Calico Ghost Town, California

We left around midnight and I drove while Mom and Deelow are passengers, and we cross I-15 east to Las Vegas. We passed by this area a couple of times and since seeing the sign to “Calico Ghost Town,” a few years back, now we decided to visit this interesting site. Situated by the Mojave Desert, with a giant word “Calico” on its hills the then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called it California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town. We exit to Calico Road and as we drove here is the start of its history.

Deelow at the entrance

“In 1881 four prospectors were leaving Grapevine Station (present-day Barstow, California) for a mountain peak to the northeast. Describing the peak as “calico-colored”, the peak, the mountain range to which it belonged, and the town that followed were all called Calico. The four prospectors discovered silver in the mountain and opened the Silver King Mine, which was California’s largest silver producer in the mid-1880s.

A post office was established in early 1882, and the Calico Print, a weekly newspaper, started publishing. The town soon supported three hotels, five general stores, a meat market, bars, brothels, and three restaurants and boarding houses. The county established a school district and a voting precinct. The town also had a deputy sheriff and two constables, two lawyers and a justice of the peace, five commissioners, and two doctors. There was also a Wells Fargo office and a telephone and telegraph service. At its height of silver production during 1883 and 1885, Calico had over 500 mines and a population of 1,200 people. Local badmen were buried in the Boot Hill cemetery.”

Some of the buildings in Calico

It barely opens so there are still plenty of parking spots. We got down and paid the $8 fee per person. We enter through the welcome sign and saw this marker in the middle.

Calico Lives Again 1881

“Under the auspices of Knott’s Berry Farm Buena Park, California building shall be rebuilt on their original sites. Walter Knott is dedicating Calico Ghost Town to the memory of the heroic Silver miners who lived and toiled here.

Memory to Knott Family

The preservation of this singular Califonia heritage is also dedicated to you, the visitor, as a constant source of learning and enjoyment.”

Now we know who resurrected the town of Calico, but not the right way.  We walk through passing several buildings and taking pictures of Mom.  Then we passed by the town’s longest resident where there is a marker dedicated to her.

Lucy Bell Lane

Lucy Bell Lane

“Calico’s most distinguished and long-time resident was Lucy Bell Lane (1874-1967). Known at one time as the “Queen of Calico”, Lucy lived at Calico for nearly 67 years. Of her many gifts, she is most remembered for her warm hospitality and vivid storytelling of the historic Calico Silver Camp. Lucy was indeed part of the history of Calico and was an accomplished prospector. Lucy Bell King arrived at Calico with her parents, her two brothers and sister in 1884, three years after the initial discovery of Silver.

John and Lucy Lane

In 1892 at the age of 18, she married John Lane. They bought a grocery store which briefly prospered but then quickly declined as a result of a slumping silver market. The Lanes’ left Calico in 1899 and returned for good in 1916, making Lane’s store building their home. In 1920, the Lanes’ moved into the old courthouse and post office building, which would be Lucy’s home until 1965. John Lane died in 1934 and Lucy died in 1967 at the age of 93.”

There is a museum close by but it was closed so we didn’t enter and instead continue our walking tour of taking pictures while admiring the mining buildings and how they blend in with their surroundings. We continue to follow the trail of buildings up the hill that slowly goes up and we found the most interesting sight in this town. We came upon a wonderful work of art and here is the information about it.

Calico’s Bottle House

“This bottle house was built in the 1950s by workers for Walter Knott (of Knott’s Berry Farm fame) when the Knott family-owned Calico between 1951 and 1966. While it is not known if there really was a bottle house built here during the mining days, the miners were remarkably clever in creating shelters with whatever was available, mud, rock, dug-outs, wood, canvas, and wooden barrel staves were among the materials used. A large number of bottles would have been available since people did not have all the paper and plastic containers that are so familiar today.

Empty Streets

Also, lumber with which to build a house had to be transported into the desert at an expense, and some of the minders did not intend to live at Calico long enough to invest in a proper home, especially if they did not have families with them.

Some of the miners did live near the town in boarding house situations. Many people have inquired about the star design on the side of the building. Among current day bottle house architects, a star design is most effective having six points, since a five-pointed star cannot clearly be achieved with the staggered row bottle pattern.”

After taking plenty of pictures and touching it we continue on up the hill where there is an isolated building. It was closed so we just walk around and take pictures of the teacher and student head attraction. As we laugh and enjoy here is its story as posted on its walls.

Calico’s School House

“Calico’s original schoolhouse was built in 1885, at the location above the town. This one is a replica, built in the 1950s. Old photographs were used in order to match the architecture as closely as possible. However, the replica is about one-third less than the size of the original.

The schoolhouse

Calico’s first school operated out of a boarding house until the new school was built. Overall, the “Calico School District” ran from a fall term in 1882 until the fall of 1899 when Calico experienced its decline as a mining boomtown.

From the Calico School District records, as many as an average of 30 pupils would enroll for a class term, with an average daily attendance of about half that amount.  Monthly teacher’s salaries ranged from $70 to $110. In comparison, the average miner’s wage was three dollars a day.

Inside the schoolhouse

Most of the children who attended were the sons and daughters of the merchants in Calico, since many of the miners did not have families.

Mrs. Lucy Lane, a long-time resident of Calico, actually attended the old one-room school when she came here in 1885. According to her, the Calico schoolhouse was also used for church services. The schoolhouse as used for Sunday School as well, according to the Calico Print newspaper, and religious services during occasional weeknights. In an interview with Mrs. Lane, she was asked, “What games were played by the children in school?” and her answer was, “Catch the ball, blind man’s bluff, drop the handkerchief, run sheep run, toss the bean bag, marbles, etc.”

Teacher and Student

Calico’s last school teacher, Mrs. Margaret Kincaid Olivier, is buried at the Calico Cemetery.”

We went back to the main trail and passed by the other infrastructures and saw some of them with a pieces of information such as these ones.

Calico and Daggett Telegraph Line

“This Telegraph Line has been completed across the desert to Daggett and connects with all the principal towns, harbors and cities in the world. Telegrams transmitted by this wire will be carefully and faithfully protected from public inspection and treated with the strictest secrecy. Telegrams delivered to any part of the camp at reasonable charges. Money transmitted by telegraph to any point in the United States. Calico office with Wells, Fargo And Co. Daggett office with Western Union Telegraph Co., at railroad office. W.A. Sharp. Manager.”

John Caleb King (1838-1901)

“John C. King was born in Carroll County, Mississippi. His family later settled in Hunt County, where his father was a Chief Justice in 1858-1860. King came out west to California by wagon train in 1868. With him was his wife of ten years, Martha Dougherty King. She had a younger sister, Virginia, who later met and married Walter Knott’s father. (Walter Knott became an owner of Calico, 1951-1966.) The U.S. Census of 1880 shows King made his living as a harness maker in Sa Bernardino with his wife and three sons.

When John King ran for the office of San Bernardino County Sheriff in 1879 he won, and held co-located the Silver King Mine in 1881 and later sold it to a mining company. After his term of Sheriff was over, King purchased a half interest in a hotel at Calico from his former deputy.

The miner

In 1884 King and Thomas brought heavy bars containing silver from their Silver King Mine into the offices of a Los Angeles newspaper. The newspaper reported that “It is the largest shipment of the bullion ever made from Southern California.”

King was also a Notary Public in San Bernardino from 1895 until his passing. In the U.S. Census of 1900 he was listed as living in San Bernardino with the occupation of “Railroad Adjuster.” He died in 1901 and was buried with his wife Martha (who passed away in 1913) at the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery of San Bernardino.”

Bathhouse Building

“This was built in the early 1960s, to house a looking display of a collection of antique furniture relating to a dentist-barber-bath house situation. Followed by retrofitting in 1997, it was rented for a brief period in the early 2000s as the Calico Bath House, where bathing related merchandise was sold.

Enterprising businessmen in old Calico often shared space, since here on Main Street there was only so much room for buildings. It was not uncommon for a saloon to offer a “barber chair in the pear.” and it was also not uncommon for a barber to also provide dental services. Combination bathhouses. At barbershops, were seen in mining camps such as this, where there was a steady flow of male customers.”

Odessa –  Calico Railroad

After that sightseeing we were told by one of the workers we could ride the railroad which we saw on the edge. We took it and beside us, there was only one family in one of the cars. The train was mostly empty when we left and it was a nice experience with the scenic ride. It was my first time riding a train and the air was kind of cold and I took some pictures while Deelow videotape. After that, we end our trip and look at the souvenir store and head on our way. All in all, it wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be, the mining town ambiance is still there, but it seems like its authenticity is lost. The only thing that makes it exciting is the “Ghost Town” in its name.

Here is the link for more information:

Say Cheez!

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