Ghost Towns in California

CALIFORNIA, (KTXL) — Many towns across California can date their founding to the gold rush era, but there are many towns that didn’t make it past those mining days. These are California ghost towns.

Although the cycle in which these cities boom and bust are very similar, the history, appearance and significance of these cities are different.

Ghost Towns in Northern California


One of California’s most famous and iconic ghost towns, Bodie was once a town of 10,000 in its heyday.

This once-prosperous city sits in the high desert of the Eastern Sierra about 7 miles from the California-Nevada border.

Gold in the area was originally discovered in 1859 by William S. Bodey and by 1961 20 men were working the newly built mill. In just over 20 years, 10,000 people would call Bodie and its dusty hillsides home.

The Bodie Railway and Lumber Company was incorporated in February 1881 to provide lumber and firewood.

When water power was brought to the area, the need for firewood was not as great and in September 1917 the railway was closed and stripped of material.

During its heyday, Bodie had 65 saloons, numerous brothels, gambling houses, houses, a church, a sawmill, a jail, and more.

Today, many of these buildings stand in the same condition they were left in during the 1880s.

The city was designated a National Historic Site and State Historic Park in 1962.

Chinese camp

What was once the center of mining, transportation and commerce in Tuolumne County for just over 30 years is now a collection of decaying buildings and is said to be the most haunted town in Northern California.

The town is located about 10 miles south of Sonora along Highway 49.

According to the town’s historical data, a group of Englishmen employing Chinese miners established a mining camp in 1849, where gold was later found.

In the 1850s, several mines operated by Chinese miners operated in the area, as well as stage lines.

During this time of prosperity, 5,000 Chinese miners called the Chinese camp home and mined $2.5 million in gold.

The town consisted of a store, hotels, two Chinese temples, a blacksmith shop, a church, a school, a bank, a Wells Fargo Express office, a Masonic lodge, and a cemetery.

The Chinese camp was also the site of the first battle of the Tonga Wars in California between the Sam Yap and the Yan Woo Tings, which resulted in the deaths of some of the Chinese residents.


Located just off Highway 299 between East Fork Road and the North Fork of the Trinity River, it is home to a handful of crumbling buildings that date back thousands of years.

Helena’s land is located in an Indian camp that dates back to 4000 years ago.

The town of North Fork (Helena) built its first buildings in 1852 as settlers established farms and orchards to support other mining camps along the Trinity River.

In 1855, North Fork acquired a blacksmith shop, a brewery and a toll bridge thanks to the investment of German immigrant Harmon Schlomer.

The flood of 1861 would destroy much of the town, but it would continue to be a major supply point for mining operations along the Trinity River.

In 1891, the town was renamed Helena, but when Highway 299 bypassed the town in 1930, the town’s role as an outpost ceased.

North Bloomfield

The town of Humbug (North Bloomfield), built around Malakoff Diggins, grew in the woods north of Nevada City in Nevada County.

The population did not see much growth until 1852, when settlers found gold in the gravel deposits, leading to hydraulic mining in the area in 1853.

As mining grew, so did the need for workers, and by 1857 the town of North Bloomfield had 500 people.

Many French pioneers would move into the area and open hotels and businesses and start growing food.

When Julius Poquillion made a large investment in mining the area in 1866, the town saw a large jump in population as more workers were needed.

The mine employed at least 1,110 people in 1868, and even larger and more ambitious projects were to be completed.

In less than 10 years, the size of the town would double again, as by 1876 North Bloomfield was home to over 2,000 people.

This boomtown would soon collapse as lawsuits against pollution caused by hydraulic mining in nearby waterways would slow and eventually halt mining operations in the late 1890s.

The once bustling town had dwindled to 730 people by 1900, by 1950 the town had less than 20 people, and by 1965 Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park was established.

Unlike many ghost towns, North Bloomfield’s buildings are well cared for and maintained. The town consists of several houses, a pharmacy, a church and a school.

Ghost Towns in Southern California


This California silver rush ghost town once had 500 working mines during the state’s biggest silver rushes. These mines would produce $20 million worth of silver ore over 12 years.

The town will develop to include several hotels, bars, convenience stores and restaurants and be home to around 3,500 people.

The town was founded in 1881, but when the price of silver fell drastically due to the Silver Purchase Act of 1890, many miners packed up their tools and left by 1896.

This would not be the end of Calico, however, as Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm purchased Calico in 1951.

Knott knew Calico very well, as his uncle John C. King was one of the town’s first residents, and Knott himself helped build part of the town’s cyanide plant in 1915.

Pulling from his memory, old photographs, and talking to former residents of the town, Knott began restoring the Calico at a final cost of $700,000.

In 1966, Knott’s donated it to the city of San Bernardino County as a regional park, which it remains today.

Eagle Mountain

This is the only ghost town on the list that has nothing to do with the Gold Rush and is the last ghost town to be cleared.

Located in the southeastern tip of California, not far from Joshua Tree National Park, the sprawling town once supported the state’s largest iron ore mine.

Henry Kaiser of Kaiser Permanente founded Eagle Mountain and a subsequent iron mine that grew to a population of 4,000.

The town consisted of 400 homes, 200 trailer lots, an auditorium, a park, a shopping center, a community swimming pool and more.

Iron was transported from Eagle Mountain to the steel mills in Fontana by a 51-mile stretch of railroad called the Eagle Mountain Railroad.

The mine was incredibly productive, as on August 17, 1977, the mine celebrated its 100 millionth ton of iron ore being shipped by rail.

The prosperity would not last forever, however, as foreign competition in the summer of 1980 led to the mine closing for a short time before it reopened with a reduced workforce in September 1980.

By June 1983, the population was almost gone as layoffs began, stores closed, and schools held final graduations.

The Eagle Mountain Railroad was also torn up and recycled after the mine closed.

Today, the former headquarters of the Orlické hora secondary school is now the Orlické hora Elementary School and is the only operational building in the area.


Leave a Comment