When it comes to the idea of ghost towns, you probably think of rickety buildings standing in the mountains or deserts of locations far west. But you can find some interesting ghost towns in Missouri as well. You can view the streets, sidewalks, and foundations of a 200 year old town at Old Greenville Recreation Site in southeastern Missouri.
History of Old Greenville
Greenville was first settled back in 1818 and was established as the county seat of Wayne County. Located near the St. Francis River, Greenville also flourished as a lumber and railroad town. The population reached a peak of over 1,000 residents with a courthouse, high school, car dealership, gas stations, churches, stores, bank, and many homes.
The close location to the river meant the town had to endure major floods throughout the years with the floods of 1904, 1915, and 1935 being especially devasting.
During the 1930s, the push was on for national flood control with the construction of dams and reservoirs. A new dam was planned near Greenville to be called Wappapello Dam. The effect of building the dam meant that Greenville would suffer even more catastrophic flooding from increased water levels. The decision was made in 1940 to move the town two miles north to a site called “new” Greenville.
While some buildings were moved to the new town, most were destroyed in the old site. Today the remains of Old Greenville are preserved in a Corps of Engineers Recreation Site. Visitors can walk the streets of history and learn about Old Greenville in its heyday.
Old Greenville Memory Lane Trail
- Distance: 1 mile loop with various route options.
- Difficulty: 1/5 Flat and paved walk along streets and sidewalks
- Scenic Value: 3/5 This trail is more about the history than the views.
The big draw for day use visitors at Old Greenville is the Memory Lane Trail. The site has maps and signs guiding visitors on a walking tour of the building ruins. The aerial maps in particular are helpful for navigating.
You can make the walk as long or short as you like by taking different routes. There is not a lot of shade, especially after the storm in 2017 downed half the trees. I recommend hiking early or on a cooler day. Bug spray is also recommended as nature is overtaking the site.
One of the coolest things about Old Greenville is that there are signs that show pictures of what the buildings looked like before the town was moved.
Other larger signs tell more about the history of Old Greenville. Some signs show how high the river levels rose during some of the major flooding events. I read somewhere that these larger signs may only be on display during the busy summer months, but not sure if that is correct.
Our kids liked seeing the old stair steps of the former courthouse.
The remains of this car dealership were also interesting.
Overall, this is a very unique walk to see the crumbling remains of sidewalks and stairs to nowhere.
Additional Activities at Old Greenville Recreation Area
Old Greenville also boasts a large campground with over 100 sites. This camping area seems to be popular with families. There is even a 3 mile paved bicycle trail to connect the campground to the new town of Greenville.
A newer playground, picnic area, and restrooms are located near the old town site. Our kids always love a good playground as a hiking reward!
The town site is the location of the Black Powder Rendezvous and Old Greenville Days each year. These festivals consist of arts and crafts displays, live music, and civil war and rendezvous encampments.
More to See
Just across Highway 67 from Old Greenville is another parking area. More historic markers here tell the story of river bridges at the site, the former ferry, and the location where the Cherokee Indians crossed the river on The Trail of Tears.
Old Greenville is located near Lake Wappapello which offers numerous recreation opportunities. There are hiking trails, boating options, and swimming beaches. More trails can be found at Lake Wappapello State Park.
Other parks worth a visit in the area include the scenic shut-ins and resort ruins at Lon Sanders Canyon Conservation Area. A short drive away is Sam A. Baker State Park , another another Missouri state park gem.
Always remember to pack out what you bring in.