Fort Ritner, Indiana, Level 4 Ghost Town

Fort Ritner, Indiana, Level 4 Ghost Town

Fort Ritner, Indiana, Level 4 Ghost Town

Fort Ritner, Indiana is a Level 4 ghost town located about 13 miles southeast of Bedford, Indiana. The town once had a population of about 1,000 people in the early 1900s but in the 2000 census the population was hovering around only 75 people. Today in 2023, the population could very well be south of the 75 residents that were living here in 2000. Here’s the story…

Fort Ritner was platted in 1857 and named for Michael Ritner, a foreman of the railroad that built the massive train tunnel just 1 mile west of town. When first platted, there were almost 290 available plots in town. Today, there might be about 20 homes inhabited.

One of the first merchants to open shop was William Holland who had a grocery store and a tavern. When he died in 1905 he was one of the wealthiest men in Lawrence County and owned quite a bit of land as shown in the plat book.

In its heyday, the early 1900s, Fort Ritner was home to two saloons, a railroad depot, at least 2 churches, possibly 3, a flour mill, a blacksmith shop, a saw mill, 2 grocery stores, a hotel, a telephone exchange, a post office, a doctors office, a grist mill, a barbers shop, a dress maker shop and a justice of the Peace. In 2023, all that remains of the commercial entities is the former Holland General Store built in 1913 which is now a private residence. Which places Ft. Ritner in the “Level 4 Ghost Town” category.

With the East Fork of the White River just 1/2 mile south of Fort Ritner, floods have always played a major roll in the history of the town. The 1913 Flood somehow triggered a fire in the grocery store of William Holland which resulted in his first store burning down to the waterline. The 1937 Flood was even worse forcing all of the residents to leave town or seek refuge in the Ft. Ritner Methodist Episcopal Church which sat on high ground.

A 2 story hotel once stood on Front Street almost directly across from the former Holland General Store. This was one of the oldest buildings in town, constructed in the 1800s. Unfortunately it burned to the ground in 1977.

On the morning of Monday, December 27, 1909, two freight trains traveling east and west on the same set of tracks approached the sharp curve just 1/2 mile east of Ft. Ritner. Due to the curve and the cliff on the north side of the tracks, neither engineer could see the other train coming until it was too late. Some trainmen were able to jump to safety before the collision but unfortunately 5 were killed in the accident making it the deadliest train wreck in Lawrence County history.

Four schools have been built in Fort Ritner but only one remains.

In 1855 the “Wildcat School” was constructed one mile north of Fort Ritner on the head of Wildcat Creek. The land was deeded by William & Sarah Foster on June 9, 1855 for school purposes. The school was in use for only 3 years until 1858.

In 1858 the Town School was built at the corner of Depot & Third Street on Lots 112-113 & 114 which were deeded by Edwin B. Fanning for school purposes. This school was in use until 1883. I couldn’t find any remains of the building.

In 1883 the two story, two room Clay Hill College was built and sat o the hillside and slightly west and north of the Winfred and Maggie Dixon home. The 1 and a half acres of land for the school was deeded by Martin & Mary Dixon. This school was in operation until 1911. It looks as if a newer home has been built on the site of where the school may have once stood.

In 1911 the last Ft. Ritner school was built on Lots 83-84-85 & 86. The one story, two room school was in operation until 1952. In 2023 it is being used as a private residence.

A post office once stood on the west side of the 1913 Holland General Store and then was moved inside the store. In 2023 the remains of the Post Office can be found at the Lawrence County Museum of History in Bedford, Indiana.

Today Fort Ritner, Indiana is only a shell of it’s former self. Less than two dozen houses make up Fort Ritner with a population of only about 50-65 people. Will anything be left in Fort Ritner 100 years from now? Only time will tell.

GPS Location: 38°46’14.2″N 86°16’50.2″W