. Mining towns that have not become ghost towns have become agricultural communities.

There are still plenty of Wild West tourist attractions in Okanogan County. The most famous one is probably the Omak Stampede, also known as the Famous Suicide Race, held in August. During the race horse and riders charge down a steep hill, across the Okanogan River to the rodeo grounds on the other side.

The town of Chesaw had a brief Gold Rush boom. It hosts a Fourth of July rodeo every year. And in the town of Tonasket there is a steam threshing bee in September, where you can see the equipment that was used before the invention of the internal combustion engine.’

You might see a steam engine like this one at the Tonasket Threshing Bee, but probably not the ghost of the old farmer. Robert is good at being a ghost.
This time Robert is the ghostly denizen of the town of Molson. It isn’t just a ghost town. The entire town and several of its buildings, including this one, is a museum. The population, at last count, was only about two dozen, but the place draws several thousand visitors a year to photograph its charming attractions. I loved Molson, too.
When the people moved out, the plants moved in. Is any place where humans once lived ever actually empty, albeit abandoned? Plants live there. Mice and other small animals occupy its nooks and crannies, while bats and birds live under the roof. Hopes, dreams, and memories might also still hover within the walls.
This is a haunting photo of ghostly Joanne Perry Ruth. Her body may be gone, but her spirit lingers. Who is she waiting for? Is she looking into the past? Has she given up hope? They say hope springs eternal, so perhaps she hasn’t given up quite yet.

If I look at these photos often enough and long enough, maybe I’ll come up with a story to go with them. Or maybe the photos and what I’ve already written are story enough. Or visitors to my blog might come up with their own stories.

6 thoughts on “Ghosts & Ghost Towns of Washington”

    1. You’re welcome, Judy. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. There are other ghost towns and abandoned homesteads all over Eastern Washington. Bodie is another town in Okanogan County. The countryside there is beautiful. So is all the rest of our state.

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  1. Ghost towns are fun. Monte Cristo out of my hometown of Darrington WA was fascinating. It had been a huge mining town. We often took visitors to hike into Silver Lake, Gorgeous scenery.

    In the 1890s a mining boom brought thousands of men to Monte Cristo, an isolated area nestled in the mountains along the eastern edge of today’s Snohomish … The town was active as a mining area for gold and silver from 1889 to 1907, and later became a resort town that operated until 1983.

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  2. A great piece of history. I have not been there but would like to do it. I do know there is more to Washington State than Seattle. My family had Latvian friends in Olympia (a farm) and Longview. My husband and I spent quite a bit of time at the Olympic Peninsula such as the rainforest, Lake Crescent for mountain hikes, etc. We stayed at the Lake Quinault Lodge (very special).

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    1. Thanks for reading my post and commenting, Aija! We also had Latvian friends in Oly and Longview. I wonder if they were the same people. I’m glad you’ve been able to spend time in some of Washington’s most beautiful places. I hope you get a chance to visit Okanogan County. It’s also a special place.

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