Sunday, July 25, 2021 About Us Terms of Service © Timera Media 2017–2021
 

Calico, California: The tourist ghost town

Petar Djajkovski

Four friends and prospectors started walking up to the peak northeast of Barstow, California, in 1881. In the previous world that peak for sure had a name, but these four prospectors had no idea what that name was. They described it to the others as the calico-colored peak. Just a while later the peak, the mountain, and the whole mountain range, came to be known as Calico.

The four friends discovered rich silver veins up the mountain and together they founded the Silver King Mine, which turned out to be the largest silver producer in California during the mid-1880s.

Entrance to Calico Ghost Town, an open air museum and park in the Mojave Desert, California.

Entrance to Calico Ghost Town, an open air museum and park in the Mojave Desert, California.

Soon after mining operations began, a town followed–naturally it was also called Calico. The town around the claim started slowly started to grow. Progress was made in 1882 when a post office was opened and the town’s own weekly newspaper, the Calico Print, was established. It managed to survive until 1953 with a couple of on and off periods in between.

Calico in the Mojave Desert/ Author: Niceley – CC BY-SA 3.0

Calico in the Mojave Desert/ Author: Niceley – CC BY-SA 3.0

A year has passed and it’s 1883; the town of Calico now has five general stores, three hotels, bars, brothels, three restaurants, a meat market, and several boarding houses. A school district has been established close by and the town has it’s own voting precinct.

 

The law is also present as the town has one deputy sheriff and two constables, there are also two lawyers living there and a judicial officer. Calico was stepping up big time in silver production, especially between 1883 and 1885. More than twelve hundred people were living there, working in more than 500 different mines and claims around the mountain.

Assay Office at Calico Ghost Town/ Author: Frank E. Moore – CC BY-SA 4.0

Assay Office at Calico Ghost Town/ Author: Frank E. Moore – CC BY-SA 4.0

The next decade was even more prosperous for Calico. Miners discovered the mineral colemanite, which was the principle source of borax at that time, in the Calico mountains. As always, the word spread fast and even more people from all over the world joined the Calico town community, and by 1980 the population had risen to 3,500. However, just prior to the turn of the century, the value of silver fell so low that Calico’s silver mines were no longer economically viable. By 1898 the post office was closed, so was the school and the general stores and pretty much everything else. The town was virtually deserted, with just a few people still hanging around to mine the borax up until 1907. After that, Calico was completely abandoned.

Maggie Silver Company and mine, Calico Ghost Town, California.

Maggie Silver Company and mine, Calico Ghost Town, California.

There was an attempt to revive Calico in 1915. The plan was good and it was real; a cyanide plant was constructed so that the rest of the unprocessed Silver King Mine’s deposits could be processed. This helped in a way, but after a while the cyanide plant closed down as well. A couple named Walter and Cordelia Knott bought the town in 1951 and slowly started to converting and restoring it to it’s former looks. In 1966 the Knotts donated the town of Calico to San Bernardino County and soon afterwards it became a County Regional Park.

Hank’s Hotel at Calico Ghost Town, California.

Hank’s Hotel at Calico Ghost Town, California.

Today, Calico is the Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town, that’s a long title, which means it’s a revived ghost town still with close to zero people living there, but open and receiving many many tourist annually. The Calico park has a big variety of shows and tours on offer to it’s visitors. From mine tours, gold panning, and historic lectures and films, to western-style gunslinger gunfight stunt shows. For an entrance fee, ghost town enthusiasts can spend some time in the gold rush era.

Lane’s General Merchandise, Calico Ghost Town, California.

Lane’s General Merchandise, Calico Ghost Town, California.

Being such a unique place in this period of time–it was not at all unique back in the days of the gold rush–Calico has been a source for many novels and video materials. From TV series’ to computer games, it seems like this modern day ghost town has really shaken the scene. It was the filming location of the music video for Stylo by Gorillaz, as well as the inspiration for the buried town in Call of Duty: Black Ops II DLC map – Resolution 1295.