By: Steph Bramson
Warning for ghost town enthusiasts and explorers: There isn’t a lot to visit in Brewster, FL. The town closed in 1962, and nearly everything has been demolished or fenced in behind “No Trespassing” signs. That said, if you have an afternoon to kill and are in the vicinity of Southwest Polk County, this ghost town is worth an hour or two of your time.
It’s hard to imagine that Brewster was ever anything but overgrown farmland, but from 1910 until 1962, it was a company town for American Cyanamid and a hub for phosphate mining. It was the home of John Vincent Atanasoff, the inventor of the digital computer, and it boasted its own schools, movie theater, medical clinic, post office, and swimming pool. However, American Cyanamid’s business practices left the land damaged, and in 1962, the state of Florida claimed their property and closed the town. Now, the town has been forgotten by nearly everyone but its former residents, its current residents (all three of them), Wikipedia, and ghost town enthusiasts.
The area surrounding modern day Brewster feels like the setting of a low-budget slasher film. The roads are poorly maintained in many places. There are dozens of railroad crossings, but it’s unclear whether or not trains still use any of them. For a good mile or so, there is one long, stationary train covered in graffiti and rust blocking the track. Even the buildings in neighboring Bradley Junction are worn down and covered with debris, though this may have been the result of Tropical Storm Collin.
Few buildings remain in the actual town of Brewster. There is a boarded up structure next to what appears to be a long destroyed public restroom and a smokestack which was once the town’s focal point. The smokestack is inaccessible to anyone wishing to avoid a run-in with the local sheriff’s department, but it’s visible from various points in the street. The little bit of land that’s still inhabited is home to cows and horses who seem happy to roam in the lush and overgrown greenery that’s grown to cover everything. And green it is. If you turn on your car’s air conditioning on an overcast day, you’d think you were in Ireland, rather than central Florida.
Some things to note:
There are long stretches of land with winding roads and few or no streetlamps. If you plan to visit, do so in the daylight.
Make sure to fill up your tank before you go, as it is very easy to get lost, and there are long stretches without gas stations.
For the same reason, use the restroom before you go.
Forget the picnic lunch, unless you have decent insulation. There aren’t many places to park your car for more than a few minutes.
Stay safe and obey the law.
When you’re done exploring Brewster, head into nearby Lakeland. Wander the streets, visit the lovely Hollis Garden park or Florida Southern College, and, for another trip to the past, end the day at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theater. Just beware of hitchhiking ghost phosphate miners.
For Steph Bramson’s Abandoned Spaces of Florida – Brewster photo collection, click here.