Calico, California

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Calico in the Mojave Desert
Calico in the Mojave Desert
Calico is located in California
Location within the state of California
Coordinates: 34°56′56″N 116°51′51″W / 34.94889°N 116.86417°W / 34.94889; -116.86417Coordinates: 34°56′56″N 116°51′51″W / 34.94889°N 116.86417°W / 34.94889; -116.86417
CountryUnited States
CountySan Bernardino
Elevation2,283 ft (696 m)
Time zoneUTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area codes442/760
GNIS feature ID1660414[2]
Reference no.782

Calico is a ghost town and former mining town in San Bernardino County, California, United States. Located in the Calico Mountains of the Mojave Desert region of Southern California, it was founded in 1881 as a silver mining town, and was later converted into a county park named Calico Ghost Town. Located off Interstate 15, it lies 3 miles (4.8 km) from Barstow and 3 miles from Yermo. Giant letters spelling CALICO are visible, from the highway, on the Calico Peaks behind it. Walter Knott purchased Calico in the 1950s, and architecturally restored all but the five remaining original buildings to look as they did in the 1880s. Calico received California Historical Landmark #782,[3] and in 2005 was proclaimed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be California's Silver Rush Ghost Town.[4]


In 1881, four prospectors were leaving Grapevine Station (present day Barstow, California) for a mountain peak to the northeast. After they described the peak as "calico-colored", the peak, the mountain range to which it belonged, and the town that followed were all called Calico.[5] The four prospectors discovered silver in the mountain and opened the Silver King Mine, which was California's largest silver producer in the mid-1880s.[5] John C. King, who had grubstaked the prospectors who discovered the silver vein (the Silver King Mine was thus named after him), was the uncle of Walter Knott founder of Knott's Berry Farm. King was sheriff of San Bernardino County from 1879 to 1882.[6][7][8][9] A post office at Calico was established in early 1882, and the Calico Print, a weekly newspaper, started publishing. The town soon supported three hotels, five general stores, a meat market, bars, brothels, and three restaurants and boarding houses. The county established a school district and a voting precinct.[10] The town also had a deputy sheriff and two constables, two lawyers and a justice of the peace, five commissioners, and two doctors. There was also a Wells Fargo office and a telephone and telegraph service.[5] At its height of silver production during 1883 and 1885,[10] Calico had over 500 mines and a population of 1,200 people.[5] Local badmen were buried in the Boot Hill cemetery.[11][12]

The discovery of the borate mineral colemanite in the Calico mountains a few years after the settlement of the town also helped Calico's fortunes, and in 1890 the estimated population of the town was 3,500, with nationals of China, England, Ireland, Greece, France, and the Netherlands, as well as Americans living there.[13] In the same year, the Silver Purchase Act was enacted and drove down the price of silver.[5] By 1896, its value had decreased to $0.57 per troy ounce, and Calico's silver mines were no longer economically viable.[5] The post office was discontinued in 1898,[14] and the school closed not long after.[10] By the turn of the century, Calico was all but a ghost town,[13] and with the end of borax mining in the region in 1907 the town was completely abandoned.[citation needed] Many of the original buildings were moved to Barstow, Daggett and Yermo.[13]

An attempt to revive the town was made in about 1915, when a cyanide plant was built to recover silver from the unprocessed Silver King Mine's deposits. Walter Knott and his wife Cordelia, founders of Knott's Berry Farm, were homesteaded at Newberry Springs around this time, and Knott helped build the redwood cyanide tanks for the plant.[13][15]

The last owner of Calico as a mine was Zenda Mining Company. After building Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm in the 1940s, Walter Knott, his son, Russell, and Paul von Klieben, who was Knott's art director, made a road trip to Calico. The three of them came back filled with enthusiasm. If they could build an imaginary ghost town at Knott’s Berry Farm, would it not be possible to restore a real ghost town? In 1951, Walter Knott purchased the town of Calico from the Zenda Mining Company and put Paul von Klieben in charge of restoring it to its original condition, referencing old photographs.[16][17]

Restoring Calico was one of Walter Knott's efforts to educate the public and honor the pioneers.

Using the old photos, and Walter’s memory and that of some old-timers who still lived in the area, von Klieben was able to not only restore existing structures, but also design and replace missing buildings. Knott spent $700,000 restoring Calico. [18] Knott installed a longtime employee named Freddy "Calico Fred" Noller as resident caretaker and official greeter.[19] In 1966 Walter Knott decided to donate the town to San Bernardino County, and Calico became a County Regional Park.[20]

Current status[edit]

Entrance to the town
Calico & Odessa Railroad
Calico in the evening
Original mining crew at the Silver King Mine.

Calico has been restored to the look of the silver rush era when it flourished, although many original buildings were removed and replaced instead with gingerbread architecture and false façades that tourists would expect to see in a Western-themed town.[21] Most of the restored and newly built buildings are made of wood with a simple, rustic architecture and a severely weathered appearance. Some structures still stand dating back to the town's operational years: Lil's Saloon; the town office; the former home of Lucy Lane, which is now the main museum but was originally the town's post office and courthouse; Smitty's Gallery; the general store; and Joe's Saloon. There is also a replica of the schoolhouse on the site of the original building.[21] The one-time homes of the town's Chinese citizens exist as ruins only; only a portion of one rock wall remains of the former "family" residential area on a nearby bluff.[22]

In November 1962, Calico Ghost Town was registered as a California Historical Landmark (Landmark #782),[3] In 2002, Calico vied with Bodie in Mono County to be recognized as the Official State Ghost Town. In 2005, a compromise was finally reached when the State Senate and State Assembly agreed to list Bodie as the Official State Gold Rush Ghost Town and Calico the Official State Silver Rush Ghost Town.[23]

Today, the park operates mine tours, gunfight stunt shows, gold panning, several restaurants, the historic, 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge Calico & Odessa Railroad, a Mystery Shack, and a number of trinket stores. It is open every day except Christmas and requires an entrance fee. Additional fees are required for some attractions. Overnight camping is also available. Special events are held throughout the year including the Civil War Days Historical Reenactment on President's Day weekend, Spring Festival in May, Calico Days in early October, and a Ghost Town haunt in late October.[24]

The Calico Cemetery, which holds between 96 and 130 graves, has had burials in the 20th and 21st centuries.[25][26][27][28]

Image gallery[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Calico". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  2. ^ "Calico, California". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
  3. ^ a b "Calico". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-12.
  4. ^ "Calico Ghost Town". 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Varney, Philip (1990). Southern California's Best Ghost Towns. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-8061-2252-8.
  6. ^ Holmes, Roger and Bailey, Paul. Fabulous Farmer: The Story of Walter Knott and his Berry Farm, pp. 31-5, Westernlore Press, Los Angeles, California, 1956.
  7. ^ Kooiman, Helen. Walter Knott: Keeper of the Flame, p. 154, Plycon Press, Fullerton, California, 1973.
  8. ^ Peyton, Paige M. Calico, p. 7, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, 2012. ISBN 978-0-7385-8905-3.
  9. ^ Calico Ghost Town: Southern California's Greatest Silver Camp, p. 3, Knott's Berry Farm, Calico Print Shop, Yermo, California, 1959.
  10. ^ a b c Hensher, Alan (1991). Ghost Towns of the Mojave Desert. California Classic Books. pp. 18–21. ISBN 1-879395-07-X.
  11. ^ "America's Boot Hill Graveyards". 2010-10-02. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  12. ^ Garner, John W. (February 1941). "Calico Ghost Town Cemetery". The Desert Magazine. 5 (40).
  13. ^ a b c d Varney (1990), p. 52
  14. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). "Part Eleven – Southeast Region (Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties)". California's Geographic Names. Clovis, California: Word Dancer Press. p. 1401. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
  15. ^ Kooiman, Helen (1973). Walter Knott: Keeper of the Flame. Fullerton, California: Plycon Press. pp. 153–58.
  16. ^ Nygarrd, Norman E. Walter Knott: 20th Century Pioneer, pp. 102-4, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1965.
  17. ^ Hemmerlein, Sandi (February 22, 2017). "Where to find Mojave's Ghost Towns - 5. Calico, California". Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  18. ^ Nygarrd, Norman E. Walter Knott: 20th Century Pioneer, pp. 106-8, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1965.
  19. ^ "Long dead silver town returns to life", Toledo Blade, May 13, 1951
  20. ^ Varney (1990), pp. 52–53
  21. ^ a b Varney (1990), p. 53
  22. ^ Recorded narration on the Calico and Odessa Railroad ride
  23. ^ Harvey, Steve (August 3, 2005). "Only in LA; Wild West Ghost Town's Image in California Gains Bit of Polish". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing Company. p. B.4. ISSN 0458-3035.
  24. ^ "Calico Ghost Town". San Bernardino County Regional Parks. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  25. ^ Peyton, Paige M. (2012). "Ch. 3, Nobody Home: The Deserted Decades". Images of America: Calico. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7385-8905-3.
  26. ^ Steeples, Douglas W. (1999). Treasure from the Painted Hills: A History of Calico, California, 1882–1907. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-313-30836-5.
  27. ^ Calico Cemetery at Find a Grave
  28. ^ Orawczyk, Sarah (January 3, 2012). "An unusual funeral: Calico characters find final resting place in town's graveyard". Desert Dispatch. Archived from the original on February 20, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
  29. ^ "The Book". Internet Movie Data Base. October 28, 1965. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  30. ^ Weeks, John (21 August 2009). "The news out of Calico Ghost Town is dispiriting". San Bernardino Sun. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  31. ^ "New Prints In Old Calico - print". Champagne Books. Archived from the original on 2016-08-03. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  32. ^ Paranormalistics (2012-05-10). "The Paranormalistics: Calico Ghost Town". Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  33. ^ Lorin Morgan-Richards. Welsh in the Old West. A Raven Above Press, 2015
  34. ^ "3 Infamous Poltergeists of Calico Ghost Town". Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  35. ^ Anthroslug (2012-10-29). "Sluggo's House O' Spookiness: Calico Ghost Town". Retrieved 2017-07-03.

External links[edit]