Long before Sir Thomas More coined the word utopia in his 1516 novel of that name, people dreamed of perfect societies. But so far, everyone who’s tried creating the “ideal environment” for their communities has failed — dramatically. In fact, some of these failed utopias looked a lot more like really successful dystopias!
Henry Ford tried creating his utopia in the Brazilian rainforest to combat a rubber shortage. He bought 3,900 square miles of jungle, built a factory, and gave workers food, lodging, healthcare, as well as a list of weird rules regarding drinking and having sex before marriage.
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The employees weren’t happy about Henry’s rules and revolted in their cafeteria. They chased their managers into the jungle and held them there until the Brazilian government arrived. When synthetic rubber was invented, this worksite closed.
Getty Images South America
A religious community founded by John Franklin Noyes in 1848, the group believed Jesus came back to Earth in 70 A.D. So, Oneida, New York, residents wanted to be completely free from sin. They tried to build a perfect heavenly world on Earth.
One way of achieving this was through complex marriage. Instead of a monogamous union, people in the commune could have consensual sex with others in Oneida. They would raise the resulting children as a community. Oneida lasted for almost 30 years.
In 1843, at Harvard a group of vegans attempted to build a community in Massachusetts based on the tenets of Transcendentalism. A part of this was maintaining a militantly vegan lifestyle and diet. Writer Louisa May Alcott was a child laborer here.
Residents weren’t allowed to plant root vegetables because these could disturb the worms living in the dirt. This is only a snippet of why the community failed after one disastrous planting season. The barn is now a museum.
This was one of the many utopias that emerged throughout the 1960s. Known as the inaugural hippie commune, Drop City was started in rural Colorado by a group of college students. Large geodesic globes began popping up on the farm as more residents joined.
After three years, personality conflicts brought the convent to a close. A portion of the residents moved to Boulder to form a different artist development, but Drop City fell apart. The domes were deconstructed in the aftermath, but the site is still accessible for visitors.
Unitarian minister George Ripley and his wife Sophia Ripley started a utopia experiment at Ellis Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. This commune was spread across 188 acres, and anyone who lived on Brook Farm had to provide labor to run the community.
Laborers were supposed to be paid with a portion of farm profits, but the farm never earned money. In 1847, one of the buildings burned down. Most of the residents took this as an opportunity to leave, and Brook Farm floundered until it eventually closed.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Civil rights leader Floyd McKissack wanted to create a utopia for Black Americans to live without being beset by the plague of racism systemically rooted in U.S. culture. In 1972, construction began on the North Carolina-based project.
Soul City Film
Before construction even started, the project was hit with a government audit. It was cleared of wrongdoing, but this brought negative attention to the project, and many investors pulled out. In 1980, a smaller version of the settlement was completed. It slowly continues to grow.
Soul City Film
Gun manufacturer Samuel Colts wanted to make a space for his employees to live. Like Henry Ford, he bought land and made an independent city, also creating his own set of rules for his employees to follow. In return, they had housing, parks, and even communal greenhouses.
Residents had to work 10-hour shifts in the gun manufacturing factories in return. The settlement lasted until 1862, when Samuel died and his daughter, Elizabeth, took over the Coltsville. It eventually was absorbed into Hartford, Connecticut.
Ernest de Boissièr was an extremely wealthy man who started Silkville as a way to make money from silk production. He built a massive 60-room home in Kansas, several barns, and 15 miles of stone walls. It may have started as a silk farm, but it grew into a commune.
Kansas Historical Society
More than 40 people emigrated from France to be a part of Silkville in the mid- to late-1800s. Not much is left of the initial settlement. Two barns and some of the signage remain, but nearly everything else has disappeared.
Anarchists Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews started Modern Times in 1851. The community had its own currency and strict rules about how property was divided. There wasn’t a major governing body — any and all decisions were made by citizens.
The town only lasted for a few years before renaming itself Brentwood in 1864. There are two octagon-shaped homes that still remain from the experimental anarchists. The founders lamented that a lack of a charismatic leader to share the message of Modern Times to the general public was a major reason for its downfall.
Michael Oliver fundraised $100 million to make his own utopia from scratch outside of the island nation of Tonga. He wanted to raise the reef level, and then build their nation atop it, but he didn’t do his research before dumping tons of sand to start the project.
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When Michael held a conference to announce his intentions, Tonga claimed the land as theirs. He still attempted to claim the area as a sovereign nation but was forced out by international law. Most of the artificial land is being reclaimed by the ocean.
Though it’s not surprising to see these utopias collapsed, it is surprising to see what unique communities have thrived. Tucked away off lost highways, these small towns don’t even look like they’re from this planet!
If you’re looking to spray paint your name across a highway, take a trip out to Centralia, Pennsylvania. You can easily do it because nobody drives on that road. Nobody does much of anything there. Just watch out for the pavement — it might be a little bit hot…
YouTube / Ground Pilot Images
An underground coal fire broke out in 1962 and continues in parts of the town today. Almost the entire population abandoned their homes, though a handful stayed behind. The government razed most buildings in Centralia to keep squatters from moving in, and the post office revoked this ghost town’s zip code.
What beats an abandoned town? A town with exactly one resident! That’s the case for Monowi, Nebraska. Though it reached a booming population of 150 in the mid-1930s, nearly all its inhabitants moved away or died off over the years. But who exactly would stick around such a place?
Meet Elsie Eiler, the mayor, bartender, and librarian of Monowi. She’s in her eighties, but Elsie manages to keep herself and the town in good shape. Elsie’s “neighbors” — from 40 miles away — visit her every week, so she doesn’t get too lonely.
Whittier boasts a population of 214 people, which isn’t bad for a small Alaska town. The only difference is that nearly all of them live in a single building. In fact, residents hardly ever need to leave their collective home, known as the Begich Towers.
Their building contains almost everything you’d need, whether it’s a police station, supermarket, church, or video rental store. In a pen outside the Begich Towers, some people even keep pet reindeer, which handle the frigid conditions way better than their human pals.
Reddit / HyruleanHero1988
Close to 2 million of Colma, California’s inhabitants have no idea they live there. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the town is home to 17 sprawling cemeteries, and the dead there far outnumber the 1,500 living citizens. So why are so many people buried there?
Colma first became a graveyard destination around the turn of the century, when nearby cities like San Francisco started running out of space. They shipped their recently deceased over to Colma, which now serves as the resting place for famous individuals including Wyatt Earp and William Randolph Hearst.
True West / History
Retirement doesn’t have to be boring — just ask residents of The Villages, Florida. More and more senior citizens are flocking to this age-restricted wonderland to live out their golden years in this action-packed town. It’s got everything: sports, shopping, and recreation!
The area has dozens of golf courses, which is why most locals zip around in golf carts rather than actual cars. And hitting the links isn’t the only way to have fun. Despite The Villages having a median age of 67, it has one of the highest STD rates in Florida!
Flickr / Ted Eytan
While you’re trekking across Florida, be careful not to confuse The Villages with Miracle Village. Despite its similar name, Miracle Village is not a place for fun and excitement. Most of its population don’t ever stray outside town limits, as they are all convicted sex offenders.
Vice / Sofia Valiente
The isolated hamlet provides a refuge for released convicts who served hard time for non-violent sex crimes. Here, the 150 individuals live in solitude and in accordance with Florida law, which forbids them from going near any schools or playgrounds. Many of them have to follow a strict curfew and wear ankle bracelets to monitor their movements.
Daily Mail / Noah Rabinowitz
There’s never a dull moment in Gibsonton, Florida. Though it began as a small town of fishermen and lumber workers, the 1930s marked the point when it became a haven for carnies. Thousands of ride operators, grifters, and sideshow attractions spent their off-season here when not traveling the country.
Vice / Chris Balogh
The town became the retreat for carnival workers thanks to one of history’s strangest couples, Al and Jeanie Tomaini. Known respectively as “The Giant” and “The Half-Girl,” the mismatched husband and wife started a circus guild called the Association and were later elected to lead the community.
YouTube / Bizarre Medical
Whereas most folks are happy with just one spouse, the people of Hildale, Utah, tend to disagree. Thanks to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hildale became the polygamy capital of America. But things there are in flux after their leader Warren Jeffs got a life sentence in prison for marrying kids.
San Angelo Standard Times
In 2017, Hildale elected its first-ever woman mayor, Donia Jessop. She strove to break the FLDS’ stranglehold on the town’s politics and finances, though nearly all of the municipal employees resigned after her victory. Their radical beliefs prevented them from working under a woman.
You don’t have to be bad to go to Hell, Michigan. Perhaps topping the list of strangely-named towns in America, it got its unusual moniker by bordering Hell Creek. Though it is just a charming community at its core, Hell residents understand that the devilish name is their biggest asset.
Wikimedia Commons / Sswonk
Tons of local business sport various hell puns on their signs, and they make a bundle dealing hell-themed merchandise to visitors. During harsh winters, weather forecasters also have a ball by announcing that Hell has frozen over.
Flickr / hve
What happens when you cross a hippie commune with Mad Max? You get the surreal and gritty Slab City, California. Home to all kinds of drifters, artists, and wanderers, Slab City is closer to a mishmash of tents and RVs than an actual town. But that doesn’t stop many from calling it “the last free place in America.”
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
With no permanent utilities or local government, Slab City is about as close to off-the-grid as you can get. It also attracts braver tourists with sites like Salvation Mountain, a small hill covered in psychedelic paint and Bible verses.
The Independent / Ruth Iorio
Salvation Mountain is a religious shrine in the Colorado Desert of California that beckons the pious from all over the planet for pictures, but the zany color scheme and words of faith don’t hold up in reality.
In truth, Salvation Hill could use a religious miracle to make itself as impressive as some photographs make it out to be. Not surprisingly though, this isn’t the only tourist spot that is grossly over-hyped.
Chris M Morris / Flickr
1. Disneyland: Travelers picture themselves snapping a photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s stunning castle or screaming into the starry dark of Space Mountain at this theme park. But take a trip there and you’ll see its moniker “The Happiest Place on Earth” is really just a marketing ploy…
If you can be happy standing in hour-long lines for a three-minute ride, waddling in a sea of park goers with strollers, and paying a premium for ugh food, then sure, it might be the happiest place. But others might call it “The Most Claustrophobic Place on Earth.”
2. Niagara Falls: Here, 3,160 tons of water pours from three waterfalls every second and because of that, trying to snap a picture in the stifling mist and poncho-clad crowds can be akin to light waterboarding.
3. The Hollywood Walk of Fame: Posing beside your favorite celebrity’s star might be a bit tougher than you think. The stars are on dirty, crowded sidewalks full of street performers and shady guys in costume trying to work a few bucks out of you.
4. French Quarter: Plenty assume that the iconic Bourbon Street cutting through the part of New Orleans that preserves the wonderfully unique creole culture offers non-stop cultural enrichment. And it can—but not always.
There’s less jazz than you might think. Thanks to laws permitting open containers of alcohol outside the lively bars, restaurants, and clubs, the street tends to attract travelers looking to enrich their bloodstreams with near-lethal amounts of alcohol.
Stevie Breech / YouTube
5. Hawaii’s Steam Vents: In a sort of ominous beauty, steam creeps up from the Kilaueafauna as groundwater drips onto the scalding hot volcanic rocks. The sight looks like something from a fantasy world as the steam drifts above the trees.
Greg L. Jones / Flickr
Up close, however, the steam just lazily drifts out of holes that look like sewage drains in the wet, cracked pavement. Hey, you still get a peek at the gorgeous landscape around you, which can’t be said about every Hawaiian attraction…
Malcolm Manners / Flickr
6. Waikiki Beaches: Here people envision themselves laying out in the pristine white sand, swimming in the sparkling blue ocean. But good luck seeing any of that through all the sweaty tourists with their screaming, shovel-waving kids!
7. The Empire State Building: To a traveler, hitching an elevator ride to the top of Manhattan’s 102-story building sounds like a great way to get a bird’s eye view of America’s most iconic city. Of course, there’s a catch.
IanML2 / Flickr
Prices preying on tourists with deep pockets are only the first roadblock. Inside the building, you have to navigate a twisting labyrinth of lines before getting to the top of a crowded tower with limited views of Central Park and, of course, the State Building itself!
8. Lucy the Elephant: Built in 1888, the six-story attraction allures drivers en route to Atlantic City with great photo opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s in a parking lot across the street from an Italian Restaurant, which doesn’t exactly scream grandeur.
9. The Fountain of Youth: Named after the 16th-century explorer who scoured what would become Florida for the legendary fountain, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth implies magic, wonder, and sublime beauty. But does it deliver?
Absolutely! So long as you like tiny dried-up wells that look more like a medieval toilet than a magical fountain proclaiming eternal youth and unending power.
10. Times Square: If you love digital advertisements so bright they make the night look like day, a price-hiked Olive Garden in one of the best cities for Italian food, and confused travelers stopping in the middle of heavily-congested sidewalks… this is a great spot.
11. The Golden Gate Bridge: Maybe you have dreams of recreating the Full House theme song and cruising across San Francisco’s iconic bridge in a convertible. But not everyone is treated to beautiful views of a red suspension bridge spanning San Francisco Bay.
Indeed, as the third-foggiest city in the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge tends to get enveloped in fog throughout the year, no matter the season.
12. Mount Rushmore: Seeing the massive faces of past presidents permanently etched in stone sounds like a historian’s happiest daydream, but the carvings themselves look more appropriate for ants. The big ol’ heads aren’t as big as you might think!
Steve Bittinger / Flickr
13. Kingda Ka: The world’s tallest roller coaster may seem like an enticing reason to stop at Six Flags Great Adventure, but being tall comes with a price. The ride is frequently closed with technical difficulties – it was even struck by lightning once!
14. Las Vegas Welcome Sign: Most people expect taking a picture in front of the iconic “Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is a great way to begin a crazy weekend on the strip. But enjoy waiting in line. In the sun. In the desert. Without shade.
15. Venetian Hotel Gondola Ride: A gondola ride complete with a singing gondolier might top your bucket list, but better stick to the real deal in Italy. The Las Vegas hotel’s $72 ride takes you through what is essentially a shopping mall with a painted ceiling.
16. Carhenge (Alliance, Nebraska): Who needs to travel to the United Kingdom to see the mysteriously stacked stones of Stonehenge when you can take a drive through the Great Plains and see cars spray-painted to look like sandstone?
Brian W. Schaller / Wikimedia
17. The Wave (Coconino County, Arizona): Nestled between Arizona and Utah, the sandstone formation allures hikers and photographers from all over the planet. Because of its fragility, however, hikers must be granted a permit to access it.
18. Republic of Molossia (Dayton, Nevada): Though declared a micronation by founder Kevin Baugh, the republic isn’t recognized by the United Nations. Still, Supreme Leader Kevin gives the United States “foreign aid” (otherwise known as property taxes).
Franco Sacchi / YouTube
19. Joyxee Island (Isla Mujeres, Mexico): An island made up of about 100,000 bottles floats just off the coast of Cancún, and for just $25 per night, you can rent it out on AirBnB. The Mexican government recognizes the 82-foot island as an Eco Boat.
Soul de Isla Mujeres
20. Winchester Mystery House (San Jose, California): Those killed by Winchester rifles allegedly haunt the mansion once owned by the widow of firearm’s magnate William Winchester. Architectural anomalies, like staircases to nowhere, fill the house.
21. Thor’s Well (Cape Perpetua, Oregon): Often referred to as the Drainpipe of the Pacific, the 20-foot sinkhole located just off the Oregon coast looks like it’s draining the sea. (Don’t worry—it’s not!) Still, it provides perfect photo opportunities for those brave enough to venture near it.
22. Prada Art Installation (Marfa, Texas): Does anything say Texas quite like a $120,000 “pop architectural land art project” of a designer Italian shoe store? Maybe. But you won’t find anything like this anywhere else in North America.
23. The Desert of Maine (Freeport, Maine): The flat sands of America’s northeastern-most state beckon those who’ve already stuffed themselves to bursting with lobster. Though not a true desert, the 40 acres of glacial silt is close to the real thing.
Patty Wight / MPBN
24. Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo, Texas): Ten Cadillacs half-buried off Route 66 comprise this Texas art project. It not only welcomes vandalism and drive-by paint jobs from visitors, but it encourages anyone to add a touch of paint.
25. Devils Tower (Crook County, Wyoming): President Theodore Roosevelt declared this Bear Lodge Mountains butte a national monument in 1906. According to the Kiowa and Lakota tribes, the strange structure formed to save two girls from a bear attack.
Chuck Sutherland / Flickr
26. Mill Ends Park (Portland, Oregon): Officially recognized as the smallest park in the world, Mill Ends sits in a median once intended to house a light pole. When bureaucrats nixed the pole, a local journalist planted flowers and dubbed it a park.
27. M-185 (Mackinac Island, Michigan): Michigan banned motor vehicles from this eight-mile stretch of road that wraps around the popular tourist island in Lake Huron. The law was passed in 1898 after a doctor’s car scared some horses and people complained.
28. Eiffel Tower (Paris, Texas): If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, the City of Lights might be calling your name—but a city two hours outside Dallas might be calling out, too. And this Eiffel Tower has a cowboy hat on top!
29. Monowi (Monowi, Nebraska): As of the 2010 census, just one person called the .21-square-mile city home. The lone occupant? A 76-and-a-half-year-old woman living alone. The village peaked in 1930 with a population of 150.
Ghosts of North America
30. The World’s Tallest Thermometer (Baker, California): A town most people only pass through on their way to Las Vegas, Baker boasts a 134-foot functioning thermometer built to commemorate 1913’s record-breaking 134 degree Fahrenheit day in Death Valley.
Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times
31. U Thant Island (New York, New York): A group called Peace Meditation at the United Nations named Manhattan’s smallest island (2,000-square feet) after the Burmese former United Nations Secretary General. It acts as a sanctuary for migrating birds.
32. Newby-McMahon Building (Wichita Falls, Texas): After a nearby oil boom, J.D. McMahon collected investments for a skyscraper to house the influx of people. He swindled the investors, however, when he built the world’s tiniest skyscraper—just 480 inches (40 feet) tall—and pocketed the rest of the money.
Michael Barera / Wikimedia
33. Musical Roads (Tijeras, New Mexico): Musical roads scattered throughout America utilize rumble strips to produce audible vibrations—songs! Roll down your window on this road in Tijeras, and you’ll hear “America the Beautiful.”
34. Fenelon Place Elevator (Dubuque, Iowa): Claimed as the shortest and steepest railroad on the planet, this 189-foot incline railway brings travelers to observation decks where they can glimpse stunning views of downtown Dubuque.
35. Skinny House (Boston, Massachusetts): Just 10 feet at its widest, Boston’s Skinny House was born out of spite. One report suggests the city’s narrowest house was built to cut off light to a building with a “hostile neighbor.”
36. Gregson Street Overpass (Durham, North Carolina): Trucks, SUVs, and tall people wearing tall hats, beware: the tiny, 11-foot, eight-inch bridge nicknamed “The Can Opener” collects—on average—one truck scalp per month.
Washuotaku / Wikimedia
37. Point Roberts (Point Roberts, Washington): You have to travel through 25 miles of Canada to get to this United States city, which was created when the U.K. and the U.S. determined the 49th parallel would form the border between the countries. But they overlooked the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula!
38. Sam Kee Building (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada): Too stubborn to sell his lot of land after the city expropriated 24 feet of his property, Sam Kee built the world’s shallowest commercial building—just five feet deep on the bottom floor.
Can Pac Swire / Flickr
39. Grave of Mary Ellis (New Brunswick, New Jersey): A local spinster died in 1828 and was buried in a site that eventually became the parking lot for an AMC movie theater. The grave is probably more interesting than most movies playing at the theater, to be honest.
Find a Grave
40. Moonlight Towers (Austin, Texas): Before the streetlight boom of the 20th century, cities posted arc-lamps way up in these towers to illuminate multiple blocks at once. Though all but eliminated from North America, Austin still boasts a few 165-foot towers.
41. Bubblegum Alley (San Luis Obispo, California): A piece of chewed gum stuck to a wall may not be your interpretation of sightseeing, but what about thousands of pieces of chewed gum stuck to over 2,000-square-feet of alleyway walls?
Jets Like Taxis
42. Jerimoth Hill (Foster, Rhode Island): At 812 feet high, this rock slab is the highest peak in all of Rhode Island. Hikers who “braved” the .3-mile trail with a 10-foot elevation gain to reach the peak often stack stones on top to make the point that much higher.
43. Magentic Hill (Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada): Thanks to the rising and falling terrain and an obstructed horizon, this road produces an optical illusion making it appear as though cars traveling downhill are actually going uphill.
44. Republic of Indian Stream (Pittsburg, New Hampshire): From 1832 to 1835, elected government officials of this unrecognized constitutional republic served 300 citizens. The republic formed due to an ambiguous boundary between the U.S. and Canada.
New Hampshire Public Radio
45. Clinton Road (West Milford, New Jersey): Besides being home to the country’s longest traffic light—a horrendous burden, really—this infamous road has been the setting for numerous alleged ghost sightings, witches, and creatures.