Death Valley Ghost Towns in California

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Keane Wonder Mine, California – Founded in 1903, the Keane Wonder Mine was one of the most successful gold mines in Death Valley. It’s initial major operations occurred from 1908-1916 and a post office was established and by 1907. Two camps grew up around the mine including Keane Springs and Chloride City, California, but, both towns failed quickly. Despite the failure of the towns, the mine continued to be profitable throughout the Panic of 1907. It was thought that it had been tapped out by 1912. However, mining operations were revived in the 1930’s and most of the extensive remains date from that period.  Though there are remains of the mill, a 1400-foot tramway, and other mining ruins, the area is closed as of this writing due to instability. The Death Valley National Park Service is current working to make the site safer and preserve its historic features. The closed area is from the junction of Keane Wonder Road and Beatty Cut-off Road east to Chloride City, and approximately one mile both north and south of Keane Wonder Mine, including Keane Wonder Mill, Cyty Mill, Big Bell and King Midas Mines.

The Keane Wonder Mine in Death Valley National Park. Photo by Gianfranco Archimede, 2000.

Keane Wonder Mine by Gianfranco Archimede, 2000.

Kearsarge, California – There were actually a couple of locations called Kearsarge, but the Kearsarge Mine was situated high on Kearsarge Peak on the east flank of the Sierra Nevada about eight miles west of Independence, California. A trail was first built up the east side of what is now known as Kearsarge Pass in the summer of 1864. When gold was found by this party of prospectors, who held Union sympathies, named their find for the U S.S. Kearsarge, a famous Union warship. Several claims were staked including the Kearsarge, Silver Sprout, Virginia and Rex Montis, which proved to be the principal gold source, while the others produced silver. The find attracted several investors who soon formed the Kearsarge Mining Company, and by August, 1865 they had driven a 50′ tunnel into the southeast side of the mountain, hitting $650+ per ton ore.  Te camp that grew up around the mining operations was called Kearsarge City.  As word leaked out, the camp grew and by October, the more than 1,000 residents hoped to claim the Inyo County seat. However, in January, when the election was held, Kearsarge lost out to Independence.

Kearsarge Pinnacles

During the bitter winter of 1866-1867, Kearsarge had all but emptied out with the exception of the crews working the mine. That March an avalanche buried the camp, destroying several buildings, injuring residents and killing the wife of a mine foreman.  The citizens then decided to relocate to Onion Valley. Though the mines were producing well, litigation plagued them and the Kearsarge Company soon found itself about $15,000 in debt.  In 1867, the mine was sold and the operation slowed down. Though it would change hands over the next several years, it would continue operations through 1883. Several attempts were then made to reopen the mines, but, all failed due to the isolated location. During World War I, the machinery was scrapped. However, mine was worked briefly again in the 1920s when a number of cabins were built. These were later moved to Independence. There are no remains of the two camps today, which require a high-country hike to access the area.

Far down below the peak just 4.5 miles east of Independence, was another place called Kearsarge Station, a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Also called Citrus, a post office operated here from 1888 to 1905, and again from 1907 to 1910. There are no remains here either.

Keeler, California – No quite a total ghost town, Keeler, located on the east shore of Owens Lake, is still called home to about 60 people. The settlement got its start in 1872 when the Lone Pine earthquake rendered the pier at nearby Swansea inaccessible by uplifting the shoreline. The place was first known as Cerro Gordo Landing, and served as a shipping point for the prosperous mines at Cerro Gordo. When the railroad began to come through, the station was called Hawley. The Owens Lake Mining and Milling Company built a new mill at the site in 1880 and a town was laid out by the company agent, Julius M. Keeler, for whom the town of Hawley was later renamed.

A 300-foot wharf was constructed at Keeler so that ore could be shipped across the lake, cutting days off the time it would take a freight wagon to go around it. The steamship Bessie Brady was utilized to to take ore from Keeler across the lake to the town of Cartago, where it would then be shipped to Los Angeles.

Keeler Depot Today

Carrying 700 ingots at a time, it would take the Bessie Brady about three hours to cross the lake. In 1883, the Carson & Colorado Railroad constructed a narrow gauge railway to Keeler and the same year a post office was opened. The success of the Cerro Gordo mines caused Keeler to boom until silver prices plummeted in the late 1800s. The post office closed in 1898.

However, a second boom of zinc mining began in the early 1900’s brought new life to Keeler and a tramway constructed from the Union Shaft at Cerro Gordo down to the town. The mining continued consistently until 1938, when the mines were closed. Sporadic surges would be made over the next decades but by the 1950’s all mining had ceased. Train service to Keeler was discontinued in 1960 and the following year, the tracks were removed.

Water diversion from the Owens Valley to the City of Los Angeles in the 1920s led the Owens Lake to eventually dry up, causing the lake bed to become one of the nation’s dustiest places. Many of the residents moved away and though efforts have been made over the years to reduce the problem, few people remain. However, sometime during the second mining boom, a post office was reopened which still operates today.

The semi-ghost town today continues to sport a number of buildings from its previous heydays including the old train station and deteriorating homes and business buildings. There are many no trespassing signs posted throughout the area. Keeler is located 11.5 miles southeast of New York Butte, California.

Keynot, California – Situated on the east side of the Inyo Mountain Range north of Beveridge, are the Keynot group of claims. Seven mines operated here that were the best of the Beveridge district. Tunneling as deep as 1,800 feet, pack mules carried the ore to a mill in Beveridge Canyon. A gasoline hoist and compressor were implemented on top of the Inyo Crest. The area is dotted with old mines and remnants, but, access should only be made by experienced back-packers.

Kunze, California – The original Greenwater site, Kunze was founded by Arthur Kunze, a prospector looking for copper in 1906. Two more townsites named Ramsey and Furnace also sprouted up. All were consolidated as Greenwater the following year. See full article HERE.

Laws Railroad Museum, photo courtesy California Day Trips

Laws Railroad Museum, photo courtesy California Day Trips

Laws, California – Formerly called Bishop Creek Station, the town got its start in 1883 as a depot originated in Nevada. Growing into a transportation hub servicing the mines and agricultural areas, it gained a post office in 1887. In 1900, the Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the Carson & Colorado line and renamed the station in honor of a railroad official. In 1908, the railroad expanded its line from Laws to the north, making direct rail connections to both the north and south from Owens Valley. In 1938, the Southern Pacific closed the narrow gauge line to the north, but, as the northern most terminus of Owens Valley, Laws remained busy for another 20 years.

That prosperity ended in 1960, when the railroad closed the remaining portion of its line between Laws and Keeler. The post office closed its doors in 1963, and Laws was destined to be a true ghost town.  Instead; however, the City of Bishop and Inyo County established a railroad museum at the site and later moved various buildings to Laws . It now serves as a museum that typifies a typical turn of the century town. See full article HERE.

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