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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.