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.

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.

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

Bodie Trail Map

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Bodie California

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Bodie California 38.211500, -119.013000 Bodie California

Chemung Mine

Located off the Masonic Road between Bridgeport, CA and the Masonic town site, are the remains of the Chemung gold mine.  The Chemung gold mine operated from from 1909 to 1938 and produced over one million dollars in gold.  In the 1920s, the Chemung mine was producing low grade and high grade ore.  The ore was processed onsite, and then shipped to near by Bodie for smelting.

The Chemung Mine located just outside of Bridgeport, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung Mine located just outside of Bridgeport, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Along with the increase cost of mining supplies which reduced growth, a poor gold market and the cost of hauling the ore to Bodie over the poor roads for smelting and little mine was doomed and closed its doors in 1938.

The Chemung mine history is not a mining failure, but a failure of management and litigation.  During its time of production, the mine built and tore down three mills.  During the last year of operation in 1938, 20 men worked the site and less than one year later the mine was closed.  The mine itself produced well, however endless litigation for various reasons doomed the mine.

The Chemung gold mine over looking the Bridgeport Valley.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung gold mine over looking the Bridgeport Valley.. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s new life was found in the mine with the efforts of Elton “Heinie” Heinemeyer.  Heinemeyer mined for years but never struck it big.  Well liked by the town of Bridgeport, CA Heinemeters well being was the source of concern for the people of Bridgeport and it is reported that he would always find time to visit and entertain those who traveled to check up on him.

Currently, the mill building structure is intact but the years of harsh weather have taken its toll.  A mild wind will cause some of the walls to shake or shudder, and the lower outer wall is leaning outward.  In June 2016, bars restricted access to the mines themselves although the mines do offer a cold breeze on a warm day to cool you down.

The Chemung mine still maintains and impressive structure. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung mine still maintains and impressive structure. Photograph by James L Rathbun

There are stories that the site is haunted by a spirit or ghost, but only on Saturday nights, which seems a bit odd to me.

The Chemung Mine working still seem ready to go. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Chemung Mine working still seem ready to go. Photograph by James L Rathbun

On a personal note, the Chemung mine surprised me.  I have been to Aurora three times, Masonic at least three times, and Bodie… at least ten.  My last visit to Bodie was in 2013 and afterwards I was looking in Google Earth when I “discovered” the Chemung gold mine.  How had this mine, such an impressive structure, evaded my radar for so many years?  It took me three years from that day to make my first visit to Chemung, and this place is definately on my list for a repeat visit.

Time, weather and gravity have taken its toll on the structure of the Chemung Mine.. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Time, weather and gravity have taken its toll on the structure of the Chemung Mine.. Photograph by James L Rathbun

 

Chemung Mine Trailmap

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Chemung California

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Chemung California 38.350087, -119.149947 Chemung Mine

Success Mine

The Success Mine is an gold mine site located just off Masonic Road, the between McMillan Springs and the Chemung Mine in Mono County, CA.

Success Mine, Bridgeport, CA
Success Mine, Bridgeport, CA

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There is little data on this small claim.  The mine shafts eventually reached a depth of 50 feet to a mineral vein which traveled North East and dips South East and was valued at $11 / ton.  Eventually water was stuck and filled the shaft to the 25ft level.

Bridgeport. – The Success Mining Co. has exposed a 3 1/2-ft. vein of high-grade ore in its property in the Masonic disctrict.  The find was made in a drift north from the 50-ft level.  The Success mine was purchased by Elmer S. Green and associates from John H. and C. C. Hayes of Bridgeport, in July.

Mining and Scientific Press- October 29, 1921

Although I try to always stop at such locations, sadly that was not in the cards on our last trip. The Chemung Mine was rather overwelming and the little success mine did not compare. There was also some hungry kids in the Jeep as well. As with any trip, I came away with more trails to follow and history to investigate.

Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues to this day

Two towns located in the hills above Mono Lake maintain, the Bodie and Aurora rivalry continues even now, long past their demise.  Bodie, CA and Aurora, NV boomed with the gold rush of the 1870s and busted just years later when the gold ran out and faded into history.  Miners, merchants, and people would undoubtedly moved either direction between the two cities and with good fortune would undoubtedly talk down the previous city.  Such is human nature, but why would this rivalry continue long past the demise of both towns?

The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
The Standard Mill, Bodie, CA. Photograph by James L Rathbun
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Aurora Nevada

Aurora, Nevada is a ghost town in Mineral County near the California border. Aurora is often mentioned as a footnote to larger better preserved town on Bodie, CA located just a few miles away.  Like most unprotected ghost towns today the town site is a just a remnant of its past, having lost much through heavy damage from vandals over the years.

The road leading into Aurora was once a 4×4 road and difficult to make it back into Aurora. Often the winter snows and spring rains rutted out the road leading to the town.

Aurora, CA photograph from the 1930's
Aurora, CA photograph from the 1930’s

Aurora was founded in 1860 by J.M Corey, James N Braley, and E.R Hicks while prospecting south west towards Mono Lake.  The “Eureka” moment came when gold and silver quartz was found while searching for water and game. Soon the word was out, and a migration of miners came up from Monoville and several other California towns.  Like many boom towns, Auroras population reach about 1,400 by 1861 and just one year later was almost 6,000.  Aurora boaster an 8 position stamp mill and the ore was hauled from the town via Wells, Fargo and Company. The town was constructed mainly from brick, as wood is a scare and finite resource in the area.

Aurora, Nevada as it existed in the 1800s
Aurora, Nevada as it existed in the 1800s

The Esmeralda Star was the town paper when the town reach is maximum population of 10,000. Life is town was rough and conditions were very harsh.   The territories of both California and Nevada tried to lay claim to the newly prized Aurora and in the spring of 1861, Mono County was founded by California, which fixed the seat of the county in the little town of Aurora.  Not to be outdown, in November of 1861, Nevada setup the head quarters of Esmeralda County in Aurora.  This dual county seat arrangement lasted for two years during which time both California and Nevada maintained two different county and exercised jurisdiction concurrently.

To settle the issue, Nevada and California jointly commissioned a survey to finally settle the issue and established the location of the border.  During the elections held in September 1863 Aurora had the distinction of voting in two elections.  The Mono County voting was held in the police station and voters could walk over to Armory Hall to vote in the Esmeralda county elections for Nevada.  Three weeks after the election, the survey results came in and Aurora was officially 4 miles inside the state of Nevada.  The Mono County Officials loaded up their records and assets into Wagons and moved the seat to Bodie, CA some 10 miles to the south west.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens September 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople
Samuel Langhorne Clemens September 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople

1862 found a young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) in town for several months looking the make his fortune.  During his stay he worked as a laborer in the stamp mill for $10 a week including board.  The young Mr. Clemens quickly gave up mining and sent several lively sketches to the Territorial Enterprise located in Virginia City.  Several weeks later Samual Clemens was hired by the Enterprise where he adopted his pen name, and Mark Twain was born.

Today there is not much standing at Aurora
Today there is not much standing at Aurora

As with many gold towns, Aurora life was bright and short. Shallow mines could not support the town of 22 saloons and 20 stores and mismanagement and poor investments doomed the small town.  There was virtually no family life in the town. Prostitutes made up over 50% of the female population and by 1870 the gold and silver was gone, and the town soon faltered officially closing the post office in 1897.

A resurgence of Aurora started in 1906 when mining resumed in the area.  A post office was again opened to serve several hundred people, and a weekly called the Aurora Borealis was the paper of record.  During the revitalization of Aurora, the Aurora Consolidated Mining Co. claimed 1.8 million dollars in gold during World War I.  However, in 1919 the post office closed again and the town faded into history.  After World War II much of the brick town was demolished to satisfy the demand for the used brick market in 1946.

Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth.
Remains of Aurora bricks found deep in the undergrowth.

The site of Aurora is all but gone and consisting of little more than a cross roads, a cemetery and a few foundations.

Aurora Trail Map

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Aurora Nevada

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Aurora Nevada 38.287600, -118.902000 Aurora Nevada