Hunting for abandoned places in Kentucky? You’re in the right place. Below are 13 of my favorite abandoned places across the state.
Abandoned Places In Kentucky
1. Wise County Orphanage
Not much reliable history is available in regards to the Wise Orpanage, but there is plenty of rumors and folklore. Giggling children, toys moving about in the right, all the classic telltale stories of a local haunting. According to articles, online the orphanage was in operation as early as 1920 and at some point fell into abandonment.
The inside is fairly gutted and filled with your typical middle school graffiti and trash is thrown about. In my opinion, unless you’re a ghost hunter this is one most seasoned explorers can skip over. Although the exterior is worth shooting especially in the fall and summer months.
2. USS Sachem Ghost Ship
One of many abandoned ships across the country is the USS Sachem, which served as a yacht in its final years. The 175-foot vessel had a long life starting off at the New York Harbor in 1902. The ship spent close to a decade moving businesses folks and upper-class citizens in luxury across the waterways.
During World War I, the Navy used the ship in a series of experiments to detect and defend against German U-boats. Luckily the ship never saw combat and was safely returned to private ownership after the war ended. The ship changed hands numerous times taking on the role of a fishing vessel, charter, and cruise liner. The ship even can be seen in Madonna’s music video Papa Don’t Preach.
The ship came to its final resting place in 1988 when it ran aground in shallow waters. The owner attempted to remove the ship multiple times but failed. Repair and rescue was deemed too expensive, so now this is where she sits.
If you’re interested in the full history of the Kentucky ghost ship there’s an entire website dedicated to the vessel.
The entire ship and all her rusted glory is frozen in time in the shallow river. The ship is on private property and the owners are exhausted from running people off. This ship is truly one of the more unique abandoned places in Kentucky, and is amazing all seasons. Especially the winter and summer.
3. Louisville Merchant’s Ice Tower
This 13 story structure was built during the late 1800s for one reason. To keep things cold. The Schaefer-Meyer Brewing Company could store 75,000 barrels of beer and featured two makeshift ice machines to keep things consistently cool. During prohibition, the company made the wise move to shift its services to cold storage. Just as the refrigeration business was taking off, prohibition was overturned.
This iconic husk towers of the Smoketown neighborhood and is a fun place to explore even though it lacks many significant artifacts. You can see where the wall is made of cork and the entire building was specifically designed to store barrels of brew and other perishables. It’s a very unique piece of history and should top any explorer’s list of abandoned places in Kentucky.
4. Fort Knox Tank Graveyard
Over the years Fort Knox has used the land to test anti-vehicle weapons as well as nearby facilities for vehicle testing. This has left a wake of destroyed tanks scattered across the property. There were dozens of M-60 and M-48 tank varients that were used for live-fire training and additional testing.
There are even some vehicles hidden away in the woods outside of the Fort Knox permitted. But I’ll keep those locations to explorers who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. 😉
The tanks are well preserved and are an excellent display of what nature can do over the years. Being so closely guarded these tanks have been protected from scrapped and vandals, which is a real treat for tank enthusiasts and explorers who seek out pristine examples of decay.
Luckily, visiting these tanks won’t be anything like penetrating Fort Knox if you visit on Memorial Day. Every year, the cemeteries and tank graveyards are opened up on this day for a handful of hours of people to view the grounds and pay their respect. I would not suggest trying to get to these tanks on any other day. Not because I don’t think it’s possible, but because the fort routinely does live-fire exercises that could get you killed.
5. Armco Steel Ashland Works
The history of the Armco Steel Ashland Works dates back to the early 1920s when steel and iron where booming businesses throughout the country. The Askland Works plant opened in 1923 and employed around 3600 staff during its operations.
Over the years new furnaces would emerge to expand the company’s output. In 1941 The Bellefonte furnase was constructed. These new advancements would allow Armco Steel to improve its output to 2,600 tons of steel each day.
During 80s and late 90s times were tough for the plant. Armco eventually ended up selling nearly half of it’s business to Kawasaki Steel in Japan. Margins were slim and the company was facing $700 million in loans that were soon to be due. Despite all this, the plant was able to survive until 2019 when the company announced it would be closing down for good.
For now, the ruins of the Ashland Works plant remain intact and are truly a massive place to explore. Photos do not do it justice. There has been talk of possible preservation, but equal parts talk about demolition. Exploring who love old steel mills, or just a good piece of Kentucky history should hurry to this location before it’s too late.
6. The Waverly Hills Sanatorium
One of the most infamous abandoned places in Kentucky is the old Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Before the land was used as a sanitorium it was the site of a humble one-room schoolhouse built in 1883. This expanded later on and would eventually transform into a tuberculosis hospital during the early 1900s.
The building featured many outdoor walkways and large open windows that would bring in the fresh country air that was through to cure TB. (It didn’t.).
Throughout from 1960 to 1980 the building would take on many different roles. From nursing home, to prison you could say this building had absorbed some bad energy if you believe in that. The sanitorium was known for its tunnel system which was used to cart supplies into the building, but ultimately ushered away the dead quickly and quietly.
While it’s now under “ownership” much of the building and property continues to decay with time. The property is closely watched but there are opportunities to take photo tours of the hospital by contacting the owners.
7. Ouerbacker Mansion
In 1860 Samuel Ouerbacker built his sprawling mansion in a unique Richardsonian Romanesque style. The home changed owners several times before becoming a home business for the Holland Tax Service in the 1930s. The home would change hands again until being shuttered in the late 90s.
In the early 2000s restoration efforts were rumored but the non-profit would need to secure $2 million just to get the restoration underway.
Today the mansion is crumbling and in a sad state of decay. Many of the windows and doors are boarded shut. With more decay and a collapsed western wall, restoration is likely not feasible.
8. Hayswood Hospital
The history of Hayswood began in the early 1800s as the Wilson Infirmary. This small and humble care center would soon be the future site of the of the Kayswood Seminary in 1915. In 1923 after a few expansions, the seminary was transformed into the Hayswood hospital.
During peak operation, the hospital could accommodate 87 beds. The hospital struggled due to its isolated location and closed its doors 1983 when Meadowview Regional Medical Center opened nearby.
Hayswood is a popular exploring place among locals, and has been exposed to vandals as well as the elements for years. This has the building in a sad state of decay with heavy vandalism on the inside. Seasoned explorers won’t find the hospital anything unique, but never explorers might appreciate the experience.
9. William Tarr House
The William Tarr House came to life when nonother than William Tarr himself purchased and transformed the modest home in 1877. He renovated his new home to reflect an Italianate style both on the inside and out. Not much is known about the home during its early years. The home was occupied until 1985 until it was abandoned and left to decay.
The home is truly beautiful and one of the abandoned places in Kentucky you won’t want to pass up. Inside the ornate moldings and woodwork are still preserved despite the decay. You’ll also find an abandoned piano, cause it wouldn’t be a truly abandoned mansion without the piano.
10. The Old Stone Jail
The Old Stone Jail was built in 1891 to hold suspected criminals as they awaited sentencing at the nearby courthouse. The old jail wasn’t really intended to be preserved all these years, but survived from sheer hardiness alone. The jail finally closed in 1947 and was rehabilitated in the early 2000s as more of the public took an interest in the jail.
The jail is in great shape, and is one of the few abandoned places in Kentucky that is legal to explore. It’s a great casual place to enjoy history and admire the timeless stonework that makes this jail truly special.
11. Young’s High Bridge
Young’s High Bridge was built in 1889 as a main line of transportation across the Kentucky River. It was a popular route for passengers until the late 1930s, but continued its route for freight until 1985. The railway eventually closed due to a lack of demand and more efficient routes on other rail lines.
Today the tracks attract explorers as well as bungee jumpers. A more modern bridge partially runs perpendicular to the original track. Most urban explorers won’t find this track too interesting, but train enthusiasts will want to stop by and check the track out for themselves.
12. Columbia Theatre
In 1926 construction began on the beautiful Columbia theatre where it was quickly opened one year later. Liver performances would take place regularly until 1950 when renovations were needed to keep the structure sturdy. During the 50s theatres were changing and older theaters needed to change with the times to keep up with demand.
Despite this Columbia kept its original style and stayed true to its roots, despite losing businesses because of this. Visitors were steady but few throughout the early to mid-70s with traffic dropping off steeply during the 80s. The Columbia was forced to close its doors for good in 1987.
The theatre is revered by locals who keep the Columbia secure and safe from vandals. Despite their efforts, natural elements slowly chip away at the old structure. Of all the abandoned places in Kentucky, the Columbia is definitely the most beautiful.
13. Nada Tunnel
The Nada Tunnel is a 900-foot former railway tunnel that was built for logging during the early 1900s. The rock is made of solid sandstone that was carved out with explosives and steam-powered machinery. The rail line moved lumber to a nearby sawmill for processing.
When the trees were all cut, the lumber company moved on to greener pastures. With no use for the railroad, the rail line was ripped out and recycled, but the tunnel still remains.
The Nada tunnel is great place to hike and explore a bit of early railroad architecture in Kentucky. While it might be a stretch for most urban explorers, those who want to explore nature when learning about history will appreciate a casual stroll inside.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.