9 Offbeat Townships Created for Unusually Specific Reasons
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 29 September 2015.
By Morris M, Urban Ghosts Media, 29 September 2015.
In the globalised world of 2015, it’s easy to feel like everywhere is the same. Most towns have a McDonalds and vegan cafés are quickly catching on, though almost every new house is seemingly built to look as bland and as soulless as possible. But go looking for them, and you’ll find a handful of offbeat towns still being built for unique and sometimes strange reasons. Towns that are oddly different from everywhere else on Earth. Towns like:
1. Copehill Down: The ‘German’ Town Built for Invasion
Image: Richard Lewis
Somewhere on the Salisbury Plain in England lies an unusual sight. A ghost town ringed with wire fences sits miles from anywhere, gently gathering dust in the midday heat. Its architecture is distinctly German and burned out cars litter the streets. No, it’s not the setup for a dystopian graphic novel. Rather, it’s the UK government’s training base for invading Central Europe.
Built in 1988, Copehill Down was designed to simulate what urban warfare would be like if Britain ever had to invade the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the USSR peacefully folded only a couple of years later, and the idea of a British army rolling into East Germany began to seem pretty silly. Instead, the government used the town to practice for possible missions into the disintegrating Balkan states or villages in Ireland under IRA control.
Today Copehill Down stands empty, as it always has. For passers-by, it represents perhaps the weirdest sight in the whole of Wiltshire: a vaguely Germanic village built for the express purpose of invading.
2. Orania: The South African Town Where Apartheid Lives On
Image: Orania Beweging
When South Africa finally released Nelson Mandela in 1990, most of the world saw it as a cause for celebration. Not the residents of Orania. A year after Mandela walked and on the eve of the referendum that ended apartheid for good, a group of Afrikaners retreated to this quiet little town to preserve what they saw as their soon-to-be endangered culture.
Today, Orania is a town of 1,000 people and one of the few places in modern South Africa where no black people live. Although anyone can visit, potential residents need to prove they’re of pure Afrikaner ethnicity; have one non-Afrikaner parent or grandparent and you won’t be able to buy a house.
Aside from still enforcing their own limited apartheid, residents of Orania fly their own flag and use their own currency. Statues of the “architect of apartheid” Hendrik Verwoerd can also be found; possibly the last in the country.
3. Lily Dale: The Town Spiritualism Built
Image: LoudMouthedLibrarian; the Lily Dale Museum.
In 1870, a group of spiritualists bought 20 acres of farmland in New York State and built a summer camp. Fast forward nearly 150 years and the Cassadaga Lake Free Association has blossomed into a town with a population of 275 during winter months, and over 22,000 in the summer. It’s also seen its name change from Cassadaga to The City of Light to the gentler-sounding Lily Dale.
One of the weirdest aspects of Lily Dale is the summer activities of its residents. It’s not uncommon for those present to try and make contact with the dead en masse, often under the watchful eye of Tibetan monks or celebrity spiritualists like Deepak Chopra. Seances, healings and psychic readings are all de rigueur; giving the whole place a faintly trippy, Summer of Love meets Aleister Crowley kind of vibe.
Although the residents of Lily Dale have more ties to Christianity than most other New Age groups, they publically reject the idea of Christ dying for our sins. This position has led to them having all sorts of unfortunate encounters with their strictly-Christian neighbours and has been an on-going source of tension in the area.
4. Twin Lakes: Martha Stewart’s Dream Community
Image: Bing Maps; Twin Lakes Community, North Carolina from above.
If you’re not from the United States, you might be struggling to place the name Martha Stewart. A professional jack-of-all-trades with a focus on homemaking, she’s like Delia Smith, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Donald Trump all rolled into one. She can also boast her very own self-designed community in the form of Twin Lakes, a township designed completely on Martha Stewart principles.
Consisting of 650 homes, everything about Twin Lakes follows Stewart’s philosophies to a T. The floor plans of the homes, the furniture and colour schemes were all designed by Stewart’s team, as were the outdoor spaces. The overall effect is almost unintentionally creepy, like the Twilight Zone parodying the perfect American suburb. It seems almost fitting that the town’s name is reminiscent of David Lynch’s own surreal ‘utopia’ Twin Peaks.
5. Damanhur: Italy’s New Age “Federation”
Unusually for a modern country, Italy contains two micro-states comprising a single town each: San Marino and Vatican City. But according to the residents of a certain town in the country’s north, it also contains at least one federation: the Federation of Damanhur.
Founded by 24 people in 1975, Damanhur today holds around 800 residents within its microscopic (and totally unrecognized) borders. To further bolster its claims of independence, the Federation also has its own flag, currency and constitution; one based on esoteric readings of New Age teachings. Rather bizarrely, it also boasts its own gigantic underground temple complex, following a vision its leader had telling him to build them (something the group did illegally, leading to a minor scandal when the Italian authorities found out).
Perhaps most-interestingly, Damanhur is also noted for its commitment to ecological principles. The village-cum-microstate is today recognized as a leading ecovillage, drawing in visitors from all over the world.
6. Ave Maria: The Town Built on Pizza and Prayer
Image: Rob Goodspeed; construction of Ave Maria, Florida in 2007.
Florida has a reputation as a place where anyone’s dreams can happen, no matter how crazy. Perhaps nothing embodies that reputation quite as much as the town of Ave Maria. Located many empty miles from anywhere on the fringes of Florida’s nature reserves the town is dedicated to one thing only: good, Catholic worship whatever the cost.
That last bit is meant literally. Despite being a tiny hamlet mostly still under construction, Ave Maria boasts a community church of staggering proportions. All around the few inhabited houses lie signs of faith; from Mary in Manger scenes to golden statues of the Virgin relaxing next to golf carts. According to some, Ave Maria is a town “centred on Christ.”
So where does all the money for this community come from? The answer, bizarrely, is: pizza. The entire township has been bankrolled from its establishment in 2007 by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, who continues to pump money in to make his dream viable. The result is a town unlike any other: a strange mix of modern architecture, twee suburban homes and Catholic iconography built by an icon of crass commercialisation.
7. Botton: The Town Dedicated to Mental Health
Image: Mick Garratt; the walled garden of Botton Hall.
A tiny village nestled away in Yorkshire; Botton is seemingly unremarkable in almost every respect. Yet scratch the surface and you’ll uncover a small group of people living out an impossibly unique dream.
For over 30 years, Botton has been run as a kind-of cooperative allowing people with learning difficulties to live alongside dedicated volunteers who help them out in return for a place to live. Way back in 2005, a film crew from Britain’s Channel 4 investigated and declared it both the strangest and happiest village in Britain. Based on strong principles of sustainability, Christian worship and the politics of land use, it sits somewhere between being an idealistic collective and being the nicest cult in the world.
Although run by a benign company for most of its life, changes to the roles of care providers in 2014 have caused Botton to re-evaluate its relationship with the corporate world. Starting this year, it may well soon become a 100 percent autonomous community.
8. Fordlandia: The American Dream Dying in Brazil
Image: Amit Evron; abandoned Fordlandia water tower and factory building.
If you’re anything like the majority of people, the words “planned factory town” make your heart sink. But Fordlandia has more going for it than most mechanically laid-out American towns. For one thing, it long ago decayed into a sort of melancholic beauty. For another, it’s in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.
Back in the 1920s, Henry Ford decided to take advantage of the booming rubber industry by building a whole town in the Brazilian wilds. But he didn’t want to just outsource costs and have done with it. Instead, Ford’s plan was to create a utopia for his Brazilian workers; an American-style town where they could enjoy all the luxuries of life in the north.
The trouble was the Brazilians had a different idea of what constituted a utopia to Henry Ford. Although Fordlandia featured libraries, schools, shops and its own hospital, it didn’t feature anything that a Brazilian labourer in the 1920s would be interested in. Alcohol was banned; the arrival of women was strictly controlled; and local food was replaced with good ol’ American hamburgers. The result: instant unrest and riots on a massive scale.
Despite its troubles, Fordlandia limped along until 1945 when it finally shut down due to lack of economic viability. Today it’s even considered something of a tourist attraction.
9. Celebration: The Disney Town Plagued by Nightmares
Image: Simonhardt93; downtown Celebration, Florida.
If you’re looking to escape from reality, you could do worse than heading down to Celebration in Florida. A town of a mere 11,000 souls, Celebration was purpose built in 1996 to capture the forgotten essence of small town America. Everything about it was designed to evoke instant nostalgia. Houses come with white picket fences and lawns manicured within an inch of their lives. Old-style lanterns light the streets, and old-fashioned music is pumped out of unobtrusive speakers day and night to create the perfect mood.
The story of Celebration only adds to the strangeness. Created by the Disney Corporation as the perfect American town, it quickly filled up with those looking to escape the violence of the modern world. Unfortunately, the violence decided to follow them in. After the housing bubble popped with an audible bang in 2008, Celebration really hit the rocks. Not long after, a local resident was bludgeoned to death with an axe, and another died in a suicidal shootout with a Florida SWAT team. By 2010 it seemed the Celebration dream had died. Today, Gizmodo claims the place is viewed with suspicion on all sides; a sad reminder of the limits of America’s small town dreams.
Top image: The fake town of Copehill Down, Wiltshire, UK. Credit: Think Defence/Flickr.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]