Great Guidebooks for Exploring Ruins

Read these essential resources before you head cross-country

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Southwestern Native American Sites 

Guidebooks to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona will lead you to sites of the Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon, and other cultures. Norman T. Oppelt's Guide to the Prehistoric Ruins of the Southwest (Pruett, 2nd edition, 1989, out of print) is comprehensive.

Flour Mills and Farmhouses in Minnesota

While many buildings in the downtown milling district have been restored, you can still see genuine ruin elements, including millrace channels that directed the flow of the Mississippi River. The Washburn-Crosby “A” mill on the river’s west bank is being turned into a historical park. Find beautiful photographs of abandoned farmhouses in William G. Gabler’s Death of the Dream: Farmhouses in the Heartland (Afton Historical Society, 1997).

New England

William F. Robinson’s Abandoned New England: Its Hidden Ruins and Where to Find Them (Bulfinch, 1978, out of print) is a pioneering exploration of American ruinology.

Georgia Coast Tabby Buildings

Fascinating ruins of forts and commercial buildings from the 18th century, all constructed of a form of cement reinforced with seashells, are strung along the Georgia coast from Savannah south to Jacksonville, Florida.

The Passaic River, New Jersey

This spectacular industrial ruinscape was immortalized by artist Robert Smithson in a photojournal, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam (University of California Press, 1996).

Other Places

Pleasure of Ruins by Rose Macaulay (Thames and Hudson, 1984) is the classic history of European ruin fascination. For a hipper take on ruins, including American ones, see Michael S. Roth, Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed (Getty Research Institute, 1997).