Even the youngest American student knows that the country has exactly 50 states — plus the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. On the surface, U.S. history seems like a narrative of growth and expansion from sea to shining sea.
But that’s not quite the case. What if we told you that one forgotten state was left behind by the Americans? You might not believe it, but this is the truth. And this now-defunct state might be a lot closer than you’d realize.
From the moment that the American Patriots emerged victorious from 1781’s Battle of Yorktown, it was clear that the United States would live on as an independent nation. The people of the 13 colonies prepared for life after war, though they weren’t the only Americans looking to the future.
Thousands of newly anointed Americans lived not in established states, but in loosely organized territories to the west. Contending with Native American tribes, European colonists, and dangers of the wilderness, these frontier people feared being left out.
Worried whispers carried throughout communities around the Smoky Mountains — collectively known as the Western Counties — near present-day eastern Tennessee. The new union was already in dire straits, and these frontier folk believed they would be forced to carry the burden.
In carrying out a years-long campaign against a world superpower, the fledgling federal government cleaned out its reserves. They had to dig themselves out of this hole, and there were only so many ways to amass that kind of money.
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
The most frightening possibility, for these mountain communities, was the United States selling off its territories. People in the Appalachians lived with the very real threat of waking up one morning and realizing they now lived in a French or Spanish colony.
Because the Western Counties weren’t a state, they couldn’t pass laws of their own or even represent themselves in Congress. They’d been under the nominal control of North Carolina, but that arrangement came to an abrupt halt in 1784.
Bobblehead George / YouTube
North Carolina tired of looking after this territory, so they officially ceded the land to the federal government. This process could take two years — perhaps more if Congress pushed back on the state legislature’s decision. The mountain folk could be left in no-man’s-land.
So they convened in the small town of Greeneville and made a startling declaration. The West Counties announced that they would form a new and independent state, one named after one of America’s most essential Founding Fathers.
Jimmy Emerson / Flickr
They called themselves Franklin, after famed diplomat and innovator Benjamin Franklin. Of course, the new state wouldn’t go anywhere if two-thirds of the union didn’t approve its entry. The frontiersman hoped to get the endorsement of their namesake.
Buck Kahler / Vimeo
After pleading with Franklin to support their cause, he graciously turned them down. Making matters worse, only seven other states — two short of what they needed — voted to ratify this new Appalachian entity. But these communities refused to abandon the fight.
Franklin chose to go forward as an autonomous state, basically free of the grip of any state or federal government. They chose John Sevier, a hero from the Revolutionary War, to act as their first President. He certainly had his hands full.
For starters, a number of indigenous Americans asserted that Franklin was their land. The frontiersmen secured peace treaties with a number of tribes, but others, like sects of the Cherokee, engaged in skirmishes with the settlers.
Problems abounded within Franklin’s communities too. They lacked any kind of standardized currency, so all economic transactions took place through bartering. While not the most advanced system, these people were hardy enough to persevere.
With their ability to fight off hostile forces and provide for themselves in the harsh Appalachians, maybe it should come as no surprise that American hero Davy Crockett was born in Franklin. Unfortunately, he was only one-year-old when his home faced its greatest challenge.
North Carolina was itching to get Franklin back under its control. After diplomatic efforts went nowhere, Colonel John Tipton led a regiment of troops into Franklin in 1787. President Sevier was dismayed that the town of Jonesborough gave in without any resistance.
National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
In a last-ditch attempt, Sevier formed a militia and charged Tipton’s residence in the middle of a snowstorm. The 100 Franklinites were prepared, it seemed, to instigate a civil war against their former countrymen.
Mt. Lebanon Magazine
But their military campaign ended in a matter of minutes. The Franklin forces surrendered, and the rogue territory was absorbed back into North Carolina. Rather than being punished, Sevier was elected to Congress and later became the first Governor of Tennessee.
William Thomas Cain / The Philadelphia Inquirer
The former Franklin capital of Greeneville moved on without too much nostalgia. It became best known as the home of future president Andrew Johnson, and industrial changes soon made the small community unrecognizable.
Today, barely any traces of Franklin’s four-year existence remain. All its buildings were torn down long ago, and only the odd historical marker here and there hints at its tumultuous history. But unlike another lost colony, at least we know what happened to Franklin.
When Christopher Columbus so famously sailed the ocean blue in 1492, England got jealous. Establishing a colony in North America seemed like a savvy move. So, after defeating Spain’s “Invincible” Armada, a green-with-envy England decided to send explorers to the dangerous New World.
One of these expeditions included an artist named John White. White’s job was to create a visual record of the native people and map the islands along the coast of the Atlantic. Two years later, his role would be drastically different.
After a successful expedition, John White was tasked with establishing the first English colony in America. The colony would include men, women, and children with White acting as Chief Governor. Enchanted by the idea, he began to gather volunteers.
American Revolution Museum
In 1587, John White led 120 colonists across the Atlantic. He brought along his only daughter, Eleanor, who was pregnant with her first child. They landed off the coast of what was then Virginia. They repurposed an abandoned military camp nearby, unaware of how short-lived their stay would be.
The now-infamous “Roanoke Island” would have been England’s first established colony in America, giving them a much-needed victory over Spain. John White would’ve been considered a hero, even royalty. But the New World came with surprises.
Days after settling, Eleanor gave birth. Baby Virginia was the first child born of English parents in North America. She was also John White’s only grandchild. With a successful colony and a bouncing new baby, John White was happier than ever…for a little while.
Supplies were quickly running low at the settlement. So, with haste, John White sailed back to England to stock-up on essentials and find new volunteers. He was looking forward to praise and acclaim upon his return. Instead, he found himself in the middle of a massive Spanish invasion.
Historic Fort Wayne
All English ships were confiscated for battle. Without a boat, John White was stranded in England for three whole years. Finally, in 1590, White returned to Roanoke Island to be met with heartbreak. The entire colony, including his family, had vanished.
Where could over 100 people have gone? White searched the island for signs. He feared finding a Maltese cross, which would indicate the colony had been pushed out by force. In the middle of town, there were two strange messages.
The first message was a post carved with the word “CROATOAN.” The second was a tree carved with the letters “CRO,” perhaps a first attempt. Thankfully, there was no cross, which gave White hope. After consideration, he realized what the message meant.
William James Linton
The “Croatoan” were a native tribe who lived on an island nearby. They had been friendly with the English, which brought White some comfort. And yet, despite being a mapmaker, White wasn’t sure which island the Croatoan lived on. He began the daunting search.
Despite White’s best efforts, there was no evidence of his colony on any of the surrounding islands. The search party was quickly snuffed out by harsh weather conditions. With dwindling supplies, White had no choice but to retreat. The question remained — what happened to those 120 people?
Unfortunately, White wouldn’t live long enough for another journey. He died around 1593, having made peace with the loss of the colony and his family. One would assume that modern archaeologists would be able to solve the mystery that haunted White to his deathbed, yet there is still hot debate.
U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott Wakefield
Some believe the Croatoan natives took the settlers in. However, DNA records and physical remains from surrounding islands are inconclusive. In addition, the natives were unlikely to have enough resources to care for such large number. Of course, there’s a more brutal possibility.
Between warring tribes, murderous Spanish forces, and the dangers of the New World, the Lost Colony may have faced a gruesome death. However, a discovery in the 1990s seemed to dispute that idea.
An excavation on the island of Hatteras, close to Roanoke, came up with an interesting find: a gold ring that seemed to date back to John White’s expedition. This would provide evidence that the colonists survived over 60 miles south. Years later, the ring was re-examined and stirred new debate.
An X-ray device was used to determine the ring’s composition. Turns out, it was a fake. A mix of silver, lead, tin, and nickel was found, meaning it was brass. The ring was likely a common item. AKA: junk. There was only one bit of evidence left.
An explorer named John Lawson visited the Hatteras Island in 1709 where he met natives claiming to be descendants of “White people.” They were notably friendly toward the English. Lawson noted their grayish eyes, which could indicate a mixed heritage. He was convinced they had descended from the Lost Colony.
In truth, the islands had been re-inhabited multiple times, meaning any European colony could have interacted with the natives and influenced their genetics. With no remaining evidence, scientists can only look to John White’s paintings, like the one below, for answers.
The mystery of the Lost Colony attracts curious visitors and researchers from around the world, determined to un-Earth any answers they can find. With a tourist attraction that appealing, it’s a mystery worth remaining unsolved. Meanwhile, many Americans have turned their attention to inexplicable phenomena that are far more recent.
There were more than whispers that something fishy was going down on Long Island in the early 1980s. Camp Hero, once an active US military base, was said to be useless and ready for sale, yet others claim it was the center of total chaos.
The smoking gun was a self-published book by a man who claimed to witness many misdeeds and supernatural happenings there. Some claim Preston B. Nichols’ book, The Montauk Project: Experiments In Time, is science fiction. Over time, though, supporters started to surface.
Preston’s book detailed recovered memories from his time as a witness and participant in two major conspiracy theories surrounding government operations: the Philadelphia Experiment and the Montauk Project. The picture he painted was more than grim.
The supposed goings-on at Camp Hero included kidnapping and torturing subjects to test the powers of mind. Using various psychological control methods and telepathic techniques, ruthless scientists opened portals in space and time.
Stranger Things / Netflix
If the story in Preston’s book were true, the truth would blow the public’s perception of the government to smithereens. Still, it was largely considered another sci-fi story stoked by conspiracy theorists, until a movie brought up someone else’s buried memories.
Al Bielek watched the movie The Philadelphia Experiment and felt an eerie wave of déjà vu. He too was compelled to tap into his psyche and revisit some of the haunting memories that were deeply suppressed.
Get Out / Universal Pictures
With the floodgates of his mind open, Al remembered that he was involved in the Philadelphia Experiment, but that wasn’t all. He recalled details of the Montauk Project too. In fact, watching the filmed triggered an identity crisis, he realized Al wasn’t actually his name.
The deeper he dug into these recollections, the more blocked-out information rushed to the surface. He believed his real name was Edward Cameron. His convenient forgetting of all this absurd information was thanks to the CIA’s mind control MK-Ultra tactics.
As for the Philadelphia Experiment, Ed was there. He and his brother Duncan were crewmates on the fateful ship Eldridge when it supposedly vanished into space and time in 1943. The brothers were transported into the future onto the grounds of Camp Hero in Montauk.
Ed and Duncan became darlings of the conspiracy theorists community. Though, frankly, their ideas were largely discounted for how heavily the narrative inflated their egos. Nevertheless, they stood firm in their beliefs that they were instrumental in the Montauk Project experiments.
Fitting snugly like a puzzle with Preston Nichol’s book description, Ed purported that he and Duncan helped create the Montauk Chair. Not so different from the X-Men’s Cerebro, it was a device that helped psychics enhance their abilities via electromagnetism, which was key to the entire project.
X-Men: Apocalypse / Twentieth Century Fox
In the bowels of the locked-down Camp Hero facilities, psychics like Duncan would sit in the Montauk Chair and use their abilities for a variety of outlandish experiments beyond the bounds of reality. These stories became the basis for the Netflix show Stranger Things.
The creators of the series, Matt and Russ Duffer, used Preston Nichols’ book as a blueprint for their story. Originally they set their story in Long Island near Camp Hero but had to swap the location to Indiana in the face of a plagiarize lawsuit.
Popsugar / Netflix
Fans of the show know Eleven, a psychic child, opened a portal to another dimension during a secret experiment of the mind. She was kidnapped and groomed as a lab subject, which is the rumored method of how they obtained subjects for the Montauk Project.
Stranger Things / Netflix
In his book, Preston Nichols referred to these children as the Montauk Boys. He insisted that children were taken from troubled homes, the youngest only four years old, and condition through beatings, severe temperature fluctuations, and even LSD.
Stranger Things / Netflix
These allegations were supported by a man who identified himself as one of the Montauk Boys. Stewart Swerdlow claims to be clairvoyant with the ability to see energy fields and read DNA sequences and mind patterns — skills he honed for 13 years in the Montauk Project.
Stillness In The Storm
Despite the echoes of the same accusations from different sources, there were a lot of far-fetched theories tossed into the mix. Stewart believes he and other recruits traveled to Mars periodically as well as back to biblical times.
All of this abuse fuelled psychic research finally came to an end in a way that was very similar to what played out in the Netflix series. According to Nichols’ book, it all came crashing down with the arrival of a monster.
Stranger Things / Netflix
When Duncan was in the Montauk Chair, channeled into the recesses of his psychic mind, someone whispered into his ear, “The time is now.” Suddenly, a monster appeared first on the transmitter screen, then it materialized in the real world wreaking havoc on the lab.
Stranger Things / Netflix
The military denies the project ever existed, but that’s the same line they gave about dabbling into mind control. It’s now known as fact that the CIA led a massive mind-control project through drugs, abuse, and torture called MK-Ultra.
Whether the Montauk Project actually happened is still hotly contested. People flock to Long Island to see the boarded-up remnants of Camp Hero, the bottom-most levels of the structures long ago filled to the brim with cement.
Most of the facility is open as a state park, but armed guards are still spotted at Camp Hero. It makes you wonder what else is hiding in plain sight. One wrong turn down a government rabbit hole can reveal a lot of darkness, as one journalist discovered.
Political writer Garrett Graff covered a lot of hot-button issues in his lifetime, from the War on Terror to the 2008 U.S. presidential election. But perhaps his most eye-opening research started when his friend handed him something peculiar.
“It was a government ID for someone from the intelligence community,” Graff said, “and he gave it to me since I write about that subject, and he’s like, ‘I figure you can get this back to this guy.'” The friend, he noted, had found the ID on a parking garage floor.
Right away, Graff noticed something peculiar about the ID: step-by-step driving instructions covered the back of it. So Graff, inquisitive journalist that he was, used Google Maps to locate the direction’s end destination—and the results surprised him.
The directions led him to a mountain peak just over 70 miles outside of Washington D.C. There, at a peak known as Raven Rock, the road just… ended. It led to the face of the mountain and then, nothing.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation
Graff recalled everything else he saw once he made the trip out there. “You can see very clearly these big concrete bunker doors,” he said. “This little guard shack, chain-link fence, and then this set of concrete bunker doors beyond.” What had he just found?
The Center for Land Use Interpretation
“It was a facility that I had never heard of that wasn’t on any map,” Graff elaborated. His inner historian and journalist totally freaking out, he started researching what he’d found as soon as he could.
About Camp David
He didn’t know it when he first stumbled upon the structure, but the directions had led him to Raven Rock Mountain Complex, also known as ‘Site R’. To put it more bluntly, he’d found a nuclear fallout shelter!
Graff’s research turned up plenty of information on the United States government’s nuclear war contingency plan—some of it comforting, some of it horrifying, and all of it fascinating. For example…
The Truman administration sanctioned construction on the bunker in 1951 once the Cold War with the Soviet Union started warming up. They used a construction team who’d carved out New York City subway tunnels to do the job. So how’d they keep it secret?
U.S. National Archives / Flickr
Laborer Gene Bowman—who was paid $1.35 per hour in 1951 to bore through the granite of Raven Rock—put it this way: “They just said they were building a tunnel. Wasn’t nobody interested in what they were doing.” Once dug, however, it didn’t look like a simple tunnel.
In his interview with NPR, Graff described the Raven Rock Complex as “a free-standing city… built inside of this mountain.” Intended to be a “backup Pentagon,” Site R boasted two 34-ton blast doors capable of thwarting nuclear bomb blows.
Beyond the blast doors and inside the heart of the rock, 100,000 feet of office provided all the room military officials would need to operate. Infirmaries, cafeterias, and utility areas allowed for up to 1,400 of America’s V.I.P.s to live somewhat comfortably—with a catch.
With the president, his or her cabinet, officials, and military personnel inhabiting the bunker, there was no room for spouses. This led to a famous exchange between then-Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren and another official…
Handed an ID badge for access to Raven Rock, Justice Warren realized there wasn’t one for his wife. When told she wouldn’t be allowed in, the justice handed back the ID and said, “you’ll have room for one more important official.”
But believe it or not, Raven Rock wasn’t just a place for the elite and powerful to hobnob as the world around them fell apart. As Graff discovered, officials set up very specific operation plans for every federal branch—even the IRS and post office.
West Virginia Gazette
Yep, even in the case of nuclear destruction, the government wasn’t going to let people off the tax hook so easily. The IRS had a post-bomb plan that covered how to appropriately tax damaged—rather, vaporized—property.
And where would people get money to pay taxes in an apocalyptic society? Uncle Sam had a plan for that, too: officials stashed away publicly scorned $2 bills in another bomb shelter to redistribute as currency.
Edward Betts / Wikimedia
Other federal departments had assigned duties as well: the Parks Department would set up refugee camps, the Department of Agriculture would divvy up rations, and the post office was charged with finding out who died in the blast.
At the time of the Cold War, a nuclear attack felt so imminent that Raven Rock had been fully manned and operated 24 hours per day—up until 1992. Operations were picked up and modernized once more after the September 11 attacks in 2001. They again run 24/7.
Though the ID card Graff received listed directions to only one secret bunker, his research uncovered half a dozen or so other doomsday shelters (like one beneath the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia here), each more or less the same in function and design.
Greenbrier Hotel & Resort
In Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs lie another hidden doomsday bunker. Like Raven Rock, this complex was built in the 1950s and served as “the command post responsible for defending both Canada and the U.S. from air attacks,” Graff said.
North American Aerospace Defense Command
Cheyenne Mountain had reservoirs of water and fuel, doctor’s offices, gyms, and even a Subway sandwich joint. So in the event of a nuclear attack, whoever was working the cash register at the time earned a spot among the surviving elite.
Through all of his research, though, Graff learned something unsettling. “If you’re trying to preserve and restart the government after an attack,” he explained to NPR, it “becomes this very existential question about what is America?”
As far as Graff could tell, the bunkers provided a disturbing answer. “The civilian population will be left to itself for weeks or months at a time,” he said, “and a small number of senior government officials will be spirited out to these bunkers.”
In other words, the government’s plot to rebuild post-nuclear war America didn’t really include the people. Preserving artifacts and the system of government took precedent, but in a time of chaos, what else could be done?
Graff dove deeper into his findings in a book he titled Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die. To think, his journey into some of the country’s biggest secrets started with just a lost ID badge!
But seriously, what would you do if the world was about to end? Most of us would probably just cross our fingers and hope for the best, but there are a few individuals out there who have gone to extreme measures to prepare.
John Hay had it all. He was the co-founder of popular tea brand Celestial Seasonings and owned lucrative real estate all over the country. Still, there was one lingering fear that kept him up at night…
Nuclear annihilation. After a period of de-escalation, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union shot back up in the early 1980s. Both sides were stockpiling weapons and mobilizing troops all over the globe.
Courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration
However, Hay was sure the Soviets were poised to strike first, and that the entire world would soon turn a bright shade of red. America couldn’t protect him from this threat.
But Hay could protect himself. He was a born self-starter. A former marine, Hay built Celestial from the ground-up by picking herbs in the Rocky Mountains and stuffing them into hand-sewn bags.
In 1983, Hay turned his attention to the tranquil Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. He purchased 240 acres of empty land for a mere $146,000. So how would this keep him safe?
Flickr / super*dave
Well, Hay wasn’t so much interested in the woods as he was in the gigantic limestone cave that ran beneath them. He believed it had the potential to house the ultimate fallout shelter. Construction began immediately.
Flickr / Dan
However, relations between America and the USSR soon improved, and it became increasingly unlikely that any nuclear war would take place. What could Hay do with his half-built bunker?
Hay, a shrewd businessman as always, knew how to adapt under changing circumstances. Maybe his underground abode could be used not just for survival, but for recreation. He drew up a new plan.
After a few more years of intense construction and furnishing, the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge was born. What was once a bomb shelter was now a subterranean, high-end hotel.
Hay naturally felt quite pleased with its transformation. “I didn’t want to come through the war like Tina Turner in Mad Max,” he said, “so I created Tinseltown.”
To stay in one of the cave’s four bedrooms, guests have to shell out as much as $1,600 per night. Although the rate is as steep as the mountains surrounding the hotel, the price is worth it!
Each morning you can take a hot shower that will wash away the problems and worries that you brought from above ground. That’s right, you can stay clean even when you’re living in a cave.
You can relax and watch a movie on the 75-inch LED television mounted on the limestone walls. The lodge’s thermal heating will keep you nice and cozy even in the dead of winter.
Later on, you could head over to the state-of-the-art kitchen to enjoy a classy dinner and good company. Unlike most bomb shelters, the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge has way more than just canned goods.
Of course, guests aren’t confined to the indoors. You can hike around the Ozarks and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the region’s majestic wildlife.
Facebook / Beckham Creek Cave Lodge
There’s plenty of nature still present inside the hotel too. The lodge preserved some of the original cave features, like the stalactites hanging from the ceiling, as well as this waterfall.
And the Beckham’s guests never have to be afraid. Should the danger of a nuclear attack ever resurface, the hotel can seal all the openings in the cave with concrete blocks.
Like any eccentric millionaire worth his salt, Hay also installed a helipad. That could really come in handy for all those instances when the average Joe travels by helicopter.
If you dream of making this luxurious cave your own, you are in luck. The property recently went on sale for the sum of $2.75 million. One lucky person can make the Beckham Creek Cave Lodge their own private retreat.
Just imagine sitting by the fire on the front deck, with nobody around for miles and miles. You could sip a mug of herbal tea and be grateful that John Hay’s paranoia created such a special place.