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Ghost Towns in California
What is a ghost town?
There are many resources online and many printed texts which explain what a ghost town is. In the context of this article, I consider a ghost town—many of which are located in the western part of the United States— to be a town which was once thriving due to its natural resources, but which is now deserted—or nearly deserted—because those resources have been depleted. In the case of California, the resources were gold, silver, and oil.
In this article, you'll view photographs and learn the history of some of these California ghost towns.
How many ghost towns are there in California?
There are more than 150 ghost towns in the state. Some towns have been reduced to being just a sign, as in the case of North Bloomfield (formerly Humbug) in Nevada County. Some towns are disintegrating, sinking into San Francisco Bay, and being allowed to die, as in the case of Drawbridge in Alameda County.
Bodie in Mono County has been designated the Official State Gold Rush Ghost Town and Calico in San Bernardino County has been designated the Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town.
Antelope House, Balaklava Hill, Blue Mountain, Brownsville, Buckeye Hill, Camanche, Camp Spirito, Carson Hill, Chichi, El Dorado Bar, Fremont Valley, Greasertown, Hodson, Independence Flat, Lower Calaveritas, Mammoth Cave, McLeans Bar, McLeans Ferry, Melones, Mill Valley, North American House, Norval, Oregon Bar, Pattees Ranch, Sandy Bar, Spanish Bar, Stony Bar, Stoutenburg, Taylors Bar, Tremont House, Yaqui Camp
Nortonville, Port Chicago
Ballarat, Bend City, Cerro Gordo, Chloride City, Chrysopolis, Coso, Darwin, Dunmovin, Greenwater, Haiwee, Kearsarge, Keeler, Leadfield, Lookout City, Owensville, Panamint City, San Carlos, Skidoo, Swansea, White Mountain City, Zurich
Freeman Junction, Garlock, Goler Heights, Hatfields Camp, Lee Camp, Randsburg
Eldoradoville, Llano Del Rio, Mentryville
Agua Fria, Indian Gulch, Mount Ophir
Bennettville, Benton, Bodie, Dechambeau Ranch, Halfway Camp, Mammoth City, Masonic
North Bloomfield, You Bet
Deadwod, Iowa Hill, Westville
Eagle Mountain, Midland, Temescal, Terra Cotta
Agua Mensa, Amboy, Atolia, Bagdad, Calico, Chambless, Essex, Goffs, Hart, Kelso, Ludlow, Providence, Red Mountain, Rice, Rincon (Prado), Siberia, Silver Lake, Trona, Valley Wells, Vanderbilt
Banta, Carnegie, San Joaquin City
Alma, Coyota, Holy City, Lexington, New Almaden, Patchen, Wrights
Gibsonville, Port Wine, St. Louis
Bestville, Guillion Bar, Negro Flat
Bodie State Historic Park (SHP)
Bodie is both a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park.
It is open all year, but is only accessible by skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles in the winter.
Hour of Operation
9:00 am to 6:00 pm
May 15 to October 31
9:00 am to 3:00 pm
November 1 to May 14
Bodie: Official State Gold Rush Ghost Town
Gold and silver were both discovered in 1859—gold near what was to become the town of Bodie, and silver near the towns of Aurora and Virginia City in Nevada. The Nevada towns flourished, but Bodie didn’t become much more than a mining camp.
The situation changed in 1876, when a large deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered. Bodie went from being a mining camp where a few prospectors lived to a boomtown. Another deposit of gold-bearing ore was discovered in 1878.
By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000 to 7000 people and nearly 2000 buildings. Among the buildings in Bodie were 65 saloons, a Wells Fargo Bank, and a jail. There were four volunteer fire companies, a brass band, several daily newspapers, and two union halls, one for miners and one for mechanics. There was also a mortuary, a cemetery, and several opium dens.
Bodie flourished as a boomtown from 1877 to mid-1880. In 1880, single miners with no ties to the town were lured away by mining booms in Utah; Butte, Montana; and Tombstone, Arizona. Bodie changed from being a wild town with barroom brawls, stagecoach robberies, and shootouts on Main Street to a family town. A Methodist church and Roman Catholic church were both built in 1882. A Taoist temple was built for the Chinese laborers who resided in the town.
The 1880 population of Bodie dropped to 2712. Even though the population of Bodie declined greatly, gold ore production in 1881 is listed as being $3.1 million. By 1910, the population of Bodie was down to 698. In 1912, the last of the daily newspapers ceased publication. In 1913, a major mine closed. In 1914, the profit from gold ore production was only $6,821.
The population in 1940 was only 90. The last mine closed in 1942. The population of Bodie in 1943 was 3. In 1961, the town was named a National Historic Landmark. In 1962, the town was named a State Historic Park (SHP).
The State of California maintains Bodie in what they term a state of arrested decay. This means that whatever buildings in Bodie were standing when the town became an SHP will be maintained to the extent that they will not be permitted to fall down. Construction projects may include a new roof or glass in the windows—work which stops the decay of the buildings and prevents damage from the elements. The buildings will not be modernized in any way. They will look the way they looked in 1962.
The first five photographs of Bodie are in the public domain in the United States because they were taken by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
Bodie State Historic Park
Calico Ghost Town Regional Park
36600 Ghost Town Road
Yermo, CA 92398
I-15 at the Ghost Town Road Exit
Open daily, except Christmas Day, from 9:00 am to 5:00pm
Calico: Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town
In 1881, four prospectors discovered silver in the mountains near Barstow, California. They called their mine Silver King. The mountains had a multi-colored look, so the mountain range and the town which was constructed near the mine were both named Calico.
In 1882, a post office was established and a weekly newspaper began publishing. The town had a Wells Fargo office, telephone and telegraph service, three hotels, several bars and brothels, five general stores, a meat market, three restaurants, and many boarding houses. There was a deputy sheriff, two constables, two lawyers, a justice of the peace, five commissioners, and two doctors. San Bernardino County, the largest county by area in the United States, established a voting precinct and a school district. All of this infrastructure and amenities was for a population of only 1200 people.
By 1890, the population of Calico had grown to 3500 people. On July 14, 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act became federal law. This act drove down the price of silver. In 1896, the price of silver was only $.57 per troy ounce. The miners could no longer afford to work their mines since they were being paid less per troy ounce for the silver than what it cost them to mine it. The post office ceased operating in 1898, and the school closed soon after the post office. In 1907, the last residents of Calico left. Many of the buildings in the town were moved to Barstow.
In 1951, Walter and Cordelia Knott, founders of Knott’s Berry Farm, purchased Calico, and using old photographs, restored the town to what it looked like in its silver rush days. Very few of the original buildings remained in Calico, so the Knotts had buildings constructed which they felt looked like what tourists would expect to see in a silver rush ghost town. In 1966, Walter Knott donated Calico to San Bernardino County. The county designated Calico as a County Regional Park.