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Elko Tract is a 2,220 acre (9 km²) tract of land in Henrico County, Virginia. It is considered one of Virginia's most well known ghost towns due to its history as a decoy airfield during World War II and suspicious activity in the area afterwards.
During the Battle of Fair Oaks / Seven Pines, May 31 – June 1, 1862, Federal forces under the command of Major General George B. McClellan occupied a third line of defense that included part of the Elko Tract. During that battle, the Federal advance on Richmond was halted. The most significant result of the battle was that the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, was wounded during the fighting, and was replaced by his friendly rival and West Point classmate, General Robert E. Lee.
A month later, during the Seven Days Battles (June 26 – July 1, 1862), the Elko Tract saw both armies pass through it, particularly during the fighting at White Oak Swamp and Glendale (June 30, 1862). During that battle, Thomas Jonathan Jackson failed to effectively support the remainder of Lee’s Army, and thus allowed McClellan’s Federal Army to retreat to Malvern Hill.
World War II
The history of the Tract prior to World War II is unremarkable. During the war, however, the area was converted into a false city, its structure closely resembling that of Richmond. Richmond sat nearby to the west of the tract. It is widely accepted that the premise behind the work was to serve as a decoy for German or Japanese bombers on night raids. In theory, when reports would come from the eastern Virginia cities that enemy bombers were flying overhead, the city would cut power to its residents and businesses. At the same time, the lights would come up on Elko Tract - roads built in roughly the same pattern as the city, and a false landing strip arranged identically to the nearby airport, would convince the bombers that they had reached their target. The bombs would then harmlessly fall on an uninhabited stretch of land, and the bombers would return, thinking they had successfully attacked Richmond. http://www.henricomonthly.com/news/the-lost-city
World War II ended without any attempt by the Axis Powers to attack Richmond. Control of the land then passed to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In the time after World War II, proposals for using the land were numerous. The Commonwealth announced in 1948 that it would build a hospital on the site. For years, Virginia was concerned about the overcrowding it was suffering in the hospitals for Blacks (as hospitals in Virginia at the time were segregated). Political wrangling followed, however, and by 1955 all that had been accomplished was the development of the infrastructure of the land. A water tower and sewage treatment facility had been completed, along with several miles of roadwork, complete with gutters, curbs, and fire hydrants. In March 1956, the entire project was scrapped, and the proposed hospital was started at a different site. In 1960, the State Hospital Board attempted to sell the land and its timber resources. A series of bids for the land were rejected as being too low, the last coming in 1963. That failed bid would be the last time that Elko Tract was mentioned in local media for several decades.
A 1955 approach plate for the real airport displays Elko as a "Dummy Airfield (For Bombing Practice Only)." This is the only mention made of bombing practice at the airfield (see External Links below).
From 1963 until the mid-1990s, Elko Tract was a largely ignored piece of land. The existing infrastructure (including, in some places, building foundations and even park benches) made it a popular hangout for teenagers and young adults in the area. There are accounts from the time of people being met in the Tract by men wearing non-distinctive but official-looking uniforms and carrying guns warning people to stay out of the area. These accounts, however, are not verified.
The exact nature of the use of the land is uncertain during this period. Some of the more imaginative claims were that it served as a collection point for captured aliens or as an emergency bunker for government officials in the case of nuclear attack. More reasonable speculation is that Elko Tract served as a training ground for either the FBI, CIA, or both. The CIA does have an official training center nearby at Camp Peary in Williamsburg, VA.
The land that makes up Elko Tract was eventually sold by the state under Governor George Allen. Looking to find ways to fund increased prison construction, Governor Allen made it a priority to sell what was considered "surplus" state-owned land. Since 1996, a piece of the northwest section of the Tract has been the home of a semiconductor plant for Infineon Technologies. A 2002 trip into the tract was interrupted by a security guard apparently working for the company (see External Links). Despite increased plans for development of the Elko Tract, a large portion of the original 1953 infrastructure construction is still in place today, including the water tower, building foundations, and several fire hydrants. Remaining Elko Tract infrastructure, however, is threatened by the increased interest in commercial development in the Tract.
It has been reported that in 2004 the Virginia National Guard had been performing field exercises in the Tract.
In 2007 Elko Middle School was established in the area.
- A 1994 article on Elko Tract - possible theories on the 1960s and 1970s use
- A 2002 followup with extensive exploration information and photos from inside the Tract
- Satellite picture from Google Maps - the white dot in the center is believed to be the 1953 water tower
- Live Local satellite view - older imagery without the technology parks
- More info about the decoy airfield, including a picture of the 1955 "Bombing Practice" landing plate