Book Awards E-MAIL US




Lost City Found

Editor's Note: In 1994, a few intrepid WAG staff writers explored an area near the Richmond International Airport that seemed to be an equal mix of nebulous legend and real danger. Nearly a decade later, WAG reader Jake Smith stumbled onto WAG’s article recounting our experiences, and it encourage d him to locate the area and launch his own exploration. The following article describes his own experiences in what locals call the Lost City.

I learned of the Lost City while doing a Web search for ghost towns in Virginia. One Web site gave pretty good instructions on where to find the Lost City, so a friend and I drove up from the Peninsula looking for the area. This being unfamiliar turf, we were unable to find the Lost City.

Almost a year later, I decided to do some more online research about the place. I perused several Web sites, one of which was WAG. If I remember correctly, it was Charlie Onion’s article that first brought the water tower to my attention. Soon, I found myself back up near Sandston, driving along Technology Boulevard. Before long, I spotted the top of a water tower off in the distance. I managed to drive nearer to the water tower and noticed several trails going into the woods near the tower.

I returned with a friend, who dropped me off at the beginning of a trail. He agreed to loop around the end of Technology Boulevard and pick me up later. It was supposed to be a short, cursory examination of a trail. It was the middle of the day, and I was nervous as a cat. I hopped over the Jersey Wall at the entrance of the trail and began running down the wide swathe the trail cuts through the woods of Elko Tract. I ducked under a tree trunk that looked as if it’s been purposely placed across the trail. I kept running until I came to a point where the trail intersected with another trail. I turned back and met my friend.

It was the first of many forays into this strange, orange-soiled land, and all things considered, it was a success. We checked out another trail on the opposite side of Technology Boulevard, but we didn’t make it too far down. The whole operation seemed forbidden, and it was making us nervous.

I got home and contacted another friend with the news. He checked out the second trail we visited and said he didn’t see much. My friend worked with somebody who used to hang out at the Lost City, though, and his coworker told him that security had gotten more intense after stolen cars began getting left back there.

On my next few visits to the area, I returned alone. I concentrated on the area near the first trail that I went down. Eventually, I got back to the opposite side of Technology Boulevard and began investigating there too. But it was on a trip into the woods on the water tower side that I realized I’d found the Lost City.

The water tower is really the anchor of the whole Lost City area, and it provides an invaluable landmark for locating things. In fact, it was near this tower that I made several interesting finds, many of which match up to things mentioned in WAG’s article.

If one keeps walking , the trails eventually become lined with curbs on both sides. But it’s not just curbs—there are rain gutters, storm drains and manholes. Most interesting are the fire hydrants. I took a picture of one. It has the year “1953” embossed on it. This fits perfectly with what Onion uncovered about the history of the place.

At the edge of the woods near the Infineon complex, I found a strange three-sided wooden box. Looking in, I saw only a mound of dirt. Strange. There was a Danger High Voltage sign nearby. Perhaps the mound was some buried power line? Another sign in that area said “Sector 2” or “Zone 2.” Strangely enough, the number “2” was painted on a pine tree at the entrance of a trail about a half-mile away.

WAG’s article also mentioned some partially buried structures. I had yet to uncover anything resembling that description until one visit where a friend and I were walking a trail not far from Portugee Road. Just off of the trail were the cinderblock foundations of a building. One level went a few feet below ground and had standing water in it.

On the opposite side of Technology Boulevard near Technology Court, more of these structures were found. Were they remnants of the “fake airfield” or were they perhaps something else? WAG mentions that “cottage” buildings were slated to be built for the hospital / asylum. Perhaps they went ahead and laid the foundations for them? Small steel rods protruded from the foundations, possibly to anchor the rest of the building.

This side of the woods had its own unique brand of weirdness. I came across what looked like a giant dried-out lakebed, for instance. Its orange dirt bottom had been cracked and peeled by the sun. Little salamanders would dart in front of you, seemingly on their hind legs. After sprinting across your line of sight, they’d typically scurry up a tree.

At one point, I noticed that the woods were pockmarked with small holes, three to six feet in diameter. The holes were no more than three feet deep. In the woods behind the water treatment plant, I came across a giant hole in the ground. It was approximately ten feet deep, over ten feet wide and over twenty feet long, with one side open. This may have been natural, but something about it seemed man-made. I came across something else strange in the woods near the water treatment plant: a wood and wire fence, like you’d see on sand dunes. Much of this fence had been trampled down, perhaps by the deer in the area.

The strange thing about it was that the fence formed a giant, closed ellipse.


The funny thing about the Lost City area is that so many qualities are just slightly off compared to the woods behind your house. The orange dirt, the labyrinthine trails, the weird building foundations, the gate, the water tower, the funny little lizards and the “off limits” vibe all add up to produce a very big sensation of strangeness.

Perhaps an art student from VCU who’s doing a film project could utilize this area. What better setting for a science fiction movie? A new version of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine could be filmed here. The locale is less exotic than the sets of the previous movie versions, but this is not a bad thing. The Lost City’s mid-twentieth-century suburban wilderness vibe would simply make the movie hit closer to home. It could be set hundreds, instead of hundreds of thousands of years in to the future.

Weena sits near a storm drain, placing flowers in the hole atop an old fire hydrant. Suddenly a Morlock’s hand reaches out from the darkness of the storm drain, grabbing Weena by the ankle and pulling her into the bowels of Elko Tract.

Of course, picking out the proper soundtrack would take some time. One would need songs that evoke the strangeness of the Lost City. I can think of no song more suited to this than the Barracudas’ instrumental version of their 1969 song “Days Of A Quiet Sun.” The song has a spaced out spookiness much suited to the post – nuclear – war feel of the Lost City. (Besides, the Barracudas were from Sandston.)

Filmmakers would be wise to get permission to go on the property, though. Otherwise, the cast and crew might encounter the same fate that eventually befell me.


The Eye In The Sky

I finally got caught one late spring day. I had exited the woods along the side of the Infineon building, and as I reached Technology Boulevard, a man with a walkie–talkie appeared and started walking in my direction.

Well, I thought, it’s finally happened.

The security guard told me I’d set off some silent alarms, and he had a few questions. I told him the truth about why I was there.

“Yeah,” he said, “somewhere back in those woods is a dummy airfield.”

He took a look at my driver’s license and called it in, spelling my name out with the militaristic “Alpha, Bravo, Charlie” alphabet. He actually seemed pretty understanding, but whoever was on the other end of the walkie-talkie was not amused.

The guard I was talking to told me they’d had problems with industrial espionage. “You can actually tell a lot about a microchip factory just by looking at the back of it,” he said.

As we walked across the parking lot to my car, he kept talking with another guard via walkie-talkie.

“Okay,” the guy on the other end of the walkie-talkies said. “I got a visual read on you guys.”

My license plate was then called in to the other guard. Apparently, the guard on the other end of the line still had some reservations about me, and he requested that I walk over to a nearby lamppost and look up at the camera. Obligingly, I looked up at the black ball holding the video camera. Whether or not a video image was really grabbed, I do not know. They could have just been trying to worry me, but they seemed rather worried themselves. Perhaps an image was taken.

All of this seemed excessive, but I was choosing my battles wisely. If I didn’t cooperate, they could probably work up a trespassing charge against me, even if the woods were not their property(as they claimed.) I’d parked in their parking lot and walked across it, after all.

It’s funny to think I hadn’t been caught sooner. I’d always gone to Lost City in broad daylight, and most often I had parked in Infineon’s parking lot. I’d no more go to Lost City after dark than I’d fly.

It’s a strange place, Lost City. Anyone who’s ever been on a closed-down military base or abandoned Nike missile site has probably had a similar feeling. The abandoned structures and layout are haunting, and one feels like the lone survivor of a nuclear war.



Back home one day, I was looking at a Web site about an abandoned BoMarc missile site in New Jersey. According to the web page, in 1960 there was some sort of nuclear spill due to a fire in the missile storage area. The spill was contained, but the base was closed down right after that. The guy(s) behind the Web site had snuck onto the location and taken photos.

One photo in particular caught my eye. It was a photo of three pipes sticking out of the ground, one of which had a metal lid padlocked to the top of it. The photo caption referred to this apparatus as a “test well.” I got the impression it was used to test for harmful substances in the vicinity. I had seen at least one set of pipes like this at the Lost City, not far from the water tower.

A retired Air Force Civil Engineer informed me that these “test wells” aren’t used solely to test for radiation. An active sewage line runs in the vicinity of where I saw the pipes. Perhaps if what I saw was a test well, it’s to test for something like a sewage leak?

I don’t know, but at least I don’t glow.

—Article by Jake Smith

Posted June 18, 2003



Images from the Lost City

The water tower.

The bottom of the water tower.

One of the building foundations.

Another view of a building foundation.

A building near the water tower.

Curbs lining a trail near the water tower.

A rain gutter along the curb.

One of many fire hydrants along the trails. Note the embossed '1953.'

A gate on one of the trails.

A concrete block with wires coming out. Could this have been the base of one of the street lamps mentioned in the original WAG article?





Graphic Design by D.A. Frostick 
Contents and Graphic Design Copyright 1999-2005
riverrun enterprises, inc.