Has a large US city ever just disappeared?

The thread about Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome got me thinking: what if people just kept leaving Detroit until the population becomes so small that it couldn’t really be considered a big city anymore?

According to wiki, Detroit’s high of 1.8 million people in 1950 has dropped by half. Suppose things hold true and the other 900000 currently left in Detroit move out in the next 50 years, what happens then? Do they redraw the borders to something that the city can sustain? Do neighborhoods break off and form their own cities?

I was thinking that a city like Flint, Michigan, with its reliance on one industry, would be particularly vulnerable to this type of population exodus. Wiki says its suffering from a similar fate as Detroit: A high population in 1960 of about 196000 people dwindling to about 112000 currently. Since Detroit and the Detroit Metro area still has millions of people, it could fall back on other things to sustain it. Flint may go into the 5 digits in people within 10 years, and who knows after that?

My question is, has a big or semi-big city ever had most of it population leave and had to downgrade, for lack of a better term? What happens to its land, do the surrounding cities take them, does it revert to a state-controlled municipality, or what? If so, what’s the biggest city this has ever happened to? We all know about how a city grows but I find it interesting to see how a city dies as well.

[slight hijack]In the middle ages, some cities in Italy, and Constantinople, dwindled so much that they consisted of smaller towns with farmland in between them. They were recognized as independent communities enough that when the Turks conquered Constantinople after storming the walls, they gave mercy to some of the individual towns contained within that surrednered to them because they were not considered to be part of the same city that had refused to surrender to them!

So I guess that a U.S. city would never suffer an entire absence of population, as these cities did not, barring a massacre of the entire populace combined with razing of the entire structure. So what would probably happen would be calls for independence from the clusters of communities that remain when, for instance, Detriot only has ~100,000 people in it (I don’t think it would ever get lower than that barring a natural disaster or a planned razing of the city to make more room for a park or farmland.)

I think Tombstone which may have peaked at 15000 people is the biggest town to disappear - it’s since making a comeback as a tourist attraction.

You could argue that a huge portion of New York City has disappeared…when they built Central Park, they raized over a square mile of once populated city. - kicking out the Minority residents.

But cities migrate all the time. Population centers move from downtown to the suburbs and then struggle to bring high income residents back into the center city to keep it alive. St. Louis would be a good example here.

And of course, New Orleans- which for a brief period of time had a near zero population…but it’s coming back.

Vanport Oregon went away on May 30, 1948. It was at one time the 2nd largest city in Oregon with a peak population of around 40,000.

Wisely, the area remains mostly undeveloped.

I understand that some cities in places like Ohio got bypassed by the railroads, and essentially disappeared. I have no idea how large they were.

Towns have disappeared because they were in the place that a lake got created – four towns disappeared, for instance, when Massachusetts created the Quabbin Reservoir:

None of them was a “city”. I understand there’s a town in New Jersey that was deserted because of threatened flooding. There’s another that was bypassed by modern roads when the traffic on the canal it was on died.

Centralia, PA pretty famously died when a coal seam fire started underneath it, and is still going:

I know of one town in Utah that was literally buried by a flood.

There have been many ghost towns that disappeared when the mining stopped.

So certainly many towns have disappeared for various reasons. I don’t think any of them was ever really “large” as a city, though. If there’s a real reason to stay somewhere, it’d take a serious disaster to keep people away.

Well, there are a lot of ghost towns scattered around the west that went through a boom and then dried up and disappeared as the ore was mined out. Although we aren’t talking about millions of people as suggested in the OP, for the time they existed, these boom and bust towns did represent a goodly portion of the population, so there might some correlation there.

An interesting story: For a time, Far West, Missouri was a rather large city made up of 3,000-5,000 people and was large enough at the time to be appointed as the county seat. That population was not bad for the early 19th century on the frontier.

It is now farmland, with only a historical site or two for those who want to go looking for them. What makes it different from your standard ghost towns (created due to a loss of local industry / resources) is that it was abandoned due to religious persecution (an outright extermination order was placed against the Mormon settlers – Amazing to think of that injustice today!). It is hard to imagine a city of that size disappearing like that and now the realm of corn and soy fields.

Uh…see Chernobyl

Wow, Chernobyl was in the US? We did an awesome job of framing the Soviets for that one! I had no idea. :stuck_out_tongue:

Yeah, Bodie went from 10,000 people to pretty much zero, and Virginia City went from 30,000 down to 500.

:smack: Didn’t see the “US” part of the OP!
Carry On!

I thinkthe city of Tyre has not always been inhabited. It has survived several massacres and depopulations over the eons. I can’t be absolutely certain because it was never really a capital of much and records are sparse.

Kaskaskia, IL was large enough to be the state capital from 1809–1820, with a peak population of about 7,000. As of the 2000 census, its population had fallen to nine. It’s also notable for being one of the few parts (the only part?) of Illinois lying West of the Mississippi.

Nothing here, someone else posted it while I was on the phone.

Yeah, but when there wasn’t a Tyre, there was always a spare Tyre somewhere.

(Also not in the US.)

A lot of cities like Nome, Alaska and Virginia City, Nevada were mining cities so they had big (for the time) population but a lot of the population was never intending to stay on forever.

Lot’s of cities lost major populations. Washington had over 800,000 at it’s peak as did St Louis. Both Baltimore and Cleveland had over 900,000. Chicago has lost around 900,000 from it’s peak population to now.

But in those cases, as in the case of Detroit the metro areas (suburbs) grew as the central cities shrunk.

The town of Centralia, PA(pop 2000 or so) was abandoned due to a coal fire.

Many parts of Detroit have been abandoned and are reverting back to natural woodland.

I had read a number of articles where Flint is eliminating and consolidating services from much of the city and essentially attempting to consolidate it to a more manageable size that reflects the actual population.

There’s an economic reason that this doesn’t happen: It costs money to build infrastructure. More now than in the past (running water, electric, roads, phone, cable, etc).
Once a city becomes run down to a certain extent, it becomes economically viable for companies to buy up large swaths of it, and rehabilitate it. Buying tons of housing and office space on the cheap.

I never tire of a good pun.


:smack: Forgot about Centralia!

To think that a whole town of thousands would just disappear like that is kind of interesting to me. I alway imagine that I could be driving across country and stop in a complete deserted town somewhere inhabited by morlocks or zombies. Makes me not want to travel.

True, with a large metro area, Detroit will probably not die anytime soon. However, it’s certainly the biggest city I know of that has lost so much people. Maybe one day I can go there and carve out a little kingdom within its borders! :cool: