Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Wisconsin Ghost Town

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

I’ve always loved pictures of old ghost towns, which are usually found in the western states. In Wisconsin, many towns were eventually abandoned, often due to the railroad bypassing the town. And, in most cases, none of the buildings exist anymore. So, in 2012, on a visit to northwest Wisconsin, I was really excited when Ruth told me we would be visiting a ghost town.

As Ruth began directing us toward the ghost town, the following conversation took place.

Joann: What’s the name of this ghost town?

Ruth: “I’m alone.”

Joann: “What? You’re alone?”

Ruth: “Imalone. The town is called Imalone.”

There isn’t much information to be found about the unincorporated town of Imalone, other than a 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article written about Heather Aldrich whose grandparents had owned the Wagon Wheel bar in Imalone. The article was about a road trip Heather took with a friend to prove that there really is a town in Wisconsin named Imalone. In the 1970s, Heather had attended summer bible camp in Imalone.

So, where did the name Imalone come from? Legend has it that the town was established by a man named Snowball Anderson, who built a gas station in the area. One day when Snowball left his gas station in the hands of an old-timer named Bill Granger, a salesman who was writing up an invoice asked for the name of the town.

Not knowing there was an official name and having no one else there to ask, Bill said, “I’m alone.” So the salesman wrote Imalone on the invoice and it stuck.

Others say the legend isn’t true and it was actually Snowball Anderson who named it Imalone because he and his gas station were alone there at the time.

It was late in the day and the sun was sinking toward the horizon when we pulled off the county road onto a circular dirt road with the abandoned town in the distance. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I grabbed my equipment and made my way through the tall grass to the first abandoned building I came upon. All that was left of it was a concrete block foundation and a couple of living room chairs.

As I looked through an open window frame of another deteriorating home, I could see the remains of a very old television set, with a shattered picture tube.

Just beyond the abandoned houses were the remains of an old concrete stave silo. So there must have been a farm there at one point.

And an old stone well sat alone and forgotten in the woods behind the collapsing houses.

Imalone’s only other claim to fame was having its name on a 30- by 70-foot billboard about 10 years ago above a 20-story building in Midtown Manhattan. The billboard simply said, “Imalone WI, 934 Miles,” with an arrow pointing to the west.

According to the 2007 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about Imalone, written by Jim Stingl, the billboard company had a gap between paid ads on that billboard, so they decided to get creative. A sales assistant suggested a mileage sign, so the VP of creative development looked for towns with strange names and decided to use Imalone.

Walking through the remains of what once was a town was both sad and a little spooky. But now I can say that I visited a real Wisconsin ghost town.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. I never knew there was a ghost town in Wisconsin! I agree, a little sad. But I love the photo of the stone well.

  2. I could just imagine seeing Abbott and Castillo doing the "Who's on First" in Iamalone. :)

    1. Stephanie, that's very funny. Thanks for the laugh!

  3. cool story! I had no idea that we have a ghost town in Wisconsin! And how cool that the town's name was on the billboard in NYC!

  4. There are several "ghost towns" in Wisconsin. We have everything from old fort towns dating back to the War of 1812 and even further. Most of them can still be found if you are an exploring soul but there is little left other than some foundations of former structures, much has been reclaimed by nature over the years. Some disappeared when the railroad bypassed them, having been constructed with the hope the railroad would bring people and prosperity to the location. Others disappeared over the years for various reasons. There are many now that are in danger of all but completely disappearing for financial reasons and geographic location. You can find the older ones but it takes some digging to get the locations.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I agree that it takes some digging to locate these and that it's often just a few foundations overgrown with brush, which makes it hard to get a worthy photo.

  5. I am actually from imalone Wisconsin that is where I was raised till I was 13

    1. I'll bet you have fond memories of growing up in a small rural town. I did, too, and sometimes I wish I could go back in time to visit it as it was then.

  6. I attended imalone bible camp in the summer of 1977, got water baptized in the Chippewa River with the moon out and my life changed for the better with Jesus and many many times I desire to go back for that everlasting experience. I went to camp with others from the Milwaukee area. Murrays. Aldrichs and more. Please contact me with the pictures one of the campers took. I believe she lived in town and I meet her when I went up with Heather Aldrich in. Aug. 2007 for a reunion. Shalom and the Lord's blessings to all. Jennie krzyzanek Meno. Falls, wi

  7. Is this place on private property? Just wondering if it is because this would be a very cool place to explore and metal detect.

  8. Imalone is located along the Chippewa River where Wisconsin Highway 40 and County Highway A intersect. This is a farming area of Rusk County, and my parents small family farm was about one mile east from Imalone.
    The community was established by Snowball Anderson, who built a gas station in the area. The origin of the community's name is uncertain. The gas station grew to include a bar and dance hall where many social events happened. A second bar was also built and later destroyed by fire. As a youngster. I remember the second bar being owned and operated by Charlie and Esther Thorpe and later by Barney Cross. My grandfather bartended part-time for Barney.

    The Imalone Bible Camp and Church, founded by Rev. Olaf Newhagen in 1940. It was a major center of activity for many years, often attracting campers and visitors from Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Summer bible camps were held annually. There was a softball field where the area kids would gather, form teams, and play ball! A tennis court was added as well as several cabins. Many an evening after baling hay or other farming chores, area kids would walk or bike to the Chippewa River and enjoy a relaxing swim.

    Newhagen, a Norwegian immigrant, was a highly respected member of the community who farmed during the week and preached on Sundays. I remember helping as a teenager with filling silo and thrashing oats at his farm. Many families in the area either attended St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Murry, the church on the hill, or Imalone Bible Church. In 1967, five years after his death, Imalone Bible Church split over the issue of baptism. The majority of the active members then formed the Grace Bible Church in Bruce. In the late 1970s, members left to form the Living Waters Church about a mile north on State Highway 40. The church remains in existence. The diocese of Superior closed St. Ann’s Catholic Church several years ago and the building is slowly deteriorating.

    Since 1980 there has been little to no activity on the premises and the buildings are in major disrepair. The community currently consists of a bar called the Wagon Wheel, the Living Waters Church, and some houses.

    1. Wow, thanks for all this local history! It often takes someone who actually lived at or near a place to get this kind of detailed information. I love your description of what kids did in the evenings after baling hay. I grew up on a farm near Lake Mills, Wisconsin and sometimes we'd go for a swim in Rock Lake after a hot day of baling hay.

  9. Imalone also had A post office grocery store 2 taverns dance hall I used to go there on saturday nights to dance the place would be packed have seen lots of good times there