Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The ghost town of Buffalo City

Continuing with our recent theme of North Carolina places ...

I had no idea that there was a "booming" town of Buffalo City in Dare County way back when. In fact (according to Wikipedia), Buffalo City's population of 3,000 in the early 20th century "made it the largest community in Dare County."

Buffalo City was apparently "a logging and moonshine town in Dare County, North Carolina. It was on the mainland, 19 miles (31 km) west of Mantoe, near present-day Manns Harbor. The marshy land where Buffalo City once stood, near U.S. 64, is now part of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. The town's history lasted approximately 80 years from the 1870s to 1950s ... A hotel, post office, schoolhouse, general store, 100 miles (161 km) of railroad track, and rows of homes once stood on the now-abandoned area. Today, the only remnants of the ghost town include a road sign, rusted rails, and building debris now overgrown with weeds."

An interesting aspect of Buffalo City is that it was founded "shortly after the Civil War by the Buffalo Timber Company, Buffalo City was constructed on the north side of Milltail Creek by African-American laborers and more than 200 Russian immigrants. Many of these immigrants stayed and worked at the new logging town and composed half of the town’s population."

In 1920, Prohibition laws were passed in the United States and moonshine became a popular way for Buffalo City citizens to make extra money. When logging camps at Buffalo City began to close in the 1920s, moonshine became the primary revenue source for citizens. Almost every family in Buffalo City operated a still. Speakeasie throughout the eastern United States sold moonshine made in Buffalo City. The liquor was made deep in the woods and transported by the same methods as logging: by mules and boats. A 30-foot (9.1 m) boat named the Hattie Creef sailed down Milltail Creek and across the Albemarle Sound to Elizabeth City, where the liquor was sold. The boat returned with large amounts of sugar, an ingredient in making moonshine. Federal prohibition enforcers, called revenuers, began to crack down on Buffalo City’s moonshine industry. Several men in the town were sentenced to jail.

When prohibition ended in 1933, Buffalo City’s economy was severely affected. With the loss of moonshine revenue, citizens began focusing on the logging industry once again. Most good timber had already been felled, but the sawmill continued to operate for the next two decades. Outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, smallpox and the flu swept throughout the community in the 1940s. The combination of these diseases and lack of work resulted in Buffalo City’s population declining to 100 people. The sawmill closed in the early 1950s and the town was abandoned.

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