Bodie California

Bodie, California is the ghost town by which all others are judged.  Located at 8300 in the Bodie Hills above Mono Lake, Bodie is the largest and perhaps best preserved ghost town in America. Established as a ghost town and state park in 1962, the town site is now administered by the Bodie Foundation.

Bodie, California c1890
Bodie, California c1890

Currently preserved in “Arrested Decay” a condition and phrase coined by the State of California for the Bodie, the town site is preserved as it was found in 1962. This essentially maintains the structures as the were at that time, and work may be done to keep them to that standard. Some buildings get new roofs, windows sealed and foundation rebuilt to preserve the state of degradation. It is because of this forward thinking policy that the town remains in the state of decline that it does.

Bodie CA is a town lost in arrested decay. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Bodie CA is a town lost in arrested decay. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

I remember my first visit to Bodie was probably in the the late 1970’s.  My father drove our old Ford truck into the town, and as I jumped out my eyes found the old Standard Mill.  The Standard Mill still dominates the valley with its grayish-blue siding, multiple smoke stakes and extreme size.  The Standard Mill is the most intact mill in California and processed over $14 million dollars in gold during its 25 years of service.

Evelyn Myers, a three year old girls grave marker located in Bodie, CA reminds us that not all mine camps were filled with men. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Evelyn Myers, a three year old girls grave marker located in Bodie, CA reminds us that not all mine camps were filled with men. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Formed in 1859, the town under went several mining booms, busts and fires.  At it’s peak in 1879, Bodie hosted 5000 – 7000 souls, 65 saloons, a “Redlight” district, a china town, four volunteer fire stations, several newspapers, churches and of coarse, a Jail.  Bodie maintain a rough reputation over the years and suffers from murders, shoot outs, stage robberies and the odd bar room brawl.

Bodie, California, Dec. 1, 1909, Bridgeport quadrangle, picture by G.R. Davis, topographer.
Bodie, California, Dec. 1, 1909, Bridgeport quadrangle, picture by G.R. Davis, topographer.

By 1910 the population settled at about 700 people, mostly families, as the miners and those who service the miners moved on to more prosperous areas.  The last printed paper was in 1912, and signaled the beginning of the end for the scrappy little town.  Although labelled a ghost town in 1915, Bodie continued to linger and dwindle is size until 1940 when the Post Office closed.

The interior of a general store is virtually the way it was when the store owner left Bodie, Photograph by James L Rathbun
The interior of a general store is virtually the way it was when the store owner left Bodie, Photograph by James L Rathbun

Under threat and vandalism the state of California took over the town site, and currently hosts some 200,000 visitors per year.

"Bodie Bill" - Age 2 1/2 years - Firebug of the Bodie Fire, June 23, 1932
“Bodie Bill” – Age 2 1/2 years – Firebug of the Bodie Fire, June 23, 1932

Remote locations, harsh weather and rustic builds make Bodie is a popular site for photographers.

The road into Bodie is accessible to almost any vehicle, but can server as a launch point the many back roads and trails. Nearby attractions are Masonic, Chemung and Aurora who like to get off the beaten path.

A weathered wagon wheel in Bodie reminds us of a bygone era. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A weathered wagon wheel in Bodie reminds us of a bygone era. Photograph by James L Rathbun
General Store still found in Bodie, California. Photograph by James L Rathbun
General Store still found in Bodie, California. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A deteriorated globe in the schoolhouse windows reminds us of the life that used be in Bodie. Photograph by James L Rathbun
A deteriorated globe in the schoolhouse windows reminds us of the life that used be in Bodie. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Gold was first discovered in the Mono Lake region in 1352 and placer gold was then discovered at the future site of Bodie in July, 1859* by William S. Body. On July 10, 1860, the Bodie Mining District was organized. In August, 1859 quarts veins were also discovered in the area, but the lack of -water and the extreme difficulties of transporting supplies and equipment over the mountains and desert tended to severely restrict mining activities at Bodie for some time. From 1860 to 1877, Bodie polled only some 20 votes a year, and in 1865 the town still had only SOP 14 small frame and adobe houses.
In 1876-77, however, new quartz discoveries were made at the Bodie and Standard mines, touching off a great gold rush to Bodie in 1878. From a few shacks, a term of some 250 wooden buildings rapidly appeared in the desert and the population leaped to 10,000 or 12,000 persons, with the usual assortment of gambling dens, breweries, saloons, and the nightly shootings, stabbings and brawls. Bodie soon merited the title of “Shooters Town,” and a “Bad Man from Bodie” was then universally recognized to be a particularly unpleasant individual. In 1879, when Bodie reached its pinnacle, its main street was over a-mile long and built solidly with one and two-story frame buildings. In 1881 a 32- mile narrow gauge railroad was constructed from Mono Lake to Bodie to carry in fuel and lumber. % 1883, however, the boom was over and all but the Bodie and Standard mines closed down; these two mines finally consolidated in 1887. In 1895 Bodie had a small revival when the cyanide process of recovering gold was put in use, Mining continued intermittently up to World War II, when Bodie finally became a true ghost town.

NATIONAL SURVEY OF HISTORIC SITES AND BUILDINGS

Resources

Bodie Trail Map

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