The influence and wealth of the nitrate boom whisper through the deserted ghost town of Humberstone. Established in 1872 as La Palma, this mining town once fizzed with an energy, culture and ingenuity that peaked in the 1940s.
However, the development of synthetic nitrates forced the closure of the oficina by 1960; 3000 workers lost their jobs and the town dwindled to a forlorn shell of itself. The following all now lie quiet and emptied of life: the grand theater (rumored to be haunted, like a lot of the town's other buildings) that once presented international starlets; the swimming pool made of cast iron scavenged from a shipwreck; the ballroom, where scores of young pampinos (those living or working in desert nitrate-mining towns) first caught the eye of their sweethearts; schools; tennis and basketball courts; a busy market; and a hotel frequented by industry big-shots.
Some buildings are restored, but others are crumbling; take care when exploring interiors. At the west end of town, the electrical power plant still stands, along with the remains of the narrow-gauge railway to the older Oficina Santa Laura. Although designated a historical monument in 1970, Humberstone fell prey to vandalism and unauthorized salvage. However, the site's fortunes were boosted in 2002, when it was acquired by a nonprofit association of pampinos (Corporación Museo del Salitre) that set about patching up the decrepit structures. At the entrance, pick up a useful map that indicates what the buildings were used for.
Admission also allows entry to nearby Oficina Santa Laura.