Texas is home to many fantasticly frightening places. If you're looking for a Halloween scare that also makes a great photo op, here are ten of my favorite abandoned places I have photographed during my time exploring the state.
All of these locations are accessible. I have explored and photographed each of them and never experienced much of an issue. That being said, urban exploration can be dangerous. If you choose to visit any of the places, you do so at your own risk.
#TEN : Toyah Ghost Town
Walking through the streets of Toyah feels like you are exploring a post apocalyptic town. The population of Toyah peaked at 1,052 in 1910, but has steadily declined since.
Much of the town was destroyed by a tornado in 2004. Several abandoned homes, a deserted volunteer fire department and forgotten cars sit on the empty streets. The enormous Toyah High School also remains.
It is rumored that the high school is occupied by entities known as "black eyed children", who wander the streets of Toyah at night, knocking on the doors and staring in the windows of the few remaining residents of the town. Many believe these beings are what drove residents from Toyah.
#NINE : The Old Williamson County Jail
Circa 1888. The lawlessness of the frontier days prompted county founders to commission this imposing fortress-like jail. It housed prisoners until 1989; including Tom Young, the last man hanged in Williamson County and notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who was sentenced to death for the Williamson County murder of a Jane Doe nicknamed "Orange Socks".
The building is still in use today, as county offices. Workers claim frequent paranormal activity inside with binders falling from the shelves and their lunches flying off their desks.
Each Halloween season it is converted into a haunted jailhouse, where you can walk through the jail and be frightened by costumed characters.
#EIGHT : Pontotoc Ghost Town
The first residents of Pontotoc arrived in 1859. The town thrived until 1887 when a typhoid fever epidemic claimed so many lives the town's cemetery filled and a second had to be created.
A disastrous fire swept through Pontotoc in 1947, destroying most of the towns buildings and driving the remaining residents away.
Several stone ruins remain today. What remained of the San Fernando Academy (pictured right) collapsed during a tornado warning in 2016. A stone settler's farmstead still stands. Several miles east of town, many of the former residents are buried in a spooky cemetery at the foot of a small mountain.
Avoid the temptation of the two story stone building sitting off of FM 71. I was held at gunpoint by the property owner as I took photos of it from the public side of the fence line.
#SEVEN : Presidio de San Saba
The presidio and mission were built in 1757 to secure Spain's claim to the territory.
On March 16, 1758, a band of 2000 Comanche and Wichita Indians attacked the nearby Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá. The presidio sent a small force to aid the mission, but its soldiers were unsuccessful and forced to retreat. The mission was destroyed and two priests were killed. The Indians did not attack the presidio.
More than a year later, a battalion of 600 men from the presidio set out to punish the Indians responsible for the attack on the mission. The Spanish force suffered heavy losses and the presidio commander was relieved of command. The new commander replaced the log stockade with a stone compound.
Comanche Indians attacked the fort on January 2, 1768. They stole horses outside the wall then captured and tortured to death Lieutenant Joaquin Orendain and three other soldiers on February 29. The garrison was infected with scurvy later that year, forcing the Spanish to abandon the fort completely.
Note : The site closes at 5pm. I requested and was granted access after dark.
#SIX : Maxdale Bridge and Cemetery
This place is incredibly unsettling. Visit this location and you may get more than you ask for.
Local legend claims that if you stop your vehicle on the bridge, turn off the headlights, count to ten and turn your headlights back on a man hanging from one of the tresses by a noose would appear. It is believed that he hanged himself after failing to save his girlfriend, who drowned in the Lampasas River under the bridge. Today, the road leading to the bridge has been barricaded off, but you can park at the barricade and walk the remaining 100 feet to the bridge.
There are also tales of a school bus full of children that careened off the bridge, killing all on board. Reports of tiny hand prints appearing on vehicles are common in Maxdale.
The Bridge leads to the Maxdale Cemetery. Several witches are said to be buried here and there are signs of Satanic rituals, including a pentagram burned onto the pavilion floor. Speaking of the cemetery, it is alleged to contain a phantom groundskeeper known for walking with a limp.
Of all the places on the list, this is the only one that I felt the immediate need to leave after finishing shooting the images for this post.
#FIVE : The Keystone Hotel
The Keystone was built in 1870 and was originally called the Star Hotel. It was owned and operated by the Gracy family, early settlers in the town. In 1929, owner J.R. Key renovated the building and changed the name to the Keystone.
The Keystone is a large two story limestone building, with a metal roof. The Keystone sign, and several other signs on the building, were restored in the 1980s. The last time the building was in use was in 1978, when it was Keystone Savings and Loan. Since then the building has sat vacant.
The historical plaque on the building reads,
"1870. Famous early-day stagecoach inn of J. L. N. Gracy. Windows have keystone arches. Native rock was hauled to site by oxen.
In rear was grave of boy killed by Indians; also bell tower, house for employees. Wagon yard was across road.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1965"
#Four : Walburg Cotton Gin
Originally named Concordia, Walburg was established in 1886. Oddly there isn't much more information on the internet about this town, other than data from the Census. Several businesses and a few hundred residents live here.
This abandoned cotton gin was used in the 2003 filming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was called the Old Crawford Mill in the movie. It sits wide open and untouched. I have shot there a handful of times, and the only time I was approached by anyone was on my first visit when an elderly gentleman on an ATV stopped to chat. He was incredibly friendly and aware that fans of the film visit the location.
Many props from the film remain on the site. Including a broken down 1960 Chevrolet Viking tow truck, a bench and the remnants of an old tractor. There is some creepy graffiti on the walls, but I'm pretty sure it was created by an artist for the film.
#THREE : THE OLD KENT COUNTY JAIL
Built in 1894, this red sandstone jail housed murderers, cattle thieves and moonshiners. None were ever able to break out and it is rumored a few still remain.
The jail sits in a lot, open to the public. There is some graffiti on the outside, but the inside is totally covered. The cells still remain, although the main cell has been welded shut.
#Two : terlingua ghost town
Isolated in the desolate Texas Big Bend country, Terlingua has an incredible view of the night sky. I host a couple of astrophotography workshops there each year.
In the late 1800's mercury was struck and Terlingua grew became a booming mining town. In the 1940's, the mines dried up and the companies left, rendering the area a ghost town.
In rating ghost towns, Terlingua is a 10/10, although it is no longer completely abandoned and has recently been revived. A number of residents and businesses are based in Terlingua. There is a historic Catholic church, an authentic boot hill cemetery, abandoned vehicles, and plenty of ruins all open to explore.
You can even book a room at the broken down Perry Mansion. Part dilapidated structure, part luxuriously renovated rooms complete with bullet holes in the kitchen wall and long time residents to give your stay an extra scare.
#ONE : Fort McKavett
This historical Texas landmark is located 21 miles west of the nearest town, Menard.
Confederate cavalry occupied this post to protect other nearby forts from Indians. Early in 1862 this fort confined groups of Union troops from surrendered U.S. forts who were seeking to leave the state at start of Civil War. Permanent personnel abandoned the post in April 1862.
It is an extremely large fort, with many buildings and ruins across the campus. I felt very uneasy near the visitor's center, when I walked up to sign my admission receipt. I swore I heard the sounds of a drill sergeant shouting orders. The Commanding Officer's Quarters are the best ruins I have ever photographed, be sure to check out the basement.
Note : The site closes at 5pm. I requested and was granted access after dark.