We can thank James Stuart Cain for the fact that the ghost town of Bodie, located 13 miles off of California’s Highway 395, is something more than a few derelict buildings sinking into the ground. Cain arrived in Bodie in 1879 as a young man of 25 with a new wife and towering ambitions. He began his rise to being Bodie’s number one citizen by importing lumber across Mono Lake to build the town’s mines, businesses and homes. He would go on to own the town’s bank and the Standard Mill. Eventually he would own most of the town, which he and his family would love and take care of— an effort that included hiring on-site security. When he passed away in the late 1930s, his family continued to maintain the vacant town and security right up until the time they passed it over to California in 1962 for a state park.
I featured Bodie’s ghostly homes in my first post. Today I will feature other buildings that remain standing in the town, vehicles in various stages of ‘arrested decay’ and mining machinery.
NEXT POST: Timber! A one post break from Highway 395. Never-ever did I expect to see logging trucks using my driveway. Plus some other recent happenings at the Mekemson household. After that we will journey back to my road trip and the silver town of Virginia City.
The history of the gold and silver strikes in the Old West of the mid 1800s is one of boom and bust. Large towns of several thousand people would spring up overnight in remote locations and be abandoned almost as fast as veins ran out and other strikes fired the imagination of miners driven by dreams of instant wealth.
Some of the towns have lingered on into modern times. Diamond Springs, where I grew up in the heart of California’s gold country, is one. A 25-pound gold nugget found nearby in the early 1850s assured Diamond of its boomtown status. It was a sleepy, ‘one-horse-town,’ in my youth. Today, it is more like a sprawling suburb. Virginia City, Nevada, which we will visit next on my Highway 395 series, not only survived but worked to maintain its historical look and has become a successful tourist attraction.
Bodie is another tourist attraction. It has survived as a ghost town, however— in arrested decay as the California State Park staff describes it. Only three people were living there in 1943, the year I was born. That number had plummeted to zero by 1950. (Plummeted being relative, of course.) Gold was first found in 1859 but it was in 1876 when the Standard Company found a profitable gold vein that turned the small camp of a few hard-core miners into a rollicking boomtown of 5-7 thousand people with over 2000 buildings. Sixty-five saloons dominated its mile-long main street. I have learned over the years that the number of saloons is always a mark of pride for Old West towns. (A substantial red-light district is another.)
Bodie was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961and a California State Historical Park in 1962. Today, just over a hundred of its original two thousand buildings remain. I arrived around 1:00 p.m. on my drive down Highway 395 and spent three rather warm hours wandering around checking out the buildings and other historical remnants left behind— and dodging fresh cow pies. There were so many tourists it was hard to get photos without them. But who wants photos of tourists in a ghost town?! I did photograph the free-range cattle, however. Now if only a ghost or two had made an appearance…
NEXT POST: We will continue our exploration of Bodie by checking out some of the commercial buildings that still stand including a ghostly old mortuary with caskets. There are also several abandoned vehicles in various states of decay and some interesting mining machinery left behind.