Utopia is not a true ghost town; people still live there, on the two streets which make up the town--both of which dead-end at the banks of the Ohio River. It does, however, have ghosts. Or so they say.
Located in Clermont County, Utopia was founded by Charles Fourier, a French guy who was a member of a religious sect which believed that the world was about to enter a 35,000-year period of peace, and that people would be organized into "phalanxes"--something like the communes hippies like to live in. He also believed that the oceans would turn into lemonade. I am not making this up.
Phalanxes were about three square miles in size and would include their own farmland, libraries, schools, and stables. In 1844 he convinced more than a dozen families to join him at his phalanx in southern Ohio for a rent of $25.00 a year. Each family got a wooden house. There was a dining hall for everyone located on the river bank. Later on a thirty-room brick house was built higher up.
When the oceans failed to turn into lemonade, Fourier's followers became disillusioned and disbanded in 1846.
After that the land with all the phalanx buildings was sold to John O. Wattles, the leader of a group of spiritualists. Against the warnings of locals, Wattles had the main building moved, brick by brick, down to the water's edge. It was completed by December of 1847, just in time for one of the biggest floods of the ninteenth century.
On December 12 the Ohio had overflowed to the point where people had to be ferried to the main house by boat, but people were still seeking shelter there. There was a party on the evening of December 13, but the dancing was interrupted when the bricks gave way and all but a few of the spiritualists were washed out to drown or freeze in the icy Ohio River.
In 1975 a dredging operation brought up bricks from the original house, and it's said that when the water is very, very low the original foundation is visible. The house where John O. Wattles himself lived is now a private residence, a stone house on Route 52. Stranger still are the underground chambers recently discovered near the Brown County line.
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Today the riverbank at Utopia is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the spiritualists killed in the flood of 1847. Residents have seen them walking out of the water. Strange lights have been seen moving around in or near the water.
First of all I have to say, if you're visiting Utopia hoping for something spectacular, be prepared to be disappointed. It's just a little town. As the cop who pulled us over on the way there said, "There's nothin there but a gas station."
There is a little mom-and-pop gas station at Utopia, and there are some houses. There's also a long road which leads back into some scary woods. Walking along the water at night is a little unsettling. Rivers at night can be creepy. I haven't been exposed to them much, although my dad and grandpa grew up on that very one. I had a great-uncle who worked on garbage barges who drowned in the Ohio when he got drunk and rolled off a barge one night.
I tried to talk to the ghosts, and poked my flashlight around looking for signs of the old house. Nothing but black water and an old, rotted boat dock. No voices, no strange lights, no ghostly spiritualists walking out of the river.
On a later trip with my friends Troy and Jennifer we located the underground stone chamber which is the most impressive part of the Utopia legend. It opens to the surface in two places which are surrounded by chainlink fences overgrown with weeds and vines. They're about 20 feet deep and have carefully masoned stone arches and even windows. Part of a basement? A secret chamber meant for hiding slaves?
Neither one, as it turns out. This was part of John O. Wattles's church, and once you get past the padlocked fence and climb down the ladder you'll find yourself in a stone room with a dirt floor and two fireplaces. Any ghosts present in the town would find a safe home down here, in this room which is so rarely visited and largely forgotten even by local people. Spending the night down here would be quite an experience. If you're ever in Utopia you might want to give it a shot.
A guy who wrote to me tells the following story about a spooky encounter one night in Utopia:
My best friend and I were on our way to a friend's Army basic training graduation ceremony. It was around 1:30 in the morning when we saw the sign that read Utopia. We pulled over on the road and turned on the hazard lights. We had never heard of anything about this town and it wasn't on our state map. We got out of the car and decided to take notes on what we saw (we did this throughout the whole trip). It was kind of foggy out and seemed a bit chillier than a normal summer night would be in Ohio. My friend noticed a strange apparition off in the distance and asked me if I wanted to take a closer look at it. Being the "ghost hunter" that I would like to call myself, I figured it was worth a shot. I took about five steps before I realized that this apparition was getting closer to me as I got closer to it. It began to look somewhat like an old woman dressed in tattered farm clothes. I instantly ran back to the car to grab my camera and when I turned around it was gone. We didn't fear it as much as people would think we did but we decided to leave right away. I tell you this because after reading your page on Utopia, I found that you are right. However, we didn't go down any of the streets and we didn't stop at the gas station. W e simply booked out of town toward North Carolina. We didn't see anything ourselves coming out of the water, just the apparation in the road.
Some odd things apparently go on in Utopia when the sun goes down. Stop there sometime and let me know if you make contact with any river ghosts.
Crawford, Rick. Uneasy Spirits: 13 Ghost Stories from Clermont County, Ohio. Rhiannon Publications, 1997. pg. 64-68.