Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday at 1950s Calico Ghost Town

Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame purchased the town of Calico in 1951 and architecturally restored all but the five original buildings to look as they did in the 1880's. In 1966 he donated the town to San Bernardino County, which made it a regional park. Calico received State Historical Landmark 782 and in 2005 was proclaimed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be California's Silver Rush Ghost Town.

The entrance sign shown in the detailed July 1961 view above says:

“This museum was created in order to outline for you the atmosphere of a small part of the Old West which was called Calico, and which flourished as a boom-town through the years 1891-1896. The spirit of the Calico of those days reflected closely the spirit of the west in general–therefore, it is hoped that the scenes and exhibits presented with will add not only to your enjoyment and understanding of this colorful historic site, but also of that entire western era and of the way it used to be.”

With its 500 mines, Calico produced over $20 million in silver ore during its 19th century heyday. When silver lost its value in the mid-1890's, Calico lost its population. The miners abandoned the area, leaving behind a "ghost town."

Here are a number of September 1959 images, taken eight years after Walter Knott restored the town.

A detailed closeup:

Even a Ghost Town needs photo opps:

Of course I have to check out this signage:

The rest of these images are from the 1950s:

Zooming in for a better view of the Fire Hall and Engine:

Jumping forward to July 1961 for an even better view of the Fire Hall and Engine:

Back to the 1950s for a shot of Lil's Saloon:

I wonder if the Boysenberry Punch is still served here at the Saloon?

Towards the back of this shot you can see The Maggie Mining Company, which was once a working silver mine in the 1880s. Now it is the only mine that is safe for guests to experience at Calico. Self-guided tours begin with a blacklight display that shows some of the minerals in the local rocks.

A closeup of the Maggie Mining Company:

No Ghost Town would be complete without a cemetery:

Poor Sadie.

Sounds like she was a fun gal!

Today the park offers shops, restaurants, camping, and outdoor recreation. More information can be found at:

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter and view my most recent photos on Flickr. See more vintage Calico photos from my collection on my main website.


K. Martinez said...

Love the color tones in these images. So was that a real cemetery or added for the tourists?

Nice set today. Thanks.

Dave DeCaro said...

Ken - I believe the cemetery is real, but I'm not sure that all of the tombstones are authentic or from the Silver Rush period.

Dave Meek said...

Great set of photos, Dave! Restoring this place must have been a real labor of love for Walter Knott.

K. Martinez said...

Dave - Thanks for answering my question. I love old desert cemeteries. There's something about the harsh feel of the landscape and the thought of these people who lived and died in these places. These are wonderful images.

Connie Moreno said...

Oh wow, that was a great look back! My one and only visit to Calico was in the late 1980's and at that time, it looked a little tired and sad to me. Would love to go back someday.

JG said...

@Dave and @Ken, I have visited the Calico cemetery several times and agree, many of the markers appear to be real and historic.

A number of the Calico epitaphs are for children and are very sad to read. I can't imagine even Tim Burton fabricating such wrenching stories of dead kids for "theming" purposes.

Some of the others do have a certain "graveyard humor" or "Boot Hill" ring to them and might be later additions. Even these sound very similar to epitaphs I have read in other cemeteries of the era which were not part of themed developments. It's not impossible that black humor was as common then as now, maybe a coping mechanism for a harsh life.

At any rate, none of them were as obvious as the gags in the Disney Haunted Mansion.