Virginia Ghost Town Abandoned by the Railroad

Union Level Ghost Town | Mecklenburg County, VA

Have you ever visited a ghost town and wondered what happened there? Well the story of this one in Virignia is a good one! Located near the North Carolina line, Union Level sits in the epicenter of what was once Virginia’s greatest agricultural region. Where tobacco built fortunes, and industry brought stage routes and railroads. But when those empires fell, quiet places like were left behind to remind us. Every time I pass through, my mind spins with questions about what it used to be like and where everyone went. So I spent some time researching the story to share with anyone else who is fascinated by places like this one.

Hilda Thompson, Luther, and Pete Lett in Union Level c. 1940

Early History of Union Level Virginia

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, the European settlement in this area was expanding quickly. By 1765, the county of Lunenburg had become so populated that a new county (Mecklenburg) was established by the Virginia General Assembly. Tobacco farms sprang up as planters prospered from enslaved labor.

In the early days here, farming families were spread out in the countryside and would only come “into town” on Saturdays to get their supplies for the upcoming week. But this would shift in the early 1800s when a horse and carriage line came to town. Travelers needed accommodations and supplies so stores began to pop up. By 1836, there were enough regular residents in Union Level that James Bridgeforth applied to be its first postmaster and Union Level was officially on the books.

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As you might imagine, the upcoming years would bring a lot of changes to this young nation and Union Level was certainly not immune from those changes. Having been a tobacco-farming region that relied on enslaved labor forces, the emancipation of their workers after the Civil War would’ve obviously changed the landscape as we know it for both planter and freedman.

After The Civil War

But things would also change for the larger industry that relied on the expansive tobacco plantations in Virginia and North Carolina. After the Civil War, investors offered Union Level farmers to buy their land for tobacco warehouses, forcing tobacco sellers to move elsewhere and during this period, many farmers left for nearby South Hill, VA. But another shift was coming that would bring hope to the fledgling community: the steam engine.

Hope For Union Level At The Turn Of The Century

In the early 1900s, the Southern Railroad came through and the town experienced a resurgence in commerce. By 1920, there were more than 20 businesses including 4 general stores, 2 barbers, 1 pharmacy, 1 boarding house, a railroad depot, a dancehall, and a motorcycle dealer. It also had a bank, The Bank of Union Level which was established by A.F. Drumwright, Ashby Thompson, and Cornelius C.P. Jones (pictured below) in 1915.

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John E. Smith, John A. Thompson, and C.P. Jones in front of the C.P. Jones General Store.

C.P. Jones was quite the businessman in Union Level, having also been a seed dealer, and the co-owner of a general store with his brother, John. But another big change was going to significantly impact this bustling little town. And this one they wouldn’t recover from.

The Last Dance In Union Level

When The Depression hit in the 1930s, one of its first casualties was C.P. Jones’s bank and general store. The barber shop, boarding house, and other stores would have to close too. Except for a handful of businesses that survived until the 1970s, this town would never look the same. By the mid-1980s, the train had stopped running here and in 1990, the post office was closed with mail being rerouted nearby to South Hill.

Today, the ghost town is a popular destination for the traveler who likes peculiar history and doesn’t mind a long drive through country roads. According to the sign on one of the buildings, there is an semi-regular flea and antiques market, though I haven’t seen it open on any of my visits and can’t find more information about it.

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If you make the trip to Union Level, please be respectful of the remaining residents, and DO NOT TRESPASS. All of the buildings here are on private property and monitored regularly by the sheriff’s office.



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9 thoughts on “Virginia Ghost Town Abandoned by the Railroad”

  1. I love to see these old pictures of Union Level. They are also very sad, As a kid growing up in Union Level I have many memories of playing at night where my Dad ran his store. Thanks for the post.

    Lennis

      1. Thank you for sharing this! I have alot of family from there back in the 1700-1900s Era that are big part of history.

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