A once thriving uranium mining town, Jeffrey City now sits forgotten, forlorn, rotting away in the Wyoming sun, rain and snow.
It started in 1931, when Beulah Peterson Walker found herself in desperate straits. Her husband, a World War One veteran who suffered from a gas attack during the war, was given six months to live. Figuring clean air would help his damaged lungs, she decided to pack up and move west with her husband. They eventually settled in an old abandoned farmstead south of the Oregon Trail. They fixed the place up and offered it as a waystation for the few travelers that passed by. Beulah called their new homestead “Home on the Range”
Beulah had made a fateful decision. Her husband would live for another 20 years, and her little “Home on the Range” would become the center of a corporate mining town. For what Beulah did not know was that her homestead sat in the shadows of hills filled with uranium.
The Atomic Age hit America fast, and uranium soon became the new gold. A speculator named Bob Adams discovered the buried wealth that was waiting to be dug up. Unfortunately, he did not himself have the capital to begin a mining enterprise. Luckily an investor step forward to help him out: Dr. C.W. Jeffrey. With the influx of money, Adams created Western Nuclear and began mining operations in 1957. In thanks to Jeffrey’s investment, Adams named the soon booming corporate town after him. Thus was Jeffrey City born, and Beulah’s “Home on the Range” subsumed.
Jeffrey City grew fast. Street grids were laid out, home plots built, utilities and street lights wired. Schools were constructed, including a high school with an olympic pool. Shops sprang up on what became main street. Hotels were built for workers who were waiting for their homes to be raised, or for mobile homes to arrive. Churches were founded. A library and a medical clinic were dedicated. Jeffrey City would even get its own newspaper, the Jeffrey City News. By 1979, 4,500 people called Jeffrey City home.
And then came the bust. The uranium industry collapsed. At first, only minor layoffs set in. Management and workers waited, hoping for an industry rebound. It would not come. In 1982 the mine closed.
Jeffrey City became a stew pot of anger and frustration; anger at the corporation, frustration at the lack of other options for work for hundreds of miles around. Suddenly the population keenly felt the remoteness of their town, their homes. People lashed out: electrical lines were sabotaged, car windows shot out, the high school vandalized.
Then the rage became fear as radiation was found in their homes. The exodus began.
By 1985, 95% of the population of Jeffrey City packed up and left. By 2010, the U.S. census would record only 58 people living in the vicinity of Jeffrey City.
Today the streets sit empty, an asphalt grid cracking under the harsh weather. Street lights still stand, but remain dark, rusting away. Empty home plots are nothing but weeds and useless utility meters. Here and there mobile homes lay, shattered, discarded. An abandoned bath tub sits among the elements. The schools, hotels, churches, shops, all boarded up. Main street is a sad testament to old promises, shattered hopes. A park is now only brown prairie grass, an abandoned teeter totter sitting still, a swing set twisting in the wind. Today, you can stand in the middle of a once thriving town and see not a soul around. As to Beulah’s own “Home on the Range”, nothing remains.