Why Buy a House When You Can Own a Town?

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It's a near-deserted town steeped in Wild West tradition, with two jails and a saloon of gun-slinging lore to show for it. And you can stake your claim for $800,000.

That's how much it costs to buy all of Scenic (pictured above), a historic railroad town of nine residents located in the heart of South Dakota's legendary Badlands. The price is a far cry from its previous ask of $3 million -- a discount prompted by current owner Twila Merril's need to leave town for cancer treatment, according to her daughter, LeeAnn Keester.

For the money, you get a functioning gas station, convenience store, saloon, trading post and residence, along with a historic jail and 46 acres. The purchase price doesn't include full rights to the fire department and a few lots owned by long-time residents.

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The chance to buy a whole town might strike you as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But as it turns out, entire towns hit the market more often than you might think. Just last year we wrote about Maddie and Neal Love, who bought Wauconda, Wash. (pictured below) on eBay, having fallen in love with the place when they drove by it on their Harleys years before.
Usually located in remote areas, some for-sale towns, like Scenic, are sparsely populated residential communities. Others are tourist spots that leverage their rich heritages to attract visitors and lack any permanent residents beyond the operators of their museums. Most towns put on the market are unincorporated, meaning that they have no local government or public services besides lone post offices that lease land from town owners.

Take Garryowen, Mont., for an example. The town is the site of Gen. George Armstrong Custer's infamous – and ill-advised – attack in 1876 on a Sioux village, which resulted in his forces' annihilation.

On the market for $6.9 million (down from $7.4), Garryowen (pictured at left and below) attracts 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year, drawn by the spot's history, according to Chris Kortlander, the town's unofficial mayor (the town is unincorporated) and current owner.

He bought the property in 1994, when it contained only a rundown post office and uncared-for tomb.

Today, in addition to the P.O., it has an 18,000-square-foot museum complex which includes a convenience store and guest quarters.

Kortlander said that he has taken the town "as far as I can with the resources that I have" and is now seeking a buyer keen on further developing the museum. He hopes to find a philanthropist who will pay particular attention to displaying an assemblage of Custer family documents currently held there.

Sometimes buying a moribund town can have unintended consequences. Take the case of Braselton, Ga.

In 1989, actress Kim Basinger bought much of the town from the Braselton family for $20 million. The actress, who appeared in "Never Say Never Again" and "Batman," didn't technically own the whole town, but according to town manager Jennifer Dees, "she probably owned everything anybody ever thought of as Braselton."

Basinger planned to convert the town into a tourist hot spot and movie-set haven, but the actress went bankrupt, leading to the purchase of the town by developer Wayne Mason, who sold off parcels that were later developed, luring more residents and leading to a revival of sorts.

As for Scenic, its future remains uncertain.

The current owner just wants the town to escape the fate of some of its historical peers: becoming a ghost town.

"If I don't sell it, and it [the town's establishments] don't open, it's done," Keester said.

Also see:
House of the Day: A Studly Horse Ranch in Wild Wyoming

House of the Day: A Mini-Vegas -- Taken to the Max


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