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Ethan Trex
7 Really Tiny Towns
by Ethan Trex - April 13, 2010 - 1:29 PM

Ever consider getting away from the city to try your hand at small-town life? If you want to live in a place where everybody will know your name, towns don’t come much smaller than these teensy communities around the country. Even if you don’t blink you might miss them.

1. S.N.P.J., Pennsylvania

Officially, it’s hard to get much tinier than S.N.P.J. According to the 2000 census, the Lawrence County borough could boast a population of zero. To be fair, the town’s residents – all 14 of them – said they weren’t around when the census worker dropped in, and the Census Bureau never returned a second time to count them.

The oddly named borough gets its moniker from Slovenska Narodna Podporna Jednota, a fraternal order for Slovenian immigrants. During the 1970s, the society had a 500-acre recreation area complete with pools, playgrounds, a 20-acre lake, and rental cabins. What it didn’t have, though, was a local liquor license. The society’s members solved this problem in 1977 by officially seceding from North Beaver Township, which didn’t allow Sunday alcohol sales. Although the residents’ local taxes still go to North Beaver Township, SNPJ and its small handful of residents are technically an autonomous borough, a solution that seems way more reasonable than just stocking up on beer on Saturday.

2. Freeport, Kansas

Freeport’s six residents may not have a lot of urban luxuries at their fingertips, but at least they don’t have to leave town to do their banking. The Harper County community bills itself as “the smallest incorporated city in the U.S.A. having a bank.” That financial institution, Freeport State Bank, shares Freeport’s 0.2 square mile area with a grain elevator and a Presbyterian church that draws 60 members from surrounding communities.

3. Monowi, Nebraska

Elsie Eiler may be in her seventies, but she can’t slow down. In addition to being Monowi’s sole resident, she’s also the town’s mayor, bartender, and librarian.

As you enter Monowi, the sign tells you that the population is two, but that number was cut in half when Eiler’s husband, Rudy, died of cancer in 2004. Rudy had been a voracious reader in addition to working as a farmer and a tavern keeper, and he amassed a collection of over 5,000 books. One of his last wishes was that Elsie turn the collection into a public library after his death, which she did; Rudy’s library is housed in a small white building near Elsie’s trailer.

Elsie’s days are busy; she maintains the bar, which draws thirsty drinkers and fans of her burgers from around the region, runs the library, and serves as the one-woman town’s mayor. She collects taxes from herself and makes an annual application for state road funds to keep the town’s four streetlights burning. Elsie’s can-do attitude has earned her some national recognition; Today has even come to shoot segments at her library.

Oddly, Census Bureau estimates from earlier this year estimated that Monowi’s population was two people. This second resident was news to Mayor Elsie Eiler. She quipped to the Associated Press, “Where’s this other person? Let me know. … I don’t want to come back to my house at 11 or 12 and see someone else there.”

4. Erving’s Location, New Hampshire

Here’s a bit of a mystery: according to the 2000 census, Erving’s Location has a total population of one resident. Nobody knows who that resident is, though, and if he’s there, he’s living modestly. According to Coos County’s tax regulators, there’s nothing but a few telephone poles in the township, which is only accessible by dirt road or by hiking. The county workers say there was never anyone in the township in the first place. Given that bit of info, the population estimate is probably a blunder on the part of the Census Bureau, although maybe the one resident is just really, really good at camouflaging his house.

5. Holy City, California

Hard to believe that a town founded by a white supremacist cult leader who preached a gospel of temperance and celibacy wouldn’t thrive, but that’s what happened with Holy City. Cult leader William E. Riker convinced his followers to give up all their wealth in the years following World War I. He took said wealth and used it to buy 200 acres, which he established as Holy City in 1919.

It sounds like Holy City was the type of wide place in the road where tourists could gas up their cars and get a bite to eat at the town’s restaurant. The city also had an observatory that charged visitors a dime to look through a telescope. Within a few years, Riker had 300 of his followers living in the flourishing city with him. Things took a turn for the worse in the 1940s, though. A new highway opened in the area, which meant Holy City wasn’t seeing much traffic. Riker was arrested in 1943 for supporting Hitler, and although he was later acquitted, he ran into financial problems that led to him losing control of the city in 1959.

No longer incorporated, the former cult town is on the real estate market if you’re looking to start your own community. You’ll only have one existing permanent resident to contend with, so traffic shouldn’t be too bad.

6. Lost Springs, Wyoming

As we’ve already seen, when a town is tiny, the census’ rounding errors can have a pretty big impact on population estimates. Lost Springs, Wyoming, wasn’t going to take these errors lying down after the 2000 census found that town had a population of one. Not so, said Lost Springs Mayor Leda Price. The estimates were wildly incorrect. Lost Springs actually had three residents.

Yes, according to Price and her fellow Lost Springs residents, the census only counted one side of the town’s lone street. They counted Price at the bar where she lives and works, but they missed brothers Art and Alfred Stringham, who work and live near the Lost Springs Store and Post Office on the other side of the road.
Mayor Price took the matter to the Census Bureau in an effort to get the estimate corrected. The stakes: $111 in additional federal funding the town would receive if it got credit for its other two residents. It sounds like she eventually gave up, though, as she recently told the AP, “I tried for a long time to straighten it out and it was like talking to a brick wall.”

7. New Amsterdam, Indiana

New Amsterdam is another town that only had one resident at the time of the 2000 census, a sharp decline from 30 residents in 1990 and way down from 200 at the turn of the 20th century. According to the residents of the Ohio River hamlet, their estimated population is also too low; many of them erroneously listed nearby towns that have post offices as their actual places of residence. New Amsterdam, which houses a general store and occasionally a bait shop, probably has more like 16 residents, which by the standards of this list makes it positively urban.

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Comments (27)
  1. I grew up near Pisgah, Illinois. The population was rumored to be 8 when I was in elementary school/junior high (around ten-15 years ago.)

  2. Aw, I just drove through SNPJ with my husband over Easter weekend. :^) It really is a tiny town…you blink and it’s gone. Growing up, I didn’t even know it was a town. I had always thought that the pool where I swam was called SNPJ.

  3. Thank you for highlighting small towns! I grew up on the eastern plains of Colorado in a town of about 500 people. I have to laugh when someone remarks how small their town is with a population of 10,000. Not everyone lives in the big cities.

  4. I’m surprised Centralia, PA didn’t make the list. I think it’s down to 9 residents and an underground fire to boot! Thanks for the interesting read!

  5. You left out the town of Harmony, California. Population 18.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmony,_California

  6. I wonder what the population of Possum Grape, Arkansas, is now. I know at one time it was really small – somewhere around two or four.

  7. Keene, Wisconsin in Portage County…at last count had a population of 4 and one bar.

  8. The town I grew up in was almost 300 people…I always thought it was small, but by this list, I grew up in a metropolis!

    I’d like to know how Monowi has FOUR streetlights though…none of the towns I grew up around could afford such luxuries, and my parents live about 10 miles from a STOPLIGHT, four towns over.

  9. A Canadian one….
    Pedova City. Outside Kamloops, British Columbia.
    Was a TB insanitarium. Is up for sale.
    Self sufficient.

  10. My thoughts exactly, Amauriel. The town I went to elementary school in only had a yellow/red warning blinkers. Maybe they counted each of those lights as a stoplight in Monowi?

  11. Wow, I thought the little towns in Missouri I passed while roadtripping were small! I can’t remember the names, but the population of one was 72.

  12. Lookingglass, Oregon, from what I understand, has a population of 25.

  13. I used to pass regularly through Beehunter, Indiana. On St Rd 67 between Switz City and Sanborn. The most that was ever there besides the state highway signs marking the “town” was a house, a trailer and a railroad crossing. That’s where a lot of these really small towns came from, they were railroad crossings or stops. Frequently now though, the railroad is gone and only the name remains.

  14. There is also a tiny town in Colorado called Bust, population 2. It features an antique store and a gas station, and is not too far from a fantastic dinosaur museum.

  15. Sarah – I think they’re referring to streetlights, not stoplights. As in, the lights that illuminate the street at night.

  16. I am in Dain City, a suburb of Niagara Falls, Canada and there are 16 of us!

  17. Patrick, it is my belief that Harmony, CA is populated by zombies. Just drive through there on a foggy night and you’ll see what I mean. Scary. It’s the perfect horror movie setting.

    I bet the resident of Erving’s Location was named Erving, BTW.

  18. Hooray for Monowi! I grew up in Nebraska (in a comparatively bustling metropolis of 2,300) and always found the Monowi story entertaining.

    And I think Bert is right. There are definitely no stoplights in Monowi!

  19. I found a place called Tightwad, Missouri. Stopping at the C-store, I inquired as to the origin of the name, and discovered that it came from a dispute between the postman and the grocer over the price of a watermelon.

  20. The village of Florida, Missouri had a population of 100 in 1835, the its most famous son was born, Samuel Clemens. He proudly noted that he increased the town’s population by 1%.

    At the 2000 census, Florida, MO has a population of 9 people.

  21. There is the town of Red Lion, OH. It has the distinction of having a rather busy intersection at its center (no sarcasm intended). And the gas station, Methodist church, diner, cemetery, and between 2 and four houses all at that intersection. Its populace exponentially grows during Sunday morning and during red lights.

  22. Magdalene-

    Was the one bar in Keene a topless bar? Wisconsin sure seems to be full of them. It’s how they get us Minnesotans to visit.

  23. I live in Pettie Shores, NC. my “town” has 1 dirt road, a boat landing, and 12 permanent residents. the closest big city is Ahoskie, which has a population of about 4500.

  24. I am a Wyomingite, and there is no shortage of teeny tiny towns in my great state. Bill, WY has a population of 3 as well.

  25. Growing up in a rural area, I have to wonder–are these cities or unincorporated areas? If they provide no public services or do not pay the state/county for the shared use of such, they are technically unincorporated areas. A major sticking point here in Georgia, where these areas inclusion (or exclusion) on maps is often quite contentious. I grew up near one that had a population of 1 when we first moved there, but within six years had over 50 residents.

  26. I grew up on a farm about a mile from Bahner, Missouri- population 14.

  27. There is a “town” about 2 miles from my house called Van Arsdale, Kansas. It boasts a population of about 20, and they are all dead. That’s right, the town consists of a cemetery…that’s it…

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