The residents of Ardmore seemed to have just up and walked away.
Today, the worn-down homes are filled with innumerable possessions, there are rusted-out cars in the driveways, and some doors are still locked.
But you won’t find anyone wandering the streets, save for squatters or curious travelers.
Ardmore is a modern ghost town that wasn’t completely abandoned until the 1980s. Located 35 miles south of Hot Springs, time now stands still in this remote corner of the state with the iconic sprawling grasslands that the Midwest is known for.
“Ardmore is one of my favorite ghost towns because it is right on a paved road and is so intact. It is on a highway map so it is easy to show others. People will always ask me, ‘Where is a ghost town that is easy to go to and that I’ll be able to find?’ I can just circle Ardmore on their maps,” said Bruce Raisch, author of Ghost Towns and Other Historical Sites of the Black Hills.
In the old American West, wherever the railroad went, towns soon followed. Founded in 1889, Ardmore was one of these such towns that owed its existence to the railroad, only springing up when the Burlington Railroad decided to connect Omaha and Kansas City with Billings and the West Coast.
Unlike the Black Hills with its many natural resources and profitable mines, the plains of Ardmore were desolate and drinking water was scarce.
The well water quality was decent for steam engines to use but not suitable for human consumption. Instead, the train transported in drinking water. It was so dry in fact, that an experimental dry land farm was established there in 1911.
Despite the challenges, farmers tried to make it work and Ardmore served as a community gathering place where farmers could bank, shop, gas up, and attend church.
Ardmore even had a brief moment of fame when Calvin Coolidge made a stop for lunch in the summer of 1927, during the town picnic.
Circumstances like the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, as well as the railroad no longer stopping in Ardmore, led to its eventual decline and abandonment.
“The reason the town was abandoned was the lack of good water. For years the steam engines would take on the acidic water in Ardmore and bring good drinking water in return," explained James Reimer, author of Ardmore, a haunting fictional book based around the ghost town. "When diesel locomotives came into play, the railroad no longer needed to stop. After years of still bringing water to the little town, they finally pulled the plug and no longer supplied fresh, drinkable water … so the town dried up.”
Reimer became fascinated with the little town after driving through on his way to Nebraska. He looked online but couldn’t find any information about the ghost town, so he decided to write his own story.
“I’ve lived in the western states most of my life, and I’m familiar with old mining ghost towns,"he said. "That has a logical explanation … the mines played out and people left."
But Ardmore was different. The town wasn’t deserted until the 1980s. Reimer said he couldn't find an answer as to why everyone left, so he researched and wrote his own book.
Reimer found Ardmore was founded by the railroad and, despite its best effort, couldn’t survive the challenges of the 20th century like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The loss of their railroad stop limited access to humankind’s most valuable resource — clean water.