Boom followed by bust. The dot com experience is just the latest of many in California’s history. The 1849 Gold Rush caused one of the best known booms followed by inevitable bust, but many other mining areas have experienced the same and after the bust the whole population may move away leaving behind a ghost town. Because the Californian economy is strong, some of the ghost towns are .......well.....not quite as ghostly as you might expect, and one is now more theme park than ghost town. Nevertheless, there are some great ghost towns in California, including our favourite, Bodie, and the remarkably well preserved North Bloomfield.
Snow around buildings, Bodie ghost town
The winter weather at Bodie can be pretty bad. We managed to get there only a few days after the road was opened in spring 1995, no mean feat in a 2 wheel drive car considering that the last part of the road is unsurfaced (unpaved). This picture shows what we found, the James Stuart Cain Home still surrounded by deep snow. Cain arrived in Bodie at the age of 25 and became the richest man and largest landowner in the town. Click Tab 2 to see the Cain Home in rather better weather.
Interior of Boone Store & Warehouse, Bodie Ghost Town
Built in 1879 this store was owned by Harvey Boone a direct descendant of Daniel Boone. In 1884 fire came close to the store but it survived and hence we can still enjoy this wonderful and authentic example of an old-style General Store. To preserve the interiors of the buildings and their contents access is not permitted but you can see plenty through the windows. Click Tab 2 to see a picture of the outside of the Boone Store & Warehouse, taken during our first visit to Bodie way back in 1981.
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Former Bull, Baker & Co Premises, Shasta
We have visited many Ghost Towns and got used to a long drive over unsurfaced (unpaved) roads to reach the ones that are truly deserted. Shasta is an exception to the rule as it sits on the busy Route 299 west of Redding. Founded in the 1849 gold rush it was originally called Reading Springs (pronounced ‘Redding’ as in the UK city). It grew into a supply and shipping centre for the mines until in 1872 the railroad arrived at nearby Redding (yep, they dumbed down the spelling), and sucked all the business away from Shasta. The 1850s brick buildings that line Route 299 are now a State Historic Park with the old Courthouse as its museum.
Union Inn, Volcano
Next we have a ghost town that isn’t completely ghostly. Volcano is a town from the Gold Rush era that is thought to have gained its name from the local crater-like terrain, although some think it was a result of frequent eruptions of violence in the gold rush days. Today it is a partial ghost town with many ruined buildings, but there is still a population of around 100 and plenty of buildings that are still occupied. The St George Hotel and the Post Office are still fully functioning. The Union Inn was built in 1880 as the Union Billiard Saloon and Boarding House and it has now been restored as an Inn.
Calico Ghost Town
And now for a ‘Ghost Town’ Theme Park. Calico was a real 1880’s silver and borax mining town that died then was reborn as a tourist attraction. In the mid 1890’s silver prices dropped making the mines at Calico uneconomic and borax mining wound down from 1907 so by the mid 1920’s it was a ghost town. A few stayed behind which helped to preserve the town then in 1951 the town was bought by Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farm). He restored Calico then in 1966 he donated the town to San Bernadino County. About a third of Calico is original but the rest is reconstructed. While it lacks the authenticity of other ghost towns, it does offer a lot of fun.
Bodie Ghost Town
Our favourite ghost town is situated close to the border with Nevada along a road that is partly unsurfaced (unpaved). William S Bodey (the spelling of his name varies) discovered gold near here in 1859 and by 1880 Bodie had a population of over 10,000. Thereafter the mines and the town began a long decline with the last mine closing in 1942. The town was never totally abandoned and those that stayed helped to ensure that the abandoned buildings were not looted. In 1962 it became a State Historic Park and the ghost town is now maintained in a state of “arrested decay”. This picture shows (from left to right) the Post Office, Odd Fellows Lodge, Miners Union Hall and the Morgue. Click Tab 2 to see the Standard Mill where ore from the Standard Mine was processed, which can be visited on a guided tour.
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North Bloomfield, Malakoff Diggins State Park
Most ghost towns lost their population after the minerals played out but this ghost town is the result of a court judgement. Three gold prospectors discovered promising gravel deposits in a creek here in 1851, but one of them went to Nevada City and opened his mouth. An army of prospectors followed him back. They found little so they named the creek ‘Humbug’ and the few that stayed called their camp ‘Humbug City’. In 1852 more prospectors arrived armed with newly invented hydraulic mining equipment and they found gold. By 1857 Humbug City was a town of more than 400 people and it needed a post office, but there were many places called Humbug in California so they had to change the name to North Bloomfield. By the 1860s the easy pickings had gone and many miners drifted off to other places allowing large companies to purchase and consolidate the claims. They deployed giant water cannon known as ‘monitors’ to recover gold previously beyond reach. By 1876, the population had increased to 2,000 people. Large scale hydraulic mining came at a price; huge amounts of debris washed downstream destroyed farm land began to silt up San Francisco Bay. In 1882, Edward Woodruff of Marysville filed a lawsuit against the hydraulic mining companies. On January 7, 1884 Judge Lorenzo Sawyer handed down his decision. He did not ban hydraulic mining but he imposed laws banning tailings from being washed downstream. The mining companies could not do this so they closed down and North Bloomfield began its descent into a ghost town. Click Tab 2 to see the interior of the Kings Saloon or Tab 3 to see inside the Smith-Knotwell Drug Store.
McKilligan & Mobley General Store, North Bloomfield
Following the Sawyer Decision, North Bloomfield’s population went into decline and by 1910 there were less than 700 residents. The McKillican and Mobley General Store was built in 1870 to house the post office and supply a wide range of goods to the townsfolk. After the Sawyer Decision the store soldiered on serving a declining population until 1942 when the owners locked it up and moved away leaving behind a perfect example of a mining town general store complete with its stock. In 1965 Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park was established to protect the hydraulic mining area and North Bloomfield ghost town. The interiors of several buildings can be visited on a ranger guided tour, including the McKillican and Mobley General Store. Malakoff Diggins SHP can be reached via paved (surfaced) roads, but if you rely on SatNav be aware that the shortest route includes gravel road. Click Tab 2 to see the interior of the store.