Friday, January 08, 2010

Ghost Town of Bodie, California Continues to Impress


Perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Bodie is that everyone left.

The town, founded in 1859, was largely abandoned by the 1920s. Since a mining company owned most of the town site, caretakers protected the town for many decades, keeping it from being vandalized like a lot of other ghost towns.

As a result, Bodie is one of the West’s best-preserved 19th century mining towns.
Bodie traces its beginnings to the discovery of gold in the area by William (also known as Waterman) S. Bodey. Some say the difference between how his name is spelled and the name of the town was the result of an illiterate sign painter.

Within two decades, Bodie had grown to more than 10,000 residents. Along with the usual frontier town development, such as saloons (allegedly more than 65), churches, schools and union halls, the town also gained a reputation for lawlessness.

Murders were said to be so commonplace that the fire bell was used to toll the ages of the deceased as they were buried—and it rang frequently. There were also plenty of robberies, stage holdups and fights.

The town began to decline in the early part of the 20th century and was mostly abandoned (although the buildings were protected by caretakers). In 1962, it was acquired for preservation by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Visitors today will find a fairly extensive series of buildings and remains of old Bodie. Dozens of structures, ranging from homes to businesses still stand. Despite the large number of preserved structures, present-day Bodie represents only about 5 percent of the town at its peak.

Park rangers offer regular guided tours of the town. The tours are highly recommended because they are informative and provide an excellent overview of the community.

The tour begins in front of the Methodist Church, a classic weathered wooden frontier church with a small bell tower. The church was built in 1882 is the only house of worship still standing in Bodie (it apparently survived because it was restored in the 1920s and used until 1932).

Around the church, are a handful of residences, some used by the park rangers who live in the town all year. Each has an interesting story, such as the James S. Cain house, built by the town's largest lumber company magnate and landowner.

As you walk the streets—using the invaluable state park brochure that describes each building—you learn more about the community. You pass the Livery Stable, which once accommodated dozens of horses, then continue by the wooden Firehouse, which over the years survived numerous fires that destroyed much of the town, and the Bodie Miner's Union Hall, now a museum and gift shop.

Surrounding the town are other interesting survivors. To the south is the cemetery, which actually consisted of four separate burial grounds; one for the Masons, one for members of the miner's union, one private cemetery and one for the Chinese who lived in the area.

To the northeast are the substantial remains of the Standard Mill, which yielded nearly $15 million over a 25-year period and sparked a major rush to Bodie in 1878. The original mill burned in 1898 but was rebuilt the following year.

To the right of the mill was the residence of Theodore Hoover, brother of President Herbert Hoover. Years after he departed Bodie he became the director of the School of Mines at Stanford University.

The Standard wasn't Bodie's only mine. The total yield from the Bodie region over about 40 years was nearly $100 million.

Bodie is located about three hours south of Carson City via U.S. 395, then ten miles on a paved road and three miles on a maintained dirt road. The entrance road from U.S. 395 is well marked.

It is best visited during the summer months when the dirt road is dry. The park is open year-round, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. For more information contact the Bodie State Historic Park, 760-647-6445, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=509.

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