Rustbelt ghost-towns: Ruins of Gary, Indiana

Many American rustbelt cities are contracting radically as we enter the second decade of life in a WTO world, where industrial production has moved to China, India, and other developing nations. This has created a new kind of American ghost-town, on the outskirts of once-thriving midwestern cities -- or, in the worst cases, in pockets right in the middle of town. David Tribby has documented some of the ruined areas of Gary, IN in a book called Gary Indiana | A City's Ruins. Dark Roasted Blend has a gallery of some of the photos from Tribby's book, along with a potted history of the town's rise and fall.
Gary, Indiana, back then, was still a good place, a productive place. Founded in 1906, it was a gleaming city built of, and because of, steel. Quite literally, in fact; while other cities may have been at the intersections of trails or roads, rivers and rivers, or where sea met land, Gary was built by and for U.S. Steel and even christened for that corporation's founder.

For decades, Gary was as tough and resilient as the metals it produced. It survived the Great Depression, it fought off the war years, and it forged and pressed through the 1950s. But during the 1960s, its gleaming life's blood—steel—proved to be its undoing when the industry began to wane, then almost totally collapse, due to cheaper manufacturing overseas.

Exploring the Ruins of Gary, Indiana (Thanks, Marilyn!)


  1. “David Tribby has documented some of the ruined areas of Gary, ID in a book called Gary Indiana | A City’s Ruins.”

    That should be Gary, IN.  ID = Idaho.

  2. You do realize, that citizens of the so called “rust belt” do take serious offense to that moniker right? We’re more than the sum of our shuttered factories.

    1. As a lifelong citizen of the Rust Belt, I take no offense whatsoever. The collapse of steel, auto, and other big industry in the region effectively gutted many of our once vibrant economies, and while some cities have recovered admirably, huge swaths of others remain a depressed mess decades later. Getting all huffy and overly PC about it just makes us look whiny, which I like to think we’re not.

      Abbreviating Indiana as ID? Now that’s offensive.

        1. Why, offensive to us Indianans, of course! We’re no lazy potato farmers. *Ducks for cover*

      1. I’d also like to chime in as a life-long Hoosier. I, also, take no offense to “rust-belt”, at all. If anything, it gives me the impression of rust-belt citizens being no-nonsense hard-workers.

    2. I’m from the Rust Belt. I don’t take any offence and neither does my family. 

      It is what it is.

    3. No I don’t. No they don’t. Places like Gary or East Chicago Indiana are third world locations within U.S. boarders. To tell it like it is, is to validate my experience. We are still the location of the dirtiest and nastiest polluters (BP – the largest inland oil refinery, bring in the toxic tar sand from Alberta, ArcelorMittal – the largest integrated steel mill in the hemisphere, and U.S. Steel). Consequently, the Air I breath, the water I drink, and the land I walk on are some of the most polluted in the country. 

  3. For those that skimmed the article, Gary still has 80,000 people living in the city proper. While Gary is way past its heyday, the city still exists with a few of the steel mills operating and providing a large amount of jobs to the area. Overall the pictures are very haunting and beautiful, a reminder of the cyclical nature of life. 

  4. The picture of the Methodist Church with the snow inside and sun coming through the windows looks like a still from a video game. 

  5. Awesome pictures, but a shame blurb’s book prices are so high.  $60 for an 85-page POD book?  And I’m sure the photographer’s seeing about a nickel a book sold.

  6. I loved that church in Gary so much. We shot a scene from our upcoming feature film Worlds Best Dad in there. Got some weird looks from the police dept next door, but they were cool with us once they asked us what we were doing (imagine that!).

    If you’re in NYC, come see our film when it plays on August 19th at Rooftop Films:

  7. For those who are really interested in this stuff, the History Channel ran an interesting series called “Life After Man” about how the planet would adapt to our sudden absence.  Gary was one of the towns they used to show how quickly nature would reassert control.

  8. One needs to factor in how race/racism accelerated Gary’s decline by creating Merrillville as a white escape pod.

  9. The term “rust belt” predates globalism and was used to describe the industrial areas as a whole when they were thriving. The “rust” aspect doesn’t refer to a decline (and thus rusting). It was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the manufacturing of steel and cars.

    1. Reference, please? The term gained popularity in the 80’s and was used to evoke the decline, not the prosperity, of the region. See, for example, Van Horn and Schaffner 2003, Work In America: An Encyclopedia of History, Policy, and Society.

      1. Yeah, seriously, a reference would be great.

        Quoth Merriam-Webster:

        Definition of RUST BELT: the northeastern and midwestern states of the United States in which heavy industry has declined —called also rust bowl
        First Known Use of RUST BELT: 1983

      2. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term actually dates back to the 19th century — it gives an example
        1869: San Francisco Bull “A foreign demand for wheat and barley would set a good many farmers on their pins‥. The demand will not, of course, help those who rented lands within the rust belt.”.

        However, this is actually referring to the crop destroying fungus called rust.

        It gives 1982 as the first usage of rust belt in the modern sense:

        1982 Associated Press Newswire “Unemployment is extremely high‥in many areas of the so-called ‘Rust Belt’, the heavy industry areas of the Midwest and parts of the Northeast.”

  10. Born and raised in G.I. – I remember at least some of those places when they were alive. It saddens me when I go back home and see what is left. I have many friends and old classmates who are trying to fix things, but they are fighting an uphill battle wrought by years of neglect, negative attitudes, urban blight and plenty of decay.

    These images are beautifully haunting, especially noting when things were better. Hopefully my home town can emerge from the ashes one day.

  11. I often wonder if industry will leave behind similar scenes at its current homes. Can a city really choose its fate?

    1. Memphis, TN is still alive because FedEx won’t abandon it. There is quite a bit of FedEx-patriotism in Memphis, and FedEx has taken that into consideration at times it’s considered moving.

  12. The scenes are beautiful, but the photography itself leaves something to be desired. I don’t think they brought in any lights, we are just seeing camera & tripod work. Really a shame, as I think whatever lies beyond those overexposed windows would really add to the shots.

  13. I live in Richmond, some hours south and east of Gary. All the major manufacturers fled the city and it is increasingly becoming a site of poverty and hard living. Without Earlham College the decline would be deeper. If an economic activity that benefited working people could arise in the Rust Belt towns it would be good but it appears that corporate money is more ready to let the old ways die completely without replacing it. As a baby boomer, born 1952, I never anticipated part of my generation destroying the lives of the majority of boomers. I’m also disappointed that the moral values of the Civil Rights Movement have been discarded, along with the values of the anti-war movement.

  14. So here is the thing – the current global economy is a severe abberation made possible only by the rapid depletion of a finite resource.  As oil reserves dwindle and transportation costs begin to surge we will see a return to national, regional, and local production.  It does not matter what product you pick – at some point it will be cheaper to produce it locally than abroad.  Once the initial shocks play out and the dust begins to settle I imagine that we will ultimately end up living and working much as people in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century did.  Alternative fuels and energy will provide some items that were not available then of course, but the mass transport of goods around the world will rapidly come to an end.

  15. I am Gary’s industrial neighbor – East Chicago, Indiana. Places like Gary and East Chicago Indiana are third world locations within U.S. boarders. 

    To tell it like it is, is to validate my experience. 

    We are still the location of the world’s dirtiest and nastiest polluters (BP – the largest inland oil refinery, bring in the toxic tar sand from Alberta, ArcelorMittal – the largest integrated steel mill in the hemisphere, and U.S. Steel). Consequently, the Air I breath, the water I drink, and the land I walk on are some of the most polluted in the country. 

  16. I wish I was independently wealthy so I could purchase and restore the beautiful abandoned buildings. Who doesn’t want to live in an abandoned, drafty church, high-lander style.

  17. Beautiful images from what has become such a depressing locale. I’m originally from just over the state line in Illinois, worked in East Chicago for a time, and have plenty of family and friends who live and work nearby. Much of the area has fallen into disrepair, not just Gary, and many have abandoned the city for just about anywhere else. (I moved to AZ in ’79.)  I don’t miss it much, but I do miss some of the people.
    “Rust belt”? It’s been call so much worse over the years. I still refer to the entire area as the “armpit of the Western Hemisphere.” But I think “a$$hole . . . ” can work too.

  18. Steel making technology changed dramatically in the 1950s and 1960. The blast furnace was replaced by the basic oxygen furnace and the open hearth process. Back then I got the impression that the US steel companies were stuck in time and not investing seriously in the new technologies. Some of this was labor contracts, but a lot of it was MBA-itis. The steel men were gone by then, and the new corporate heads were about money, not steel.

    Even if the US steel makers had adopted the new technologies, Gary as a city for steel workers was doomed. The new methods are much more automated, so there would have been big layoffs anyway.

  19. Gary is as bad as it is because it is run poorly, not because of global forces. Until just a year ago, it was still run on a cash accounting basis. That’s suitable for a hot dog stand, not a city with an $80M budget. Money disappears in Gary (from both corruption and simple dead weight loss), obvious efficiency moves take forever, and there is a real sense that they simply are not reforming fast enough to make it. It is a case study of poor governance. 

    If you could spend an extra $10,000 for an abandoned property in Gary to be removed from the city’s borders, the abandoned stock would immediately be bought up and Gary would shrink significantly. 

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