Zombie-Style History: The Best Places in Abandoned Indiana

When I say “zombie-style” I don’t literally mean brain-munching zombies, folks. I mean once-living-now-dead-but-still-standing. We should make that clear.

Before I start rolling out the best abandoned sites in Indiana, let’s get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way. Whether an urban explorer or history junkie, I am in no way recommending you actually trespass upon these properties. Hoosier hospitality is a real thing, but so is Hoosier firearm appreciation.

That said, if you can contact the owner of the property, offer them a $20. You’d be amazed at how friendly people become when you’re polite, honest…and willing to pay. I know this firsthand. Also, here’s a link to a generic hiking disclaimer form that would suit the purposes of any lawsuit-conscious explorer.

Slipping through a broken fence, at night, in secret, might be thrilling, but so is a double-load of buckshot to the ass. Just saying.

Reid Memorial Hospital in Richmond

The story of Reid Memorial Hospital is the story of hundreds of hospitals across the country: built a century earlier, then modified, expanded and updated until the cost of modernization caught up. Then abandoned.

Reid Memorial lasted longer than most. Built in 1905, it held on until 2008. Potential buyers came and went and then stopped coming. Nature’s reclamation happened quickly, and the hospital soon looked like a fifty-year derelict.

Demolition began in spring of 2018, but portions of the campus still remain, at least until the end of this summer.

Abandoned Dome Cabin in Bloomington

I visited this nugget several years ago. As far as I know it’s still standing, but considering its placement, vandalism and exposure, I’m sure it’s time is limited. There’s not as much history as story in this abandoned dome cabin. Once upon a time, a lot of love went into its construction.

The walls were made of heavy-duty fiberglass, which explains why it’s still standing. Its expansive three-seasons room would have been perfect for lazy days in the outdoors or fly-free dining. It had a basement for storage, shower and even skylights. Glamping even before the term was invented.

If you’d like to find it, it’s near the Cutright State Recreation Area in Bloomington, just off Knightridge Road. Nearby is the abandoned Zoom Floom Waterpark, so explorers could find a two-for-one deal here. Or, three-for-one, if you check out the next slide…

Knightridge Space Observatory in Bloomington

*Only bricks remain of this observatory. Demolished in 2019

Built just before World War II, the Knightridge Space Observatory was as Spartan an observatory as you could find in the US. Housing a medium-sized refractor scope—which would be rendered virtually obsolete by the up-and-coming reflecting scopes—the observatory was a circular brick building with wooden floors and dome.

In its first two or three decades, the observatory had no nearby neighbors, but as housing grew ever closer and the university expanded, so did light pollution, making it impossible for researchers to conduct serious study. Astronomers abandoned it to the elements and it has stood in a patch of woods ever since. Weathering has made the second floor too hazardous for exploration, but the brick walls are still sound.

I’ve been here, wrote an article on it, and consider it one of the best places to experience zombie-style history in Indiana.

Salesians Preparatory School in Cedar Lake

Many Hoosier ghost hunters consider Salesians one of Indiana’s great locales for discovering spectral evidence. Sigh. Like former asylums or hospitals, abandoned schools naturally led themselves to myth, and it’s in those myths the unscrupulous harvest the gullible. There are no ghosts here, folks. Just an old school.

That said, it’s an interesting place to check out. Built in the 1950s, Salesians stood as the a premier Catholic school in Lake County. This didn’t last. The Catholic Church closed in the school in 1979 for financial reasons.

The property’s been bought and sold several times, once even serving as a paintball facility, but none ever lasted. Salesians Preparatory School still stands off Cline Avenue in Cedar Lake, as empty and rotting as the conscience of those conducting ghost tours there.

Central State Hospital in Indianapolis

In the 1850s, this iconic hospital occupied a single building in Indianapolis, but by the 1920s it expanded to an entire campus housing over 3,000 patients.

Like many asylums in the early to mid-20th century, Central State Hospital of Indianapolis was a self-sufficient campus, complete with recreation and occupational activities for the patients, housing, ornate landscaping and food production facilities. This wasn’t for the sake of progress. These facilities were designed to keep mental illness out of sight, a cultural taboo that still exists today…as do many of the hospital’s emptied buildings.

After some of the oldest buildings were either repurposed or destroyed, Central State Hospital limped on until thin funding and public accusations of patient abuse finally closed its doors in 1994.

Gary’s Union Station

I hesitated adding this to the list; too many buildings in Gary have been targets for urban explorers, to the point where it’s become more like picking the bones of a city than discovering its unique history. But Gary’s Union Station is too much of a stand-out to ignore.

Union Stations across the United States were models of architecture and attitude. The typically Art Deco or Neoclassical styles symbolized a country growing in commerce and culture, when the United States would emerge from its isolationist cocoon to become a world power.

Gary’s Union Station combines elements of the old and the new. Built almost immediately after JP Morgan founded the city, the concrete pillars of Union Station were first poured and then etched to mimic classic stone construction. Its placement into a hillside allowed its front portion to have two stories while having only a single story in the back.

Closed in the 1950s, it is covered head-to-toe in graffiti and not a single unbroken window remains, but its solid construction, and the help of the hillside, have kept it relatively solid, if not pretty.

Hotel Mudlavia near Kramer

At the turn of the city, the healing properties of natural springs came into vogue as a panacea for a myriad of diseases, from cancer to rheumatism. With Southern Indiana boasting several natural springs, posh resorts began popping up, claiming cures with no scruples…and no FDA to countermand them. Some, like the West Baden Springs Hotel still welcome thousands of visitors a year. Others, like the Hotel Mudlavia, simply faded away…

The Hotel Mudlavia opened in 1890 and cost a quarter of a million to build, which would equal almost $10 million today. For three decades, the hotel served a steady trade of the well-to-do, the chronically sick, and the occasional Indiana celebrity, such as James Whitcomb Riley.

Unfortunately a fire gutted the building in 1930. It took several years to reopen as a rest home and then a lodge. When its owners decided to revisit its former glory and renamed it “Mudlavia Lodge”…it burned down yet again.

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